Motherless Brooklyn, by Jonathan Lethem
It could be a new trend in detective stories, which have always tended to have a social criticism edge to them anyway (well, the good ones.) A PI or an amateur or an innocent fitted up for a crime is endowed with a little understood disability, which paradoxically gives him or her great advantage in solving the crime. In a way, it's not a new idea. Miss Marple springs to mind, the disability in this case being that she is old and single and thus subject to all kinds of stereotypical assumptions which prove untrue. And then the creation of PIs who are morbidly obese, female, black, quite old or quite young, as well as unlikely combinations, from "I Spy" (OK, they were spies, but the same idea) to Randall and Hopkirk (deceased) have captured the interests of viewers and readers and smashed stereotypes along with bigoted or just unimaginative villains.
Motherless Brooklyn (great title, don't you think?) is about Lionel Essrog, aka the Human Freak Show, who is not only motherless, but suffers from Tourette's Syndrome as well, putting him at the social bottom of his little gang of outsiders, a group of orphan boys employed by small-time Brooklyn hood, Frank Minna. Frank is murdered, and the gang tries to find out who done it and who else is in danger.
I have to confess I knew very little about Tourette's before reading this and it really raised my consciousness. I was running around trying to get everyone I know to read it, too, just because it was so well written.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was short-listed for the Booker Prize. I won't review it because I have not read it yet (but mean to soon). It concerns Christopher, a boy with autism, who is obsessed with finding out who killed the next-door neighbour's dog with a pitch-fork. From the reviews I have read, it sounds like it has a lot in common with Motherless Brooklyn, including the compassionate attempt to glimpse the inner world of the "mentally different".