Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

Imagine Dashiell Hammet or Raymond Chandler smoking a lot of 60’s era Hawaiian or Mexican pot and then writing a Coen Brothers movie. That sort of touches on what it is like to read Inherent Vice. There are noir elements and plenty of psychedelia in what is at its core a detective novel set in 1960’s era Los Angeles. The back beat of the novel involves one imagining a surf soundtrack. I guess you could add Tarantino’s ear for good soundtrack music to the story. But I digress….

The main character is Larry “Doc” Sportello, a perpetually pot smoking private eye who is trying to figure out what is going on with the mysterious jazz/surf musician Coy Harlingen; who killed an ex-con named Charlock and where his girlfriend has disappeared to with an enigmatic developer named Mickey Wolfmann.

Into the mix are dumped a couple of Dr. Feelgood types, some bent cops, some neo-Nazi’s and some mobsters. And just for fun? Something or someone or many one’s put together calling themselves the Golden Fang.

The story is very non-linear and very surreal which for some, will be a turn off. I didn’t find it detracted from the story at all but it certainly forces the reader to concentrate more in order to follow the story. There is an extensive list of characters, many with very sixties era names (Amethyst, Japonica, Jade to name a few) and many of these also sport nicknames that are used interchangeably. This adds a challenging element for the reader.

The story bobs and weaves around the Los Angeles and Orange County areas with a quick trip to Las Vegas in the middle just to keep things interesting. There is heroin smuggling, shade real estate developments, prostitution, dentistry and legal and illegal gambling activities that Doc must sort out in order to figure out how and where all the players fit and secure his friends and his own future.

I enjoyed it and I took my time reading it. This is not something to jump into and read quickly. It is not straight forward story telling so Pynchon is probably a required taste. A taste worth acquiring but not for everyone. For me though….a solid four stars and motivation to try some more Pynchon.

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