Inherent Vice

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Inherent Vice
Inherent vice cover.jpg
First edition cover design
AuthorThomas Pynchon
CountryUnited States
GenreDetective novel
Published2009 (Penguin Press)
Media typePrint (hardcover)
Pages369 pp
813/.54 22
LC ClassPS3566.Y55 I54 2009

Inherent Vice is a novel by American author Thomas Pynchon, originally published in August 2009. A darkly comic detective novel set in 1970s California, the plot follows sleuth Larry "Doc" Sportello whose ex-girlfriend asks him to investigate a scheme involving a prominent land developer. Themes of drug culture and counterculture are prominently featured. Critical reception was largely positive, with reviewers describing Inherent Vice as one of Pynchon's more accessible works. The novel was adapted into a 2014 film of the same name.

Plot summary[edit]

The setting is Los Angeles in 1970; the arrest and trial of the Manson Family is featured throughout the novel as a current event. Larry "Doc" Sportello, private investigator and pothead, receives a visit from his former girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth, now having an affair with the real-estate mogul Michael Z. "Mickey" Wolfmann. Shasta asks Doc to help foil a plot allegedly hatched by Mickey's wife Sloane and her lover, Riggs Warbling, to have Mickey admitted to a mental health institution. Soon afterwards a black militant named Tariq Khalil asks Doc to find Glen Charlock, one of Mickey's bodyguards—Tariq claims that Glen owes him money after their time spent together in prison.

Doc visits one of Mickey's developments but is knocked unconscious, and awakes to find himself being questioned by his old LAPD nemesis, Det. Christian F. "Bigfoot" Bjornsen, who informs Doc that Glen Charlock has been shot dead and that Mickey has vanished. Later, Doc is visited by Hope Harlingen, the widow of a musician named Coy Harlingen, who wants Doc to investigate rumours that Coy is still alive. Doc finds Coy in a nightclub, but upon hearing that Doc is investigating Mickey, Coy tells Doc about the Golden Fang, an old schooner suspected of bringing mysterious goods into port, and upon which both Mickey and Shasta are rumoured to have departed. Doc learns that Coy has been working for the government as an informer and agent provocateur, but is allowed no contact with his family. He also discovers that one Puck Beaverton had switched shifts with Glen Charlock on the day of Glen's death, and that Mickey had been working at the time of his disappearance on a plan to atone for his sins as a ruthless entrepreneur.

Doc pays a visit to the HQ of Golden Fang Enterprises where he meets Japonica Fenway, a young runaway whom Doc had returned to her wealthy parents on a previous occasion. Japonica reveals that she has stayed at a clinic named the Chryskylodon Institute. Doc visits the Institute, where he again encounters Coy Harlingen, and deduces that Mickey has been apprehended by persons unknown. Doc is then told that the attack during which Glen Charlock was shot was carried out by a group of vigilantes who are said to do dirty work for the LAPD. Doc then discovers links between Puck Beaverton and a notorious loan shark named Adrian Prussia. After a visit from Trillium Fortnight, a female companion of Puck's, Doc travels to Las Vegas in search of Puck and Trillium's sexual threesome partner, Einar.

In Las Vegas, Doc places a bet with the manager of the Kismet Lounge, Fabian Fazzo, that Mickey did not fake his own disappearance. Later, Doc believes that he sees Mickey in the company of federal agents, and subsequently hears of Mickey's scheme for a philanthropic housing project in the desert. Doc visits the site and encounters Riggs Warbling, architect of the housing project, who fears that Mickey has been "reprogrammed" and that the development, already abandoned, will be destroyed.

Back in Los Angeles, Doc learns that Puck Beaverton and Bigfoot's former policing partner, Vincent Indelicato, were sworn enemies. Adrian Prussia, who was used by the authorities as an unofficial assassin, effectively immune from the law, and who employed Puck, permitted Puck to murder Vincent. Doc visits Adrian, who claims that he is behind the Golden Fang organization, while Puck contends that Glen was killed deliberately because he was supplying black-power groups with weapons. Doc is handcuffed and about to be given a lethal drug overdose, but escapes and kills both Puck and Adrian. Bigfoot, who has evidently been using Doc to investigate Vincent's death, picks Doc up, but sets him up with a huge quantity of stolen heroin.

Doc performs a switch operation[clarify] in order to hide the drugs and is later contacted by Crocker Fenway (father of Japonica) who acts as an intermediary for the Golden Fang. Doc arranges a handover, his only condition being that Coy is released from all of his obligations and allowed to return to his family. After the handover has taken place, Doc and his lawyer Sauncho hear that the Golden Fang schooner is leaving port. Along with the Coast Guard, they pursue the vessel, and watch as it is abandoned after encountering an enormous surf wave. Sauncho and Doc then decide to place a claim on the schooner.

At the end of the novel, Doc receives a payment from Fabian Fazzo in settlement of his bet about Mickey. He also learns that Coy has been reunited with Hope and their child, Amethyst.


Critics reacted well to Inherent Vice, particularly for its mainstream appeal. In a generally favorable review, The New York Times' Michiko Kakutani called it "Pynchon Lite", describing it as "a simple shaggy-dog detective story that pits likable dopers against the Los Angeles Police Department and its 'countersubversive' agents, a novel in which paranoia is less a political or metaphysical state than a byproduct of smoking too much weed".[1] A review by academic Louis Menand in The New Yorker declared the novel "a generally lighthearted affair", while adding that there were still "a few familiar apocalyptic touches, and a suggestion that countercultural California is a lost continent of freedom and play, swallowed up by the faceless forces of co-optation and repression".[2] In a scathing review in New York magazine, Sam Anderson wrote that "with no suspense and nothing at stake, Pynchon's manic energy just feels like aimless invention".[3]

Pynchon promoted the book with a video trailer, released before the hardback. The video featured Pynchon narrating as Doc, accompanied by footage of the book's California locale and period music.[4]

Film adaptation[edit]

In early 2011, it was reported that writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, The Master) would adapt Inherent Vice into a feature film. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix, the lead from Anderson's 2012 film The Master, and is narrated by Joanna Newsom.[5] On September 29, 2014, the first trailer and a poster for the film were released by Warner Bros..[6] The film opened in the United States on December 12, 2014 to positive reviews.

The film followed the novel closely, with multiple instances of dialogue taken directly from the page. Some changes, however, include that Anderson positions Sortilège (Newsom), a minor character in the novel, as the film's narrator. Meanwhile, Doc's entire trip to Las Vegas is wholly excluded.


  1. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (August 4, 2009). "Another Doorway to the Paranoid Pynchon Dimension". The New York Times. Retrieved May 5, 2010.
  2. ^ Louis Menand (August 3, 2009). "Soft-boiled: Pynchon's stoned detective". The New Yorker. Retrieved August 1, 2009.
  3. ^ Sam Anderson (August 2, 2009). "Incoherent Vice: My Thomas Pynchon problem". New York magazine. Retrieved August 2, 2009.
  4. ^ Kurutz, Steven. "Yup, It's Him: A Pynchon Mystery Solved". The Wall Street Journal blogs. Retrieved February 1, 2015.
  5. ^ Brodesser-Akner, Claude (February 10, 2011). "Paul Thomas Anderson's Scientology Movie and Inherent Vice Adaptation Close to Finding Financing". Vulture. Retrieved August 21, 2012.
  6. ^ "The Trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice!". September 29, 2014. Retrieved September 30, 2014.

External links[edit]