Sunday, March 8, 2009

"The Manual of Detection"

Jedediah Berry’s short fiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Best New American Voices and Best American Fantasy.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Manual of Detection, and reported the following:
File clerk Charles Unwin has just crossed the boundary between two worlds. In one of them, he’s been commuting by bicycle to a detective agency desk job for the last twenty years. The other world is considerably more dangerous, and all he knows about it comes from the case reports he files for star detective Travis Sivart. But Sivart has gone missing, and Unwin’s been promoted into his place. Now all he wants to do is find the detective so that he can have his old job back.

This leads him, on page 69, to the Forty Winks, a notorious barroom Sivart sometimes visited when he was desperate for information. The Forty Winks is in the basement of a mortuary, and the bartender, Edgar Zlatari, is also the cemetery’s caretaker and gravedigger. Naturally, he keeps the liquor in shelves made from coffins.

Unwin is trying hard to fit in here, but he stumbles as soon as Zlatari asks him what he wants to drink:

There were too many bottles stacked in that coffin, too many choices. What would Sivart have ordered? A hundred times the detective must have named his drinks of choice. But Unwin had stricken them from the reports, and now he found he could not remember even one. Instead the response to Emily’s secret phrase came uselessly to mind: And doubly in the bubbly.

“Root beer,” he said at last.

Zlatari blinked several times, as though maybe he had never heard of the stuff.

Readers may not be surprised to learn that Unwin makes more missteps—he’s out of his element, and he stays that way for a long time. Of course, that’s also what makes it hard for his adversaries to predict what he’ll do next.
Read an excerpt from The Manual of Detection and learn more about the book and author at Jedediah Berry's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue