Charles Unwin is an unassuming clerk working on the fourteenth floor of ‘the Agency’, a mysterious organization located in a mysterious city. One morning Charles meets up with a Detective Pith from the Agency who informs him that he’s been promoted – he’s no longer a clerk but now is also a detective. This throws Charles off and agitated, he tries to reclaim his old position all the while solving the riddle of where his predecessor has disappeared. While one might assume that Charles would be pleased with his promotion, the result is actually the opposite. He enjoys being a clerk and he’s very good at it. Clerking at the Agency involves organizing, cataloguing (and discarding what the clerk deems irrelevant) all the clues, facts, evidence and solutions gathered by the detectives. Each detective is assigned one clerk who is responsible for all cases investigated by their detective.
This book is nothing like what I thought it would be. I expected something conventional in the, well, mystery/detective novel genre. Ha! It’s anything but conventional, at least plot-wise. The writing is good, sparse and to-the-point. The story takes on a surrealist, fantastical perspective and I have to confess I was somewhat lost at times. I had a bit of trouble following the plot because of the unusual method of story-telling. I don’t think, however, that it’s the author’s fault – I’m just not used to this kind of writing style. To give an example, the cases Charles’ detective (Sivart), followed were strange – one was called ‘The Man Who Stole November Twelfth” and the reader should take that title literally.
There were a few plot twists (in the normal context of this book) which I found very clever. As a matter of fact given my confusion with the nature of this novel, I likely missed some plot points as I was so focused on untangling what was going on. I plan on re-reading this book soon since there were subtleties I know I didn’t catch and I believe this is one of those books I can read over and over again and likely find something new each time.
This book is like nothing I’ve ever read before in this genre and I would recommend it to anyone who loves mysteries with and off-beat, quirky approach to the story.