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...):
"For better or worse, somebody has noticed you. And there's no way now to get yourself unnoticed." He stared at Unwin a long moment. His substantial black eyebrows gathered downward, and his lips went stiff and frowning. But when he spoke, his voice was quieter, even kind. "I'm supposed to keep this simple, but listen. Your first case should be an easy one. Hell, mine was. But you're in this thing a little deeper, Unwin. Maybe because you've been with the Agency so long. Or maybe you've got some friends, or some enemies. It's none of my business, really. The point is"
"Please," said Unwin, checking his watch. It was seven thirty-four.
Detective Pith waved one hand, as though to clear smoke from the air. "I've already said more than I should have. The point is, Unwin, you're going to need a new hat."
The green trilby was Unwin's only hat. He could not imagine wearing anything else on his head.
Pith donned his own fedora and tipped it forward. "If you ever see me again, you don't know me. Got it?" He snapped a finger at the custodian and said, "See you later, Artie." Then the herringbone suit disappeared around the corner.
The custodian had resumed his work, mopping the dry floor with his dry mop, moving piles of oak leaves from one end of the corridor to the other. In the reports Unwin received each week from Detective Sivart, he had often read of those who, without being in the employ of the Agency, were nonetheless aware of one or more aspects of a casewho were, as the detective might write, "in on it." Could the custodian be one of those?
His name tag was stitched with red, curving letters.
"Mr. Arthur, sir?" Arthur continued working, and Unwin had to hop backward to escape the wide sweep of his mop. The custodian's eyes were closed, his mouth slightly open. And he was making a peculiar sound, low and whispery. Unwin leaned closer, trying to understand the words.
But there were no words, there was nothing to understand. The custodian was snoring.
Outside, Unwin dropped his coffee in a trash can and glanced downtown toward the Agency's gray, monolithic headquarters, its uppermost stories obscured by the rain. Years ago he had admitted to himself that he did not like the look of the building: its shadow was too long, the stone of its walls cold and somehow like that of a tomb. Better, he thought, to work inside a place like that than to glimpse it throughout the day.
To make up for lost time, he risked a shortcut down an alleyway he knew was barely wide enough to accommodate his open umbrella. The umbrella's metal nubs scraped against both walls as the bicycle bumped and jangled over old cobblestone.
He had already begun drafting in his mind the report that would best characterize his promotion, and in this draft the word "promotion" appeared always between quotation marks, for to let it stand without qualification would be to honor it with too much validity. Errors were something of a rarity at the Agency. It was a large organization, however, composed of a great many bureaus and departments, most of them beyond Unwin's purview. In one of those bureaus or departments, it was clear, an error had been committed, overlooked, and worst of all, disseminated.
He slowed his pace to navigate some broken bottles left strewn across the alley, the ribs of his umbrella bending against the walls as he turned. He expected at any moment to hear the fateful hiss of a popped tire, but he and his bicycle passed unscathed.
This error that Pith had brought with him to Central Terminalit was Unwin's burden now. He accepted it, if not gladly, then encouraged by the knowledge that he, one of the most experienced clerks of the fourteenth floor, was best prepared to cope with such a calamity. Every page of his report would intimate the fact. The superior who reviewed the final version, upon finishing, would sit back in his chair and say to himself, "Thank goodness it was Mr. Charles Unwin, and not some frailer fellow, to whom this task fell."
Unwin pedaled hard to keep from swerving and shot from the other end of the alley, a clutch of pigeons bursting with him into the rain.
In all his days of employment with the Agency, he had never encountered a problem without a solution. This morning's episode, though unusual, would be no exception. He felt certain the entire matter would be settled before lunchtime.
But even with such responsibilities before him, Unwin found himself thinking of the dream he had dreamed before waking, the one that had rattled and distracted him, causing him to scorch his oatmeal and nearly miss the woman in the plaid coat.
He was by nature a meticulous dreamer, capable of sorting his nocturnal reveries with a lucidity he understood to be rare. He was unaccustomed to the shock of such an intrusive vision, one that seemed not at all of his making, and more like an official communiqué.
In this dream he had risen from bed and gone to take a bath, only to find the bathtub occupied by a stranger, naked except for his hat, reclining in a thick heap of soap bubbles. The bubbles were stained gray around his chest by the ashes from his cigar. His flesh was gray, too, like smudged newsprint, and a bulky gray coat was draped over the shower curtain. Only the ember of the stranger's cigar possessed color, and it burned so hot it made the steam above the tub glow red.
Unwin stood in the doorway, a fresh towel over his arm, his robe cinched tight around his waist. Why, he wondered, would someone go through all the trouble of breaking in to his apartment, just to get caught taking a bath?
The stranger said nothing. He lifted one foot out of the water and scrubbed it with a long-handled brush. When he was done, he soaped the bristles, slowly working the suds into a lather. Then he scrubbed the other foot.