Oscar Fife

Created by Jonathan Lethem

Jonathan Lethem is, of course,  a big shot American writer; an acclaimed  novelist, essayist, and short story writer. His first novel, Gun, with Occasional Music (1994) was a tongue-in-cheek mish-mash of science fiction and detective fiction, featuring private “inquisitor” Conrad Metcalf and a slew of genetically modified kangaroos packing heat. Lethem may be a big-shot, but he doesn’t seem to have a stick up his butt.

It was followed by several short stories and novels three more science fiction novels, but the in 1999, he came back to detective fiction big time with the Motherless Brooklyn, about Lionel Essrog, a P.I. suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome. It’s a great book — and also quite funny at times.

And that’s part of Lethem’s appeal. He likes to fool around with genre — and genre expectations. Like “The One About The Green Detective,”  a 1996 short story in which rookie private eye OSCAR FIFE  tries to trace a dirty joke back to their source. I know, I know — it sounds like a Monty Python skit or something, and the author seems fine with that. He himself describes the tale as:

“…an odd story in that it’s almost a concretization of a metaphor. It’s as though I set up a little detective agency to explain to my readership how I operate and I’m saying, ‘For this writer, these things that to others are jokes or metaphors exist in a real landscape and, here, we’ll take you to a few of them.’ So it’s a very meta-generic or meta-fictional story within my own shelf of work. It’s also a very light story, not tremendously weighty, and the emotional material in it is nil. It’s a jaunt.”
— from Conversations With Jonathan Lethem (2011)

That’s an awful of of literary bloviating for a jaunt, but it is a charming little bit of writing, and was nominated for a Shamus. It even inspired a 2008 theatrical production.


  • “The One About The Green Detective” (1996, Unusual Suspects)


    (October 2008, Chicago)
    Adapted by Gregory Peters
    Directed by: Kaitlin Byrd
    Performed by The Plagiarists (Jeff Duhigg, James Dunn, Marcus Kamie, Brian Michael Lucas, Layne Manzer, Andrew Marchetti, Lindsay Verstegen)
    Original Score Created & Performed By: The Every People Jazz Workshop
    Stage Manager: Chad Brown
    Production Manager: Justine Turner
    By all accounts, a charming little (about 40 minutes) production, padded out with music and a framing sequence.


Respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith.

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