Manual Of Detection, The Hardcover – Feb 24 2009
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About the Author
Jedediah Berry’s short fiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Best New American Voices and Best American Fantasy. He lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he works as assistant editor of Small Beer Press.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
In the modern world, our work is often so compartmentalized that we fail to see the rest of the object we work out, much less the rest of the picture. As a result, a service designed to promote peace may appear to be nothing more than creating a deniable paper trail. Mr. Berry is clearly amused by that thought and takes us beyond the paper trail into the "real" world, a most distressing place for those who have been locked up in their watertight compartments. At the same time, he is aware that there may be a legitimate reason to keep pieces of secrets locked away in separate compartments. It's a nice balance that brings much food for thought to the reader during and after enjoying the story.
Charles Unwin (you have to love that last name) has developed an odd habit of going to the train station each morning before work. It's quite an unusual thing to do because it's out of the way and he starts work early. He's sensitive enough about it to have an alibi ready . . . even though it isn't a very good one.
Caught in the middle of his obsession, Unwin finds himself launched into a new role, as a detective, rather than as a clerk writing up a detective's notes, at the gigantic detective agency that employs him. He's told to rely on The Manual of Detection to tell him what to do. Feeling sure that some huge mistake has been made, Unwin sets out to remedy the error . . . and finds himself in the middle of a murder mystery where he's the most likely suspect.Read more ›
The novel starts in a noirish way, and the story line initially proceeds in that mode. Most people aren't what they seem, there's a femme fatale, the corpses pile up in a very satisfactory way. There's a detective (think Philip Marlowe) who is currently missing, and his amanuensis (think Dr. Watson in the wrong century) who is promoted to fill the detective's shoes. There are some fantastic elements, but the story proceeds at a fast enough pace that they don't really jar.
What is a modern novel without self-reference, so one of the key elements in the novel is a detective manual called The Manual of Detection, epigraphs from which appear at the head of each chapter in the novel. The epigraphs are both apposite and witty in their own right, so this adds greatly to the enjoyment.
However, the self-reference promotes a certain amount of distancing from the book. So when, about a third of the way through, the author called on me to believe yet another fantastic thing, I rebelled. I just couldn't accept what was written on the page, even within the context of a somewhat fantastic story. It didn't stop me continuing to read, because it is a page-turner and I did want to find out what happened in the end, but it did reduce the enjoyment I got out of it.
Just a side note: I don't think any author intends their work to be for everyone (there's too many people to please). That being said, this books is definitely creative, strange, and dream-like, which a lot of people will appreciate (myself included) and others will think is nuts and a waste of time. So keep that in mind before you purchase.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This is a detective story that defies genre. Many of the crimes committed in this tale happen inside people's dreams, which brings to mind a couple films, such as Brazil, The City of Lost Children, and Delicatessen. The book also resonates a little like Borges but in a much more welcoming, ironic and darkly humorous way. It is part film noir, part fabulist-fairy tale, and part page-turner mystery, written in an elegant and restrained style.
I loved the world that Berry created for his readers: a mythic, rainy sleep-deprived metropolis populated by a cast of brilliantly conceived characters. I just didn't want it to end. Read the book and pass it on. And look for the secret bonus---there's a palindrome inside and who doesn't love palindromes?
Anyone familiar with the famous quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin,"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety," will probably appreciate the story of Charles Unwin, a fastidious and rule-abiding office clerk, who is unwittingly thrust into a web of intrigue when the celebrated detective he works for goes missing. While investigating the sudden disappearance, Unwin stumbles on a nefarious plot to gain control over the minds of the citizens by infiltrating their dreams. It's the ultimate invasion of privacy and its origins are as surprising as they are sinister. I can't help but wonder if the Patriot Act was high on Berry's mind when the idea for this book was conceived. But despite how dire that sounds, this is hardly a heavy, preachy affair. It's full of quirky humour and unexpected twists, not to mention a host of oddball characters.
Along the way, we meet the cigar-chomping detective Sivart, a pair of [formerly] conjoined twin thugs, an addled museum guard, some very sorry looking elephants, a psychic giantess, an army of sleepwalkers, a villainous ventriloquist, plus three ladies straight out of a classic noir - Emily, the plucky, can-do assistant, Cleo Greenwood, the honey-voiced femme fatale, and the mysterious "woman in the plaid coat." Throw in about ten thousand purloined alarm clocks and a "Travels-no-More" carnival and you've got a story with some seriously weird atmospherics, a unique cast, a bit of mystery and a lot of fun.
This novel is a delight from start to finish.
I should mention that I didn't actually read this one, but listened to the unabridged edition audio book. This was my first experience with an audio book and what a wonderful surprise! Pete Larkin did a terrific job creating voices for each of the characters - he even had me laughing out loud at some points. Plus it was broken up into short enough sections that stopping it and coming back to it later was never a problem. I enjoyed it so much in fact, that I've visited the Highbridge Audio website several times to shop their catalogue and can report that they have a varied and excellent selection.
Unwin is told that he's been promoted to Detective, and to move to Sivart's office on the 29th floor: Sivart has gone missing. Unwin reports to Sivart's boss, Watcher Lamech, only to find that Lamech has been murdered. So Unwin sets out to find Sivart, and you find yourself sucked into the whirlpool. Unwin meets the elusive Cleopatra Greenwood, Sivart's femme fatale (for lack of a more appropriate term for this very strange woman) and Sivart's archenemy Hoffman. The further you read, the more yu feel as though you've entered a hallucination. Everything is off-kilter: you enter a world of narcolepsy and somnambulism. Unwin follows somnambulists who go to the Cat & Tonic carrying bags of alarm clocks to gamble with. There's Caligari's Circus, taken over by Hoffman (Cleopatra Greenwood used to be a performer).
I don't think that there's any time in the novel where you have any idea at all what will happen next, but as things unfold they're either logically illogical or illogically logical--I think! If you like nice predictable novels, this definitely will not be your cup of LSD. This is very creative--bizarrely imaginative--and it had me turning quickly to Waitzkin's Attacking Chess and Guinn's new book on Bonnie and Clyde to try to unpretzel my mind. Think of the movie Brazil, or Jonathan Barnes' fine novel The Somnambulist, and toss in some LSD on top of those: a powerful and effective work!
With such a wonderfully detailed setting, you would almost expect the plot to lag behind, but without wasting any time, you are whisked right into a high-stakes detective mystery that soon takes on twists and narrative hooks reminiscent of Raymond Chandler and the mythical fable of Calvino.
All I can say beyond that is upon finishing the final chapter, I felt a tingle up my spine and a wish for more adventures from the one of a kind file clerk Unwin.
This book was on the "Staff Recommended" shelf and I am thankful for whoever selected it!