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The Manual of Detection

3.58  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,452 Ratings  ·  653 Reviews
In this mind-expanding debut novel, an unlikely detective, armed only with an umbrella and a singular handbook, must untangle a string of crimes committed in and through people’s dreams.

* * *

Charles Unwin is a humble file clerk working for a huge and imperious detective agency. All he knows about solving mysteries comes from the reports he's filed for the illustrious detec
Paperback, 278 pages
Published 2010 by Windmill Books (first published 2009)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jul 23, 2011 Kathrina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-fiction
There is a place in St. Louis where, for $12 and a willingness to put up with multitudes of loud children, you can crawl through endless disorienting cave-tunnels, drip down ten-story slides, ride a ferris-wheel 12 stories in the sky, watch trained children perform cat-in-the-hat tricks on 4-foot balls juggling knives, pet a shark, and drink a beer. It is the City Museum, and whatever I say, I cannot accurately describe it for you. It is a child's dream made manifest. Inside the skateboard-less ...more
All the elements of noir are present here: a dreary setting, half-understood mysteries, double- and even triple-crosses, multiple femme fatales, even a dark carnival filled with surly carnies. The voice of the book is flat and even - a little too flat and even for my tastes. It is well-written but I found the characters lacking in motivation and emotion. The main character is simply pushed along, with little or no internal impetus, toward the inevitable end. He's not really so much a protagonist ...more
Jun 10, 2013 Abby rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book for about the first third, was on board for about half but finished it in a fog, still admiring Jedidiah Berry's skill but not at all sure I cared or even understood what was going on.

Among the book's delights is the description of the world of Charles Unwin, a clerk in a huge, rigidly bureaucratic agency who takes pride in his meticulous documentation of the cases solved by the renowned detective, Sivart. Unwin is comfortable with his routine, attaching his umbrella to his bi
Jan 04, 2014 Carol. rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: insomniacs
When I was in my mid-teens, one of my friends was rather obsessed with Film (capital intended). I watched a lot of movies that year, most of which I could tell you little about. Brazil remains completely hazy in my memory, only a single screen shot of a greyscale monolith interior, a voice echoing thinly off the bare walls, clear in my memory. Try as I might, I couldn’t get rid of that image while reading The Manual of Detection.

Of course, I have more to say, but some of it i
Berry, Jedediah. THE MANUAL OF DETECTION. (2009). **. If you crossed some of the recessive genes of Lewis Carroll with those of Philip K. Dick, you might come up with a novelist who would write a book like this. It is set in a nameless city where it is always seems to be raining. In fact, the hero’s umbrella plays a major role in the story. The hero, Charles Unwin, works as a clerk for a detective agency. The agency is populated with lots of people who have specialized jobs, and noone can cross ...more
Jul 25, 2013 Stacia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Jasper Fford & noir mystery fans
Shelves: 2013
So, imagine you trip & fall down Alice's rabbit-hole, tumbling past dreamscapes & spooky carnival sideshows before landing with a thump in a smoky jazz bar filled with pajama-clad characters from Inception & The Maltese Falcon. (Don't fail to notice the shadow of someone from Minority Report lurking in the deepest shadow. See it? Right by the deep-green poster with an all-seeing golden eye....) Feeling disoriented & sore from your fall, you head directly for the bar. Bartender Th ...more
Apr 01, 2010 John rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

In an unnamed city which has certain resemblances to early-20th-century New York, many matters are regulated by the Agency, a large, somewhat Kafkaesque organization whose hierarchy runs, in descending order: Watchers, Detectives, Clerks, Under-Clerks. There's not much direct communication between the members of these four strata.

Charles Unwin is the clerk whose responsibility it is to formalize, index and file the case reports of Detective Travis Sivart, the city's most prominent detective. On
Nathan Rostron
Mar 06, 2009 Nathan Rostron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
As I was reading this smart, tricky, and thoroughly beguiling detective story, I kept thinking of Paul Auster’s CITY OF GLASS. Like Auster’s main character, Quinn, Charles Unwin is a reluctant hero, a more-or-less ordinary guy who finds himself the detective on a strange case that he never wanted in the first place. For the last 20 years, Unwin has been an agency clerk to star detective Travis Sivart. One morning Unwin arrives at work to find Sivart gone and himself to be promoted to detective i ...more
I’ve had this on my bookshelf for quite a while. It’s easily the most visually striking book that I own, but still I managed to avoid picking it up. This is one that’s hard to classify – or maybe I just don’t have much experience with the “genre.” It’s part surrealist dream caper, part hardboiled detective novel, with a dash of witty humor and some commentary on extremism just for good measure. So yeah, this book has a lot going on, but it all somehow fits together with total precision.

