Jedediah Berry’s The Manual of Detection contains a plethora of interesting characters: intimidating formerly-conjoined twins, a psychic giantess, an infamous biloquist, enough sleepwalkers to fill a small city, a missing detective whose name is a palindrome (Travis Sivart), and three women straight out of noir fiction (a detective’s assistant, a mellifluous-voiced femme-fatal, and a mysterious woman in a plaid coat). The novel combines psychological mystery, fantasy, humour, and elements of steampunk, all weaved together to form a unique, charming atmosphere.
The writing has been compared to such luminaries as Jorges Luis Borges and Franz Kafka, but I think that there are too many answers neatly revealed by the end of the novel to associate closely with these authors; a more apt comparison would be the novels of Philip Kindred Dick, though Jedediah Berry’s prose is more engaging and literate than PKD’s oeuvre.
There were many entertaining lines in the book, and some of my favourites appeared as quotes from the eponymous ‘The Manual of Detection’ at the beginning of each chapter:
Objects have memory too. The doorknob remembers who turned it, the telephone who answered it. The gun remembers when it was last fired, and by whom. It is for the detective to learn the language of these things, so that he might hear them when they have something to say. [On Evidence, Chapter Two]
If you are not setting a trap, then you are probably walking into one. It is the mark of the master to do both at once. [On Skullduggery, Chapter Fifteen]
There are some muddled portions in the middle of the story that almost lost me, but the novel is interesting, readable, and tied up neatly at the end.