Friday, February 19, 2010

Keeping It Surreal

A few weeks ago, the artist of one of my favorite webcomics informed his readers that his good friend Jedidiah Berry's new book had just come out in paperback. Jeph suggested that we all go out and purchase the book. I thought little of it at the time, but as I wandered into work the next day, there it was. A thin Penguin volume, with a strange cover. The Manual of Detection.

Fast forward a few weeks. Between Jeph's suggestion and my own curiosity, I decided to stop slogging my way through House of Leaves (don't get me wrong, it's amazingly written, but I'd be shocked if I was reading it correctly) and give the book a shot. After the first chapter, I was glad I did. It's one of those titles that hooks you in after the first few pages, urging you to read on.

The main character is an eccentric fellow named Charles Unwin, who works as a clerk in a detective agency. His job is simple - take the notes that his designated detective Travis Sivart supplies, and turn them into readable reports. Although not particularly exciting work, he takes great pride in it. Everything changes, however, when his detective disappears, and he is promoted to replace him. So he pursues leads and trails unsavory characters, armed with nothing but an umbrella and the Manual of Detection (basically Detectives For Dummies). All the while completely unsure of what he is doing.

The book is about as surreal as they come. Sivart, rather famous after solving the infamous mystery of The Man Who Stole November 12th, warns Unwin of impending trouble in a dream. The evil Rook brothers, once conjoined twins but now separate (and inseparable), have not slept in 17 years. And an evil force is stealing all the alarm clocks in the city.

It's a remarkably well-written book, so I am actually rather surprised there isn't more buzz about it. I'm just glad they decided to switch the cover dramatically from the hardcover - the original artwork probably wasn't doing them any favors. Nevertheless, Berry's quirky characters and clever turns of phrase are likely to capture any reader's fancy, if given ample opportunity.

Next time you're in, pick up a copy and read the first chapter. It's hard not to like it.

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