Saturday, November 13, 2010

Book Review: The Manual of Detection

On Reviews
They are harder than they at first seem.

: The Manual of Detection, a Novel
Author: Jedediah Berry
Themes: Routine, Mystery, Dreams, Carnies, Romance, Detectives
Plot: Armed with only an umbrella and a curious handbook, an unlikey detective must untangle a string of crimes committed in and through people's dreams.
In an unnamed city always slick with rain, Charles Unwin toils as a clerk at a huge, imperious detective agency. But when the illustrious detective Travis Sivart turns up murdered, Unwin is suddenly promoted to detective and must solve the mystery himself, aided only by the Manual of Detection. Sivart's greatest cases-including The Three Deaths of Colonel Baker and The Man Who Stole November Twelfth-it turns out, were solved incorrectly, and Unwin must enter the dreams of a murdered man and face a criminal mastermind bent on total control of a slumbering city.

My Thoughts:
While I had read and (thought I) understood the plot summary provided on the back of this trade paperback, I was nevertheless surprised and delighted with the odd twists and turns in The Manual of Detection. I had thought I picked up some fanciful detective noir book (and was quite proud of myself for trying something new!) and instead read a delightful piece of modern fiction that happens to have a detective and a mystery.

Unwin was a lovable and proud bureaucrat in an ominously large detective agency in a dreary city that seemed to be London or San Francisco or Seattle...or anywhere really. There is a rather large cast of supporting characters that slip in and out of scenes. All of them are fleshed out, and probably merit more attention then they are given in this slim novel. While the plot is spelled out on the back of the book, it will take the reader by surprise as it unfolds. The cast of characters is delightful, and to be honest I love anything that features "old style carnies" of the shady and malevolent persuasion.

Wonderful characterization of flawed and three dimensional people, archetypal settings, and a delightfully unexpected story make this one of my favorite reads of the year. Perhaps even better sicne I was able to find it for $1.99 at Borders in a Buy-One-Get-One-Free (BOGO) bin (okay, I ended up getting six books!).

Random Passage:
"Mr. Lamech," Unwin said again, crossing the threshold, "I am sorry to have to bother you, sir. It's Charles Unwin, clerk, floor fourteen. I've come about the matter of the promotion. I believe there may have been some kind of error (p. 23)."

Recommendation: I would recommend this to basically anyone, unless they didn't like a bit of whimsy or "unreality" in their novels.

Similar Reads: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, White Noise by Don DeLillo

Berry, Jedediah. The Manual of Detection. New York: Penguin Books, 2010.

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