The Manual of Detection

Jedediah Berry, Author . Penguin Press $25.95 (278p) ISBN 978-1-59420-211-7

Set in an unnamed city, Berry's ambitious debut reverberates with echoes of Kafka and Paul Auster. Charles Unwin, a clerk who's toiled for years for the Pinkerton-like Agency, has meticulously catalogued the legendary cases of sleuth Travis Sivart. When Sivart disappears, Unwin, who's inexplicably promoted to the rank of detective, goes in search of him. While exploring the upper reaches of the Agency's labyrinthine headquarters, the paper pusher stumbles on a corpse. Aided by a narcoleptic assistant, he enters a surreal landscape where all the alarm clocks have been stolen. In the course of his inquiries, Unwin is shattered to realize that some of Sivart's greatest triumphs were empty ones, that his hero didn't always come up with the correct solution. Even if the intriguing conceit doesn't fully work, this cerebral novel, with its sly winks at traditional whodunits and inspired portrait of the bureaucratic and paranoid Agency, will appeal to mystery readers and nongenre fans alike. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 12/08/2008
Release date: 03/01/2009
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