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Manual Of Detection, The [Hardcover]

Jedediah Berry
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb. 24 2009
In an unnamed city always slick with rain, Charles Unwin toils as a clerk at a huge, imperious detective agency. All he knows about solving mysteries comes from the reports he's filed for the illustrious detective Travis Sivart. When Sivart goes missing and his supervisor turns up murdered, Unwin is suddenly promoted to detective, a rank for which he lacks both the skills and the stomach. His only guidance comes from his new assistant, who would be perfect if she weren't so sleepy, and from the pithy yet profound Manual of Detection (think The Art of War as told to Damon Runyon).

Unwin mounts his search for Sivart, but is soon framed for murder, pursued by goons and gunmen, and confounded by the infamous femme fatale Cleo Greenwood. Meanwhile, strange and troubling questions proliferate: why does the mummy at the Municipal Museum have modern- day dental work? Where have all the city's alarm clocks gone? Why is Unwin's copy of the manual missing Chapter 18?

When he discovers that Sivart's greatest cases— including the Three Deaths of Colonel Baker and the Man Who Stole November 12th—were solved incorrectly, Unwin must enter the dreams of a murdered man and face a criminal mastermind bent on total control of a slumbering city.

The Manual of Detection will draw comparison to every work of imaginative fiction that ever blew a reader's mind—from Carlos Ruiz Zafón to Jorge Luis Borges, from The Big Sleep to The Yiddish Policeman's Union. But, ultimately, it defies comparison; it is a brilliantly conceived, meticulously realized novel that will change what you think about how you think.

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"Imaginative, fantastical, sometimes inexplicable, labyrinthine and ingenious...Great fun and very clever. My comparison? Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman - which is about as good as it gets" Observer "A wryly cerebral take on noir fiction...Separated conjoined twin gangsters, a duplicitous femme fatale and a nightmarish carnival owner inhabit the nocturnal, rain-soaked city where this clever, postmodern detective story is set" Financial Times "It is an elegant and stunningly imaginative fusion of detective and speculative fiction" Guardian "The plot's bursting with as many twists and surprises as you could hope for...It steams along the smooth rails of Berry's neatly constructed sentences, barrelling round each well-cambered turn with barely a judder" London Review of Books "Like Sin City, this is a noir fairytale, with the grey-scale, drizzly streets and shabby cafes contrasted by fluorescent, primary colour characters...Berry's work is reminiscent of the coolest young American novelists - Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Glen David Gold - in its sheer delight at how genre writing can be re-invigorated and re-imagined. The Manual of Detection makes the weird, fantastical world of the unconsciousness seem comically logical - like its subject, it is a dream" Scotland on Sunday

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.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Imagine the Possibilities of the Literal Being True March 28 2009
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
The Manual of Detection takes us into a realm of imagination, fantasy, and nightmares not unlike what Franz Kafka unlocked in The Trial, as updated by talented writers such as Michael Chabon in The Yiddish Policemen's Union. It's an impressive first novel, and I look forward to reading Mr. Berry's future novels.

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.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Fun but flawed Sept. 8 2009
By Biggles
I'm a fan of both mystery stories and science fiction/fantasy. To give you some perspective on my tastes, I enjoy (among many others) Chandler, Hammett & Conan Doyle; and Asimov, Aldiss & Pratchett. The Manual of Detection has elements of both mystery & fantasy, so I expected to really enjoy it.

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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful! Nov. 28 2013
This book was awesome! I really enjoyed it, so it lives on the top shelf with all my other favorites. However, I do have problems with how the paperback has been presented - I love Penguin, but they disappointed me here. My paperback copy is printed in gray ink (made my eyes itchy), and the synopsis on the back is inaccurate. I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't read the back. The paperback cover looks great though! Very wonderful book. I've rated it based on the book itself (not factoring in Penguin's simple mistakes).
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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.1 out of 5 stars  54 reviews
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Surreal and Brilliantly Written Debut Novel March 19 2009
By Mira Bartok - Published on
For Charles Unwin, the reluctant hero in Jedediah Berry's eloquent and surreal first novel, The Manual of Detection, time is curiously stretched beyond recognition and dreams are labyrinthine and vulnerable to devious invasion. Mysterious femme fatales, surly criminals and singing somnambulants lurk around every corner, each offering more bizarre clues for Unwin who is trying to solve the murder of a famous detective so he can clear his own name and get his job back as a lowly and fastidious clerk at The Agency, a Kafka-esque organization that tracks down villains and protects the city's nocturnal secrets, for better or for worse.

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?
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dashiell Hammett meets Terry Gilliam May 18 2009
By Blake Fraina - Published on
The Manual of Detection reads like the love-child of Dashiell Hammett and Terry Gilliam. First time novelist Jedediah Berry stirs all the tropes of a hard-boiled detective story with surrealistic fantasy elements to create a delightfully eccentric concoction that goes down easy despite the serious message at its core.

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.
44 of 51 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Clever but tedious July 27 2009
By D.E. - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Other reviewers have dealt well with the plot so I will deal more with my criticism of the story development itself. The novel starts out well, with the author creating a slightly surreal but believable book-noir world in a mysterious yet some how familiar city.(Think Bladerunner crossed with Something Wicked This Way Comes for the atmosphere.)The characters are interesting and their lives are developed enough to hold interest yet not so developed that there is no mystery. Sadly, somewhere about halfway to two thirds of the way through, the story descends into a seemingly never ending sequence of nested dream worlds and the associated plot twists were less surprising than ultimately annoying. For me, this just became very tedious and exasperating and resulted in a very slow read. By the last 30-40 pages I simply didn't care how the story would ultimately be resolved. The author definitely has talent as a writer of fiction but I think he needs to be reigned in by a good editor who would have trimmed some of the more outlandish elements from this novel.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a dreamcrossed twilight March 13 2009
By David W. Straight - Published on
This novel reminds me a lot of Terry Gilliam's movie Brazil: a lowly clerk suddenly finds his world turned upside-down. A rather humdrum life has become a nightmare where nothing is as it seems: somewhere between dreaming and wakefulness, between reality and something you know is a dream, a trip on LSD. Unwin is a clerk--one of many in a huge room--on the 14th floor of the Agency. On the 29th floor is the person he clerks for, Detective Sivart. On the 36th floor is the Watcher Lamech, who oversees Sivart, and well below Unwin are the underclerks. Communications are all done through messengers. For anyone--clerk, underclerk, detective, or watcher--to be on the wrong floor of the Agency is a terrible and unthinkable breech. Everything is regimented--very regimented. Then Unwin's regimented life takes an abrupt upheaval.

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!
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From the first few lines of this novel I found myself completely... March 12 2009
By CharlieOwl - Published on
From the first few lines of this novel I found myself completely enraptured by the provocative imagery provided. From the sopping wet rain that as the story goes on you swear you begin to feel in your own socks, to the hats and bicycles you wish were still common place, this book puts you easily into a city as gloomy and foggy as it is beautiful.

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!
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