Sunday, March 11, 2012

The manual of detection

 I always browse the "sales" section at the back of the American Bookshop in The Hague. That random collection of books often hides little gems. And the books - if carefully selected - are almost too cheap for their value. One of those was The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry.

The book had a lot of positive reviews and I too have read it with pleasure. See the references below for more information. But what gripped me most were the opening quotes above the chapters. These come from the "Manual of detection" that every detective receives and that, as is revealed later, was not written by a detective at all. And there's a secret missing chapter that was censored from the official version.

What struck me most was the quote starting chapter 2 - On evidence:
Objects have memory too. The doorknob remembers who turned it, the telephone who answered it. The gun remembers when it was last fired, and by whom. It is for the detective to learn the language of these things, so that he might hear them when they have something to say.
This is something that I notice every day and that fascinates me. Objects indeed have a memory. I have written about that before. But they don't store individual memories but cumulative, statistical memories. The doorknob really remembers - but it remembers the statistical distribution of thousands of hands. And maybe that is more interesting than the memory of an individual hand.

And the floor of the train station remembers the spot where travelers stepped off the staircase. The city has developed a sore from this constant irritation. Lesions like these should be noticed and repaired. Who knows what will seep into this world if this membrane becomes too porous.

There exists a website that lists "entrances to hell". And it is inspiring to see the variety of portals that exist between our world and the mythical underworld. But all entrances are formed by discrete objects: doors, gates, holes, pipes and boxes. But maybe these are less threatening than this "thinning of the membrane". Martin Howse has described these lesions as "buboes on the skin of the city" that can be traced and excavated.

And this brings us to the opening quote of chapter 4 - On clues:

Most everything can be divided into two categories: details and clues. Knowing one from the other is more important than knowing your left shoe from your right.
One of the aims of my weblog is to combine real science and  (sometimes pseudo-scientific) imagination into a coherent structure. A structure that enriches the experience of everyday life so much that it makes travel redundant. Some ideas are "clues" - they add weight to the monster structure and make it even more precarious and this is good. Other ideas are just interesting, but they don't add to the structure. It is really difficult to distinguish between them.

The manual of detection - Strange Horizons reviwew
The manual of detection - Amazon
Jedediah Berry - Weblog

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