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The Manual of Detection [Paperback]

Jedediah Berry
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Jun 2010

In this tightly plotted yet mind-expanding debut novel, an unlikely detective, armed with only an umbrella and a singular handbook, must untangle a string of crimes committed in and through people's dreams.

In an unnamed city always slick with rain, Charles Unwin is a humble file clerk working for a huge and imperious detective agency, and all he knows about solving mysteries comes from filing reports for the illustrious investigator 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.

The Manual of Detection defies comparison; it is a brilliantly conceived, meticulously realised novel that will change what you think about how you think.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Windmill Books (3 Jun 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099533855
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099533856
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 191,424 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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)


`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.' --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very different detective story... 26 Mar 2009
Charles Unwin is riding his bicycle to work. It is raining and he is happy that he has succeded in wedging his umbrella into the frame of his biycle in such a way that he is staying dry. You can't help caring about what happens to him.

Where is he? In an unnamed city - a little bit London, a little bit New York, maybe in the past, maybe in the future.

Where is he going? To work at a large, corporate detective agency. He is a clerk, processing and filing reports for the noted detective Travis Sivart.

But this is not going to be a normal day at work - anything but. With absolutely no warning he finds himself issued with the manual of detection and promoted to the role of detective. Sivart is missing and Unwin is to replace him.

Unwin knows nothing about being a detective though, and he has no wish to learn. All he wants is to go back to his quiet life as a clerk. And so he approaches the man who was Sivert's and in now his watcher. Trouble is, he has been shot. Unwin has no choice but to turn detective and track down Sivart so that things can go back to the way they were.

He meets people and visits places that he never knew existed, he learns that many of the facts of Sivart's cases may not be as he recorded in his files and it seems that there are more questions than answers. Ultimately, he will have to progress to the most dangerous and difficult part of detective work and enter the dreams of a sleeping city if he wants his life back.

All of this happens in a world which is both real and fantastical, but utterly believable.

The story unravels perfectly, told in clear and exact prose.

The Manual of Detection is an accomplished debut novel - both clever and engaging.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a dreamcrossed twilight 14 Mar 2009
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).
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you like Jasper Fforde, try this 7 July 2010
Think Raymond Chandler mixed with Jasper Fforde and/or Flann O'Brien and set in a Kafkaesque world peopled with bizarre, eccentric and well realised characters including the 'evil genius' and the 'femme fatal'. 'The Manual of Detection' is clever, surreal and a lot of fun.

Charles Unwin is a clerk, spending his days filing reports for Travis T Sivart, he doesn't have a clue about the mechanics of Sivart's job nor does he know the fate of the filed reports. When Sivart goes missing Unwin is promoted to Detective. Then his 'Watcher is murdered'. Unwin has an assistant who keeps falling asleep, his trusty umbrella (necessary as it is constantly raining) and the Manual of Detection. Wanted for murder and knowing nothing about the job of detective he somehow has to find Sivart and discover the identity of the real murderer. He gets caught up in Sivart's old cases along the way, 'The Oldest Murdered Man' and the 'Theft of November Twelfth". This is a story where dreams are infiltrated and sleepwalker's steal alarm clocks.

Each chapter is headed with a quote from 'The Manual of Detection' which definitely gave me pause for thought, for example: On Skulduggery 'If you are not setting a trap, then you are probably walking into one. It is the mark of the master to do both at once.'

This is crime fiction as you have never seen it before, I just hope that a second novel is on the way.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A refreshing change for the mystery-lover. 27 April 2009
I read this book on a whim - I committed the supposed fatal error of judging a book by it's cover. I challenge anyone who has not heard of this book to try and walk past it in a bookshop and not pick it up and glance at it. I was so glad that I bought it - I had been reading several Agatha Christie's and various other mystery novels synonymous of the genre and this was such a refreshing change. It was one of those books, tacky though it sounds, that I just couldn't stop reading. Admittedly it does sag a little in the middle and the end really takes a lot of thinking about, but it is such a brilliant book. I was going to title this review something along the lines of "The mystery novel's answer to Harry Potter" because really, it shares very similar DNA to that series (discover the evil person(s) and then find a way of tackling them), and has the same series potential. I love how The Agency operates and the excellent "Big Brother" element that it is given, and how all of the little hints that are dropped are tied so neatly at the end. By the last few chapters the story is like a puzzle where the last pieces slot neatly into place and all the connections are made. There are elements of the story where you keep thinking what you would do next if you were in that position, and I think that is the sign of an excellently crafted novel. Berry's description of the mysterious and dark city is vivid yet it is rarely touched upon in the text, it almost forms in your mind of its own accord. It isn't even given an explicit name, yet you can see it clearly in your mind's eye. When you reach the end, you will see how Berry has left the novel open for follow-ups, but it would work equally well as a standalone piece (that said, I do hope it is the former). Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting read
Being insane or very open minded is a prerequisite of enjoying this book. But it grabbed me from the first page and truly kept me involved until the end. Read more
Published 9 months ago by G L HISCOCK
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional
If Salvador Dali had painted a picture of Sam Spade it would have sounded like this.
The best book I've read all year.
Published 10 months ago by The Reverend John
4.0 out of 5 stars You Can Almost Sense Bogart
Even though the book has a light-hearted feel to it you still get the feel of an old school hard boiled fiction style novel in the Raymond Chandler mold. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Paul Eric Blackaby
4.0 out of 5 stars A good little read
I heard the first chapter of this book as a radio play, and bought the book as I was drawn to the way the story was presented. Its well written and different.
Worth a read.
Published 20 months ago by Jeremy Pack
5.0 out of 5 stars The manual of detection
This is a curious book surreal and original. I would recommend it to all who like a convoluted mystery.
Published 20 months ago by Stewart Conway
2.0 out of 5 stars Silly
This book seems to have attracted a lot of favourable reviews and I was in turn attracted by what seemed like a combination of fantasy 40s Noir detective fiction. Read more
Published on 26 Sep 2012 by Philtrum
2.0 out of 5 stars Too fantasitcal and absurdly plotted
I gave it a good try - two good tries, but the plot is too ridiculous and frustrating.
Far too many coincidences cause the book to feel too tightly scripted - you hear about... Read more
Published on 12 Dec 2011 by Rainio
5.0 out of 5 stars noir
A fantastic read. Inception meets The Maltese Falcon, with a healthy dose of Terry Gilliam's Brazil thrown into the mix too. Atmospheric, entertaining and completely original.
Published on 21 Sep 2011 by trumpet
5.0 out of 5 stars A nameless city, elephants and a detective with wet socks
A nameless city , a vanished travelling circus, elephants and a detective with wet socks; a maverick of a book. Read more
Published on 28 Aug 2011 by B.Lloyd (Authors Anon)
5.0 out of 5 stars Imaginative and engrossing debut
This novel treads the same ground as the highly successful and intriguing summer blockbuster, `Inception', detection through dreams, and is a must for fans of Nolanesque circuitous... Read more
Published on 16 Aug 2011 by ian m farrell
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