The world Jedediah Berry creates in The Manual of Detection is both familiar and strange. There are detectives who investigate mysteries, but their cases have names like “The Man Who Stole November 12th” and “The Three Deaths of Colonel Baker.” A man named Charles Unwin tries to get his old job back, but discovers he must first figure out who is controlling the sleeping city’s dreams. It’s this creative mixture of mystery and surrealism that makes Berry’s novel both unique and delightfully eerie.
Charles Unwin has many talents. He can ride his bicycle through the city’s slick streets while simultaneously holding his umbrella aloft; he is a meticulous dreamer, who can exert control over the images that flood his brain at night; and, perhaps most importantly, he is incredibly adept at maintaining order. As one of the Agency’s most dedicated clerks Unwin possesses a definite knack for transforming mysteries into tidy, logical explanations, especially when he is piecing together airtight solutions from the reports of Detective Travis Sivart. But when Sivart goes missing, Unwin’s own world is profoundly disrupted. In fact, he is whisked away from his clerk’s desk, handed a book, and told that his new title is Detective.