The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
All the elements of noir are present here: a dreary setting, half-understood mysteries, double- and even triple-crosses, multiple femme fatales, even a dark carnival filled with surly carnies. The voice of the book is flat and even - a little too flat and even for my tastes. It is well-written but I found the characters lacking in motivation and emotion. The main character is simply pushed along, with little or no internal impetus, toward the inevitable end. He's not really so much a protagonist as a reactionary element. The weaving of the story in and out of the waking world and the world of dream is intriguing and well-executed, allowing some characters to assume one face in one setting and another face in the other. The main character, Charles Unwin, is really the only fully consistent personality throughout but, frankly, this also makes him the most milquetoast character of the bunch. And when your main character is dull, well, it takes an outstanding writer to "lift" the story "up" from the doldrums. Unfortunately the writerly chops aren't quite enough to raise the water-level, as it were, to flood stage.
Still, this is an enjoyable read. The strange mixture of hard-boiled detective and magical realism is a new twist on two old themes, and no one can accuse the author of being unoriginal in this way. Inject a lot more pizzazz into Charles Unwin (both in his voice and in his motivations) and a little more into the others (except for Emily, whom I thought was great) and this would become a four star review very quickly.
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