Saturday, 23 October 2010

"The Manual of Detection," by Jedediah Berry

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

This was a book that I had been intending to read for a while, and finally got around to. it wasn't what I was expecting - but in a good way. I had expected a conventional mystery, but got something a lot stranger.

The hero of Jedediah Berry's book is Charles Unwin. a seemingly unremarkable man who lives in a city somewhat like New York. He is a steady creature of habit, who deviates from his normal routine of cycling to work when he becomes obsessed with a woman who he sees waiting at Central Station. Then his work as a clerk at a shadowy detective agency is disrupted when the detective he is assigned to, Sivart, disappears and he is promoted to his place.

The book is a strange hybrid which somehow works. One of the reviews quoted in the book's promotional blurb compares it to Kafka, another compares it to a Sam Spade novel. I can see the point of both these comparisons, but I would also say that it has a sizeable splash of magic realism.

I think that I would recommend this book to anyone who saw and liked "Inception," as Jedediah Berry's book (which pre-dates "Inception") similarly plays with ideas of dream and reality. Jedediah Berry knows that dreams do not follow the same logic as waking life, which seems obvious, but he embellishes this theme with the realisation that "the world goes to shambles in the murky corners of night, and we trust a little bell to set it right again." But what if that trust is in vain...

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