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Bookmarks Issue: 
41-July-Aug-2009
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A-The Manual of DetectionJedediah Berry’s work has been published in Best New American Voices 2008; his first detective novel defies the tropes of the genre.

The Story: In a city where it never stops raining, the various crimes that plague the citizenry are directed to a single, massive detective agency. Charles Urwin was a mere clerk there, until his boss, master detective Travis Sivart, went missing. Now Urwin, reluctantly, and perhaps mistakenly, promoted to detective, must investigate Sivart’s whereabouts with only the help of a narcoleptic assistant and the Manual of the title. But the situation grows more complicated when Urwin discovers that Sivart’s brilliant casework was not all it was cracked up to be. To make matters worse, a mysterious criminal taunts the city’s denizens in their dreams.
Penguin. 288 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 1594202117

Guardian (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"The book jacket mentions Chandler and Douglas Adams, Terry Gilliam, David Lynch and Jorge Luis Borges, while US critics have tossed in Kafka and Paul Auster. And Berry’s debut detective novel is indeed imaginative, fantastical, sometimes inexplicable, labyrinthine and ingenious." Peter Guttridge

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"[This] first novel by Jedediah Berry lives up to the eerie packaging, reading like something lifted from Ray Bradbury’s Dark Carnival and dropped into a Kafka setting. … Unwin’s uncanny adventures make for a memorable trip." Marilyn Stasio

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Berry sets up a neat literary game and plays it through to the end with a great deal of wit and aplomb. A handsomely designed book, The Manual of Detection is a distinctively surreal whodunit." Michael Berry

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"The Manual of Detection, let it be stressed, more closely resembles G. K. Chesterton’s hallucinatory The Man Who Was Thursday or Jorge Luis Borges’s mystery ficciones than it does the adventures of Sam Spade. … The Manual of Detection might not follow the detective-fiction manual, but there is nothing mysterious about the appeal of this inventive, outrageous and often amusing dream-within-a-dream." Tom Nolan

Critical Summary

The comparisons used by critics in describing The Manual of Detection—Borges! Chesterton! Bradbury! Kafka! Lynch! Gilliam!—may seem overblown. But this list of literary (and cinematic) heavy hitters may not be hyperbolic praise so much as the only means available to explain how a book that initially seems to be a private eye novel can also be a work of absurdist art, "a surreal transmogrification of a genre" (Wall Street Journal). The critics might not have been able to categorize it, but they were also unable to put it down. However, as more than one reviewer pointed out, this may not be the best book for those who like their gumshoes straight, no chaser.