Mystery & Suspense
In an unnamed city always slick with rain, where men still wear fedoras, Charles Unwin wishes only to escape his good fortune. A humble but content clerk in the large, bureaucratic Agency,
Unwin is inexplicably promoted to detective, a rank for which he lacks both the skills and the stomach. Thus begins The Manual Of Detection, Jedediah Berry's "remarkably auspicious debut" (Booklist) which is, at once, a satisfying mystery and a boundary pushing literary feat.
What little Charles Unwin knows about solving mysteries comes from the reports he has filed for the illustrious detective Travis Sivart, who has suddenly gone missing. Aided by an able, if sleepy, new assistant and a copy of the singular Manual of Detection, Unwin sets out to find Sivart, assuming that with the detective back at his job, Unwin can go back to his old job. As he closes in on Sivart, dark forces draw close to him; he is framed for murder and his umbrella, which he always carries with him, seems no match for the gun-toting goons that chase him. As he dodges these threats, mind-bending 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? And will it ever stop raining?
Unwin soon realizes that the greatest of Sivart's cases—including "The Three Deaths of Colonel Baker" and "The Man who Stole November 12th"—were, in fact, never solved correctly. He tackles puzzles that have eluded even the legendary Sivart by entering dreams—his own and other people's—where he finds all those missing alarm clocks and a criminal mastermind bent on total control of a slumbering city.
In this striking debut, Jedediah Berry delivers precise prose, imaginative storytelling, and airtight plotting, pulling the reader into his fascinating and fantastic world from page one.
Read the first chapter of The Manual of Dectection:
The expert detective's pursuit will go unnoticed, but not because he is unremarkable. Rather, like the suspect's shadow, he will appear as though he is meant to be there.
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 the bicycle less maneuverable and reduced the scope of Unwin's vision, but if his daily schedule was to accommodate an unofficial trip to Central Terminal for unofficial reasons, then certain risks were to be expected.
Though inconspicuous by nature, as a bicyclist and an umbrellist Unwin was severely evident. Crowds of pedestrians parted before the ringing of his little bell, mothers hugged their children near, and the children gaped at the magnificence of his passing. At intersections he avoided eye contact with the drivers of motor vehicles, so as not to give the impression he might yield to them. Today he was behind schedule. He had scorched his oatmeal, and tied the wrong tie, and nearly forgotten his wristwatch, all because of a dream that had come to him in the moments before waking, a dream that still troubled and distracted him. Now his socks were getting wet, so he pedaled even faster.
He dismounted on the sidewalk outside the west entrance of Central.
Terminal and chained his bicycle to a lamppost. The revolving doors spun ceaselessly, shunting travelers out into the rain, their black umbrellas blooming in rapid succession. He collapsed his own umbrella and slipped inside, checking the time as he emerged into the concourse.
His wristwatch, a gift from the Agency in recognition of twenty years of faithful service, never needed winding and was set to matchto the very secondthe time reported by the four-faced clock above the information booth at the heart of Central Terminal. It was twenty-three minutes after seven in the morning. That gave him three minutes exactly before the woman in the plaid coat, her hair pinned tightly under a gray cap, would appear at the south entrance of the terminal.
He went to stand in line at the breakfast cart, and the man at the front of the line ordered a coffee, two sugars, no cream.
"Slow today, isn't it?" Unwin said, but the man in front of him did not respond, suspecting, perhaps, a ruse to trick him out of his spot.
In any case it was better that Unwin avoid conversation. If someone were to ask why he had started coming to Central Terminal every morning when his office was just seven blocks from his apartment, he would say he came for the coffee. But that would be a lie, and he hoped he never had to tell it.
The tired-looking boy entrusted with the steaming machines of the breakfast cartNeville, according to his name tagstirred sugar into the cup one spoonful at a time. The man waiting for his coffee, two sugars, no cream, glanced at his watch, and Unwin knew without looking that the woman in the plaid coat would be here, or rather there, at the south end of the concourse, in less than a minute. He did not even want the coffee. But what if someone were to ask why he came to Central Terminal every morning at the same time, and he said he came for the coffee, but he had no coffee in his hand? Worse than a lie is a lie that no one believes.
When it was Unwin's turn to place his order, Neville asked him if he wanted cream or sugar.
"Just coffee. And hurry, please."
Neville poured the coffee with great care and with greater care fitted the lid onto the cup, then wrapped it in a paper napkin. Unwin took it and left before the boy could produce his change.
Droves of morning commuters sleepwalked to a murmur of station announcements and newspaper rustle. Unwin checked his ever-wound, ever-winding watch, and hot coffee seeped under the lid and over his fingers. Other torments ensued. His briefcase knocked against his knees, his umbrella began to slip from under his arm, the soles of his shoes squeaked on the marble floor. But nothing could divert him. He had never been late for her. Here now was the lofty arch of Gate Fourteen, the time twenty-six minutes after seven. And the woman in the plaid coat, her hair pinned tightly under a gray cap, tumbled through the revolving doors and into the heavy green light of a Central Terminal morning.
She shook water from her umbrella and gazed up at the vaulted ceiling, as though at a sky that threatened more rain. She sneezed, twice, into a gloved hand, and Unwin noted this variation on her arrival with the fervency of an archivist presented with newly disclosed documents. Her passage across the terminal was unswerving. Thirty-nine steps (it was never fewer than thirty- eight, never more than forty) delivered her to her usual spot, several paces from the gate. Her cheeks were flushed, her grip on her umbrella very tight. Unwin drew a worn train schedule from his coat pocket. He feigned an interest in the schedule while together (alone) they waited.
How many mornings before the first that he saw her had she stood there? And whose face did she hope to find among the disembarking host? She was beautiful, in the quiet way that lonely, unnoticed people are beautiful to those who notice them. Had someone broken a promise to her? Willfully, or due to unexpected misfortune? As an Agency clerk, it was not for Unwin to question too deeply, nor to conduct anything resembling an investigation. Eight days ago he had gone to Central Terminal, had even purchased a ticket because he thought he might like to leave town for a while. But when he saw the woman in the plaid coat, he stayed. The sight of her had made him wonder, and now he found he could not stop wondering. These were unofficial trips, and she was his unofficial reason; that was all.