Mapping Inherent Vice

Reading Suggestions: Detectives

As another character puts it, Doc Sportello is more of a “gumsandal” than a gumshoe. As a beach bum and a “doper,” Doc would just as soon not be bothered to take on a complex case — though that is what he does, unwittingly, in Inherent Vice. Pynchon is clearly having fun with the conventions of hard-boiled detective fiction, and his knowledgeable affection of the genre contributes to the book’s playful tone.

These book suggestions are for readers who enjoyed Inherent Vice‘s quirky take on the detective genre. For this list I have tried to focus on novels that either put a humorous/unusual spin on the genre or that are set in a historical period a la Pynchon’s 1970.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

Adams’ take on the genre is wacky, witty and intellectually humorous. His complex plotting is overstuffed and digressive, just like Pynchon’s. Followed by a sequel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.

 

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

Auster is a fellow postmodernist, and he share’s Pynchon’s urge to deconstruct genre. The three short novels in this volume are all brainy, bizarre versions of detective stories — sometimes referred to as metaphysical mysteries.

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran

Gran’s detective, like Pynchon’s, partakes in recreational drugs; this is another offbeat, intricately plotted P.I. novel that one review designated “funky noir,” a label that could also apply to Inherent Vice.

Berlin Noir by Philip Kerr

Readers who enjoyed the strong sense of time and place in Inherent Vice and who also like detective fiction should check out Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series; this volume collects the first three books in the series, set in Berlin just before and just after World War II. It is both detailed historical fiction and a tough, complex P.I. mystery.

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

This book’s unconventional detective suffers from Tourette’s syndrome. Lethem is another postmodernist whose language is funny, intricate and beautiful on a level comparable to Pynchon.

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