An unlikely sleuth anchors an unlikely investigation in Berry’s fantastical melding of Kafka, Hitchcock and The Man Who Was Thursday.
For 20 years Charles Unwin has toiled as a clerk to Detective Travis T. Sivart. Now he’s been plucked from his assignment shadowing a mysterious young woman in a plaid skirt and catapulted to the rank of detective himself. His queasy meeting with his Watcher, Edward Lamech, ends with his discovery that Lamech is dead, with every indication that Unwin is his killer. Partly to dispel the gathering clouds of suspicion, partly to fend off the jeers of his new colleagues, but mostly because he doesn’t know what else to do, Unwin throws himself manfully into the investigation of Enoch Hoffmann, the magician who’s recently resurfaced eight years after pulling off his greatest criminal coup: the theft of November 12th, a theft so audacious and comprehensive that everyone in the city went to bed on the 11th and didn’t wake up until the 13th. Making time with suspects like femme fatale Cleopatra Greenwood and apparent walk-ons like Municipal Museum attendant Edwin Moore—who know without exception more than he does about the theft of The Oldest Murdered Man and the Three Deaths of Colonel Baker—he sees that buried in the archives of the cases Detective Sivart solved all those years ago, there are “mysteries that have been passed off as solutions.” Armed with the ever-helpful Manual of Detection, he realizes that in order to capture Hoffmann, whose “true goal is the destruction of the boundary between the city’s rational mind and the violent delirium of its lunatic dreams,” he must become a dream detective. It’s a task no less daunting for readers who are batted back and forth between Unwin’s madly symbolic dreams and a waking reality that seems equally preposterous.
Though its nonsense logic eventually lags behind its breakneck pace, Berry’s debut is a boldly inventive deconstruction of Cartesian metaphysics, the criminal-justice system and the well-oiled detective story.