Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Manual of Detection, Jebediah Berry

The Manual of DetectionLest details be mistaken for clues, note that Mr. Charles Unwin, lifetime resident of this city, rode his bicycle to work every day, even when it was raining. 

Oh, why did I buy Angelmaker and check this one out of the library? I couldn't get into Angelmaker, but this one's writing was amazing. So it goes.  "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 was really brilliant, although I can't quite put my finger down on what about its writing that was so great. I suppose it's the manual of detection itself. Also, the book is set in a semi-futuristic, authoritarian city, with the giant and mysterious Agency watching over everything, but there are also elements of the book that aren't like that at all. For example, Unwin rides a bicycle everyday, and then there's the mysterious woman in plaid. Everything about this one is mysterious, and surreal and fantastical, and it was just what I needed. There's a huge difference between this and Scumble, which I reviewed yesterday. No comparison. They're obviously very, very different, but The Manual of Detection is definitely the much better book. It's delightful, and so is the titular, singular handbook. The cover was really fascinating too.

Really, I wasn't expecting to like this one (which is why I didn't buy it). I should have. Right from the first few pages, I was completely hooked, and I knew I was going to at least like this book. And the way the first corpse showed up was...brilliant. That's not really a spoiler, since in a mystery, most of the time someone gets murdered.

There are all these fascinating scenes that are in the book: the strange museum worker, the poker game at the  Forty Winks. They're all really interesting to read about, as Unwin tries to figure out exactly what is going on. He really doesn't have much of an idea. The whole book feels like a very vivid dream.

I loved the villains too. As the story opens, they all seem to have disappeared, but very quickly they show up again. There are the sinister twins, once conjoined, now separated, who as a result of the separation each have a crippled foot. There's the even more sinister Hoffman, arch nemesis of the vanished detective. And then there's Cleo Greenwood, who shares my name, although in her case the Cleo stands for Cleopatra. She is perhaps the most mysterious of them all. She also has the somewhat stereotypical role of the innocent looking woman who asks for help, but turns out to be one of the villains. Like in The Maltese Falcon.

One part in particular kind of reminded me of the excellent YA book The Boneshaker, the part with the strange travelling carnival. That section kind of reminded me of an adult version of the deliciously creepy and strange Boneshaker. This is definitely a mystery that I would recommend. Although I think that the author has a lot of room for improvement; the writing was great but some parts of them mystery were so weird, and the beginning was definitely better than the end.

278 pages.

Rating: ****

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