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 (Continued...):
A subterranean breeze blew up from the tracks, ruffling the hem of her coat. The seven twenty-seven train, one minute late as usual, arrived at the terminal. A pause, a hiss: the gleaming doors slid open. A hundred and more black raincoats poured all at once from the train and up through the gate. The stream parted as it met her. She stood on her toes, looking left and right.
The last of the raincoats rushed past. Not one of them had stopped for her.
Unwin returned the schedule to his pocket, put his umbrella under his arm, picked up his briefcase, his coffee. The woman's solitude had gone undisturbed: should he have felt guilty for being relieved? So long as no one stopped for her, her visits to Central Terminal would continue, and so would his. Now, as she began her walk back to the revolving doors, he followed, matching his pace to hers so he would pass only a few steps behind her on his way to his bicycle.
He could see the wisps of brown hair that had escaped from under her cap. He could count the freckles on the back of her neck, but the numbers meant nothing; all was mystery. As he had the previous morning, and the seven mornings before that, Unwin willed with all the power in his lanky soul that time, like the train at the end of its track, would stop.
This morning it did. The woman in the plaid coat dropped her umbrella. She turned and looked at him. Her eyeshe had never seen them so closewere the clouded silver of old mirrors. The numbered panels on the arrival and departure boards froze. The station announcements ceased. The four second hands on the four faces of the clock trembled between numbers. The insides of Unwin's ever-wound wristwatch seized.
He looked down. Her umbrella lay on the floor between them. But his hands were full, and the floor was so far away.
Someone behind him said, "Mr. Charles Unwin?"
The timetables came back to life, the clocks remembered themselves, the station resumed its murmuring. A plump man in a herringbone suit was staring at him with green-yellow eyes. He danced the big fingers of his right hand over the brim of a hat held in his left. "Mr. Charles Unwin," he said again, not a question this time.
The woman in the plaid coat snatched up her umbrella and walked away. The man in the herringbone suit was still waiting.
"The coffee," Unwin began to explain.
The man ignored him. "This way, Mr. Unwin," he said, and gestured with his hat toward the north end of the terminal. Unwin glanced back, but the woman was already lost to the revolving doors.
What could he do but follow? This man knew his namehe might also know his secrets, know he was making unofficial trips for unofficial reasons. He escorted Unwin down a long corridor where men in iron chairs read newspapers while nimble boys shined their shoes.
"Where are we going?"
"Someplace we can talk in private."
"I'll be late for work."
The man in the herringbone suit flipped open his wallet to reveal an Agency badge identifying him as Samuel Pith, Detective. "You're on the job," Pith said, "starting this moment. That makes you a half hour early, Mr. Unwin."
They came to a second corridor, dimmer than the first, blocked by a row of signs warning of wet floors. Beyond, a man in gray coveralls slid a grimy-looking mop over the marble in slow, indeliberate arcs. The floor was covered with red and orange oak leaves, tracked in, probably, by a passenger who had arrived on one of the earlier trains from the country.
Detective Pith cleared his throat, and the custodian shuffled over to them, pushed one of the signs out of the way, and allowed the two to pass.
The floor was perfectly dry. Unwin glanced into the custodian's bucket. It was empty.
"Listen carefully, now," said Detective Pith. He emphasized the words by tapping his hat brim against Unwin's chest. "You're an odd little fellow. You've got peculiar habits. Every morning this week, same time, there's Charles Unwin, back at Central Terminal. Not for a train, though. His apartment is just seven blocks from the office."
"I come for the"
"Damn it, Unwin, don't tell me. We like our operatives to keep a few mysteries of their own. Page ninety-six of the Manual."
"I'm no operative, sir. I'm a clerk, fourteenth floor. And I'm sorry you've had to waste your time. We're both behind schedule now."
"I told you," Pith growled, "you're already on the job. Forget the fourteenth floor. Report to Room 2919. You've been promoted." From his coat pocket Pith drew a slim hardcover volume, green with gold lettering: The Manual of Detection. "Standard issue," he said. "It's saved my life more than once."
Unwin's hands were still full, so Pith slipped the book into his briefcase.
"This is a mistake," Unwin said.