The unwit
Mar 13, 2009 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: weird-fiction
Full disclosure: I've never written a review of a book by someone I know (hi Jeb!)

I hate reading reviews of analogy ("If Voxtrot teamed up with Paul Simon, they'd have formed Vampire Weekend!") but have a weakness for writing them. So if I was asked to write a short blurb for the back of the paper-back edition, I might say that if Kafka wrote the movie Chinatown, replacing J.J. Gittes with Sam Lowrie from "Brazil," it might read like "The Manual of Detection."

Of course, the problem with those s
Aug 08, 2011 Adam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Adam by: Michael Moorcock
Jedediah Berry uses the stock images of the detective novel to create a Kafkaesque fable. Set in a quasi-victorian(where the steampunk label comes from)/quasi-30’s atmosphere this is an atmospheric, baroque, and endlessly readable fantasy where it could have been a dry run through of genre cleverness. The sum of the parts doesn’t quite bring it in for a totally satisfying ending but the ride is terrific. Great debut. On influences, well digested for the most part,though maybe a bit of an obviou ...more
Nov 22, 2011 Mike rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Rating: 5 out of 5

A dark, rainy city that brings to mind a 1950s noir setting - an ordinary detective agency clerk reluctant to accept a sudden promotion to "detective" - circus villains, a rumbling steam truck, remnants of a "travels-no-more" carnival - some stereotypical metaphoric film noir detective dialogue - cleverly written and becoming more surreal throughout - intricate and weirdly fantastical, reminding me of a Charlie Kaufman script - one of the best books I've read this past year and
David Hebblethwaite
I wouldn’t normally dwell on the book-as-object, but I have to say that The Manual of Detection is one of the most attractive volumes that I’ve seen in quite some time. You can’t see from the picture, but it has a laminate cover (i.e. the image is printed directly on to the cover, with no dust-jacket); and the whole package gives the impression of a book that has been designed with great care and attention. Furthermore, it has been made to resemble the fictional Manual of Detection described in ...more
Dec 30, 2009 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My Kindle suggested I'd like this and it was right.

This is a delicious story of Mr. Charles Unwin, a "clerk" in "The Agency" for twenty years who has had the privilege of writing up some of the cases of the Agency's most famous detective with the palindromic name of Travis Sivart. "The Oldest Murdered Man" and "The Three Deaths of Captain Baker" and "The Man Who Stole November Twelfth" are his crowning achievements.

But when the famous detective Sivart goes missing and Unwin is mysteriously promo
Blake Fraina
Sep 10, 2011 Blake Fraina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Manual of Detection reads like the bastard 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 liber
Mar 07, 2010 Deborah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I went to Booksmith on Haight Street to get my dad a birthday gift. I was drawn to this book and immediately decided to get it for him, and to borrow it after he read it. The author's name sounded familiar, but I saw that it was his first novel, so I kind of shrugged and forgot about it. A few months later, the Bard e-news letter came and in it was an announcement that Jedediah Berry, class of '99, would be giving a reading on campus from his first novel, The Manual of Detection. All of a sudden ...more
Feb 08, 2015 Sesana rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
Not as much fun as I wanted it to be. I think I liked the idea far more than the execution. The biggest problem, as I see it, is that main character Unwin is so incredibly passive for so much of the book. He does little on his own initiative, and is just pushed from one thing to the next. At least he isn't obnoxious, even if he is a bit boring. The supporting characters have all the quirks and interest in the story, but they feel a bit flat, too. This may be partially intentional. It feels like ...more
Jul 27, 2015 TL marked it as gave-up-on-lost-interest  ·  review of another edition
Started off well but just fell flat for me after awhile.
Meh. I expected it to be underwhelming and it was. Also, a whole month for under 300 pages? That's on me. This wasn't a difficult read... Clever in parts, meticulous throughout, magical realism but in a really boring sort of way. :/
Apr 13, 2009 Laurie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Peculiar story, not sure if it's magical realism or just sci fi/mystery, but in any case, it's great fun, the sort of book that sticks in the mind.
Jun 14, 2009 Peter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had a bit of trouble getting into the Manual of Detection. I felt like I was in a Magritte painting where things are strange and precise, and but cold and lifeless. The main character barely shows any humanity until 3 or 4 chapters in when he waves to some school children. The murder of a colleague discovered earlier creates only a bout of self-absorption.

