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The Manual of Detection

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  4,349 ratings  ·  762 reviews
"This debut novel weaves the kind of mannered fantasy that might result if Wes Anderson were to adapt Kafka." --The New Yorker

Reminiscent of imaginative fiction from Jorge Luis Borges to Jasper Fforde yet dazzlingly original, The Manual of Detection marks the debut of a prodigious young talent. Charles Unwin toils as a clerk at a huge, imperious detective agency located
Paperback, 278 pages
Published January 26th 2010 by Penguin Books (first published 2009)
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Average rating 3.58  · 
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 ·  4,349 ratings  ·  762 reviews

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Jul 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
David Katzman
Wonderful, strange and immersive, The Manual of Detection is one of my favorite books in recent memory. The world Berry has invented feels like the movie Brazil crossed with Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and inspired by classic noir detective stories and films, such as The Maltese Falcon. It's dark and grim yet somehow not depressing. I couldn't put it down.

The surreal narrative begins with the main character, Charles Unwin, who is a clerk at an elaborate and serpentine detective
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 16, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Nov 01, 2011 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
Feb 15, 2013 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 ...more
Apr 01, 2010 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.
Apr 13, 2009 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.
Nathan Rostron
Mar 06, 2009 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 ...more
Aug 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 06, 2009 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
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.

Dec 30, 2009 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
Oct 10, 2009 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 ...more
From BBC Radio 4 Extra:
Travis Sivart, 'the detective's detective' has gone missing. Raymond Chandler meets Kafka in this surreal tale of skulduggery and somnambulism.

Somewhere in an unnamed, rainy city, Charles Unwin, a lowly but efficient clerk in a big detective agency, finds his world turned upside down when his detective boss, Travis Sivart, disappears.

Unwin is suddenly promoted to the role - and forced out into the field for the first time in his life. Unprepared and untrained, armed only
Blake Fraina
Sep 10, 2011 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
Aug 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've been doing a lot of revisiting old favorites while counting down the days until my novel GEORGE & LIZZIE comes out, and rereading Jedediah Berry’s THE MANUAL OF DETECTION (Penguin, 2009) was a great pleasure. It's one of those peculiar and intriguing novels that are showing up with rather more frequency these days than they used to be. Describing it isn't easy. Berry’s novel is neither this nor that: the plot is not straightforward (to say the least); the setting is surreal yet oddly ...more
Deborah K.
Mar 07, 2010 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 ...more
Apr 16, 2011 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 26, 2015 marked it as dnf
Started off well but just fell flat for me after awhile.
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 ...more
Larry Bassett
Unique? Idiosyncratic? Eccentric? Odd? Mysterious? Unusual? Strange? Peculiar? Bizarre? Quirky? Fun?


Here is a selection of (only) positive comments from GR reviews:

“really just a good story with some decidedly whacked out elements” Candace Burton
“takes the old fashioned private eye story and recreates it with elements of fantasy” Deb
“a delightfully eccentric concoction that goes down easily” Blake Fraina
“every sentence is well-written” Joe Hunt
“The humor is silly and light, but the suspense
May 01, 2009 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
Mar 06, 2009 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
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 ...more
Jun 09, 2009 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
DeAnna Knippling
Sep 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most of this book is five-star. However, the author did not stick the landing - and I'm picky about landings.

A run fead, a nonsense work that starts messing with your brain. First paragraph:

"Lest 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. He had contrived a method to keep his umbrella open while pedaling, by hooking the umbrella's handle around the bicycle's handlebar. This method made
Dec 03, 2009 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 ...more
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Eclectic Readers: The Manual of Detection 1 19 Jun 26, 2012 06:15PM  

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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
“The world is unkind to the shoeless and frolicsome.” 13 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.” 10 likes
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