A detective story like no other, Lionel Essrog is “rescued” from the St. Vincent’s Home for Boys along with three other orphans. Their new father, er, boss is Frank Minna, and throughout their childhood they do odd jobs to help the man who claimed them from the boys’ home. As adults, they have become what they call The Minna Men: a detective agency of sorts which revolves around Frank and his royal life in Brooklyn. When Frank is murdered, Lionel is insistent to solve the case of the man who he feels saved his live and gave it worth. Lionel learns that of the people in his life, no one is who they seem, and it appears that Frank has shielded Lionel from more than was anticipated.
As a reader, I don’t normally like just any crime novel. It was this story’s original twist that hooked me: Lionel’s struggle with the web of shady relationships, businesses, and “business” in Brooklyn is made unique when exacerbated by his own struggle: his Tourette’s syndrome with minor OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder). Lethem has a unique way of writing, and with it, he easily incorporates Lionel’s illness in a way that doesn’t mock (though at times isn’t politically correct.) The story flows so that the reader can feel Lionel’s frustrations.
This novel is intense, but then both the humorous and the poignant moments break that tension and let you breathe occasionally. Overall, it is one of the best crime stories I’ve had the pleasure to finish.