Around page 96, however, the book picked up for me so that I had trouble putting it down. The protagonist develops and his character flaws
Candace Burton
film noir. gothic fantasy. the thursday next series, the thin man movies, spenser and hawk. if you like any of these, you will likely enjoy this book as much as i did. it is splendidly and almost seamlessly written. the prose is intense and carries a depth that i don't find often in any but the most tragic of fictions--and this is no tragedy. it's not a comedy, it's definitely not a romance, but really just a good story with some decidedly whacked out elements. charles unwin, hapless clerk to th ...more
Oct 20, 2012 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
“The Manual of Detection” is a quirky novel that combines mystery with “mystery”. Even after reading it, I’m not sure how it should be characterized. There is certainly detection and mystery. But there’s also a strange world with stranger rules and actors. It doesn’t try to be like anything else, yet it echoes classic detective novels and film.

We have a protagonist who spends most of the book confused over the disappearance of “his” Detective (he is his assigned clerk who receives and re-writes
I want to be clear that I’m not making fun of people who do this, but almost every Goodreads review I’ve read of this book contains some description-by-simile: it's like Kafka; it's like Kafka and Auster collaborating; it's like Kafka's lovechild with Chesterton, writing his own bedtime story; it's like Kafka and Chesterton ejaculated into the skull of Lewis Carroll and made Lethem (early-mid Lethem) drink it; it's like Kafka possessed Neil Gaiman who then wrote the story with a typewriter of ca ...more
Jul 04, 2009 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Manual of Detection is a brainy confection of a detective fantasy. Its core mystery is less of the whodunnit crime thriller variety and more of the grand conspiracy variety woven with the cloth of high fantasy (there are flavors of everything in the sauce here from Swift and Peake and Lewis Carroll and Chesterton all the way through to Gaiman and Gilliam).

Charles Unwin is the novel's dubious hero - a hyper-meticulous clerk (some of the most wry parts of the novel describe Unwin's fastidious
Dec 12, 2009 Joshua rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was a bit disappointed in this book. The premise was the hook which drew me in: A lowly clerk in a detective agency is promoted when a detective goes missing and a supervisor is murdered. He knows absolutely nothing of investigation except for the case reports he's been typing over the years and what he reads in the book he's been given on his promotion; "The Manual of Detection." The story had a definite noir tone in that it takes place in an unspecified city where it is always raining and ty ...more
Nov 02, 2014 Nikmaack rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Two thirds of the way through, I lost all interest in the book. I can't even say why, exactly. Reading it became a chore. The plot seemed entirely artificial, the characters wooden, the whole thing too contrived and "clever" for its own good.

What happened? I was in awe with the opening, enjoying the dreamy quality of the book. But at some critical juncture it all began to feel muddy and convoluted and pointless.

By the end, I was skimming. Barely taking in the words. Which is odd given how enrap
Seizure Romero
Sep 22, 2010 Seizure Romero rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
Regarding Mr. Charles Unwin who rides his bicycle to work everyday, and who rides holding an umbrella when it is raining:

"Though inconspicuous by nature, as a bicyclist and an umbrellist Unwin was severely evident." (Chapter One, page 1)

This sentence makes me really happy.
Mary Wagner
Feb 27, 2013 Mary Wagner rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I did not get this book - but I tried!
Chad Sayban
May 26, 2015 Chad Sayban rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Within an unnamed city in a alternate world, 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. However, 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 and the enigmatic Manual of Detection.

There are p
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Eclectic Readers: The Manual of Detection 1 13 Jun 26, 2012 06:15PM  
  • The Prophecy Machine (Investments, #1)
  • The Little Sleep (Mark Genevich, #1)
  • The Somnambulist (Domino Men #1)
  • Heart of Veridon (The Burn Cycle, #1)
  • Lord Kelvin's Machine
  • The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime: Forgotten Cops and Private Eyes from the Time of Sherlock Holmes
  • Finch (Ambergris, #3)
  • The Caveman's Valentine
  • The Dream of Perpetual Motion
  • Devil's Garden
  • Sherlock Holmes and the King's Evil: And Other New Tales Featuring the World's Greatest Detective (Sherlock Holmes, #4)
  • Secrets of the Fire Sea (Jackelian, #4)
  • Foop!
  • The Case of the Missing Books (Mobile Library Mystery #1)
  • Getting Old Is Tres Dangereux (Gladdy Gold, #6)
  • The Steampunk Trilogy
  • Jack Faust
  • Last Days
Jedediah Berry was raised in the Hudson Valley region of New York State. His first novel, The Manual of Detection, received the Crawford Fantasy Award and the Dashiell Hammett Prize, and his short stories have appeared in anthologies including Best New American Voices and Best American Fantasy. He lives in Western Massachusetts.

"Jedediah Berry knows magic. The Manual of Detection combines the intr
More about Jedediah Berry...

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“The world is unkind to the shoeless and frolicsome.” 12 likes
“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.” 8 likes
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