Something Strange Stirring in the Noir: Jedediah Berry’s The Manual of Detection

Jeff VanderMeer • January 23rd, 2009 @ 6:57 am • Book Reviews, Culture

…a book I’ve been looking forward to for awhile now. It’s beautifully designed.

When you factor in some other releases this year, it’s got to be considered an intriguing year for cross-genre noir/detective fiction. These books are all different, and yet all have some aspect of noir with urban settings.

That’s not even including China Mieville’s The City in the City, which as I understand it is influenced by Alfred Kubin, is a police procedural, and takes place in a real-world city which has a fantastical equivalent buried within it. So you’ve got the Huston, with its gritty realism and whacked out/strange elements in a real world setting, the Berry with a definite magic realist/Italo Calvino vibe, set in an unnamed city (but definitely could be in the real world), and my pulp noir/phantasmagorical/visionary fantasy Finch.

Also, as Gabriel pointed out in the comments thread, Brian Evenson’s Last Days, a powerful Kafka-esque Grand Guignol detective story set in the real world but featuring surreal events:

There has to be something in the water. Any other examples of similar cross-genre noir in 2009?

19 Responses to “Something Strange Stirring in the Noir: Jedediah Berry’s The Manual of Detection”

  1. GabrielM says:

    Brian Evenson’s LAST DAYS?

  2. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Ah–good point!

  3. GabrielM says:

    I blame the Yiddish policeman’s union!

  4. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Ha! You could, if the genesis of many of these novels didn’t precede the publication of that book. Brian’s is based on an existing novella. Mine I first got the idea for in 1999 and it slowly evolved since then. China’s seems to be a relatively recent change of direction that occurred after abandoning another idea, but I may be completely wrong about that as it’s just based on Kraken, either seriously or jokingly, having been bandied about as the original title for a new novel. I’m intrigued Kubin is one of the influences. The Other Side is one of my favorite novels.

  5. GabrielM says:

    I didn’t know about the Kubin link to Mieville’s novel, that’s very intriguing. You caught the exhibit when you were, no? Very interesting stuff. I was surprised to learn that he actually wrote more novels but have never seen any other, nor do I know whether they’ve been translated.

  6. John Langan says:

    I’d also include Paul Tremblay’s The Little Sleep, which is a fabulous blend of p.i.-noir with psycho-surrealism.

  7. Mastadge says:

    Now I’m curious about Kubin, but I see his novel is going for well over $50. Oi. Chances are slim that my library’ll have a copy, but I’ll take a look.

  8. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    John: Thanks for that. I haven’t started the novel yet, and had thought it was less surreal than that.

    Jeff

  9. DC Black says:

    Chabon’s “Yiddish Policeman’s Union” and Zivkovic’s “The Last Book” may be precursors of this trend.

  10. Alex Carnegie says:

    It certainly is nicely designed.

    I can get almost fetishistic about hardback books, in that if I really like a novel then having the paperback is just not enough, and for some it’s as if it *needs* to be read that way (I couldn’t imagine not having ‘City Of Saints’ & ‘House Of Leaves’ in HB), and similarly as an object, a thing you can be proud to own (without wanting to sound too materialistic) I think it’s a little akin to the way people collect vinyl records. I’m not in the first-edition market just yet though.

    A book is definately more than the text it contains, something that makes me slightly worry about the impact things like the Kindle will have on the book business in the future.

    2009 – year of the gumshoe? There’s a lot to look forward to. It’s nice to see more pulp-noir elements surface – I used to read a good deal of James Ellroy and I’ve been missing that kind of hard-edged grit of late, it’s certainly something I’ve seldom found in Fantasy.

    Interesting times!

  11. Alex Carnegie says:

    By the way, re. Chabon:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1185835/

    (I’ve been telling everyone since I found out. After pinching myself of course)

  12. GabrielM says:

    >>Now I’m curious about Kubin, but I see his novel is going for well over $50. Oi. Chances are slim that my library’ll have a copy, but I’ll take a look.

    I didn’t realize the Dedalus edition was out of print. It’s worth reading, but that’s a lot to pay for a trade paperback.

  13. GabrielM says:

    Perhaps also worth mentioning that Zoran Zivkovic’s THE LAST BOOK, which came out recently, is styled as a police procedural. In his intro John Grant draws comparisons to recent European noir (Mankell, etc.), but in the end the book was not, to my mind, all that different from Zivkovic’s others.

  14. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Thanks, Gabriel.

    I’m also beginning to think my complete Dedalus library might be worth something…

  15. Charles Tan says:

    I’d like to plug John Grant’s The City in These Pages for a police procedural that’s, well, you have to read it lest I spoil the story.

  16. Steve Roby says:

    Jack O’Connell had another Quinsigamond novel, The Resurrectionist, in 2008. Haven’t read it yet, but if it’s half as good as Wireless or The Dream Palace I’ll be happy.

  17. Steve Roby says:

    Skin Palace, not Dream Palace. (annoyed grunt)

  18. Weirdboiled or Noird? « The Little Sleep’s Blog says:

    [...] Weirdboiled or Noird? Jump to Comments China Mieville and Jeff Vandermeer have recently blogged about the recent proliferation of noir/crime fiction gone weird.  (See China’s post here, and Jeff’s here.) [...]

  19. Jeffrey Thomas says:

    http://www.jeffreyethomas.com/blog/?p=161
    My take on the recent — and I’d say very exciting — proliferation of weird detective stories. FINCH will be hard to top, but I’m looking forward to some of the others discussed here.

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