Jedediah Berry's protagonist steps beyond the boundaries of the detective genre and into a world that, like our own, is messy and confusing.
Jedediah Berry's protagonist steps beyond the boundaries of the detective genre and into a world that, like our own, is messy and confusing.

Philosophical investigations



Siddhartha Deb scopes out two crime novels that play off readers' expectations about the genre. The Manual of Detection Jedediah Berry Penguin Press Dh88 Wonderful World Javier Calvo Translated by Mara Faye Lethem Harper Dh110 Every reader of the crime novel has a theory of the crime novel. It may lurk deep down, present in consciousness only as a set of expectations about problems and solutions, but it always exists. This knowingness on the part of the reader, this ever-present sense of the story operating in tandem with a set of rules, makes crime fiction a debased literary school partial to predictable stories and bad writing - and a genre whose fundamental dependence on rules makes deviation exciting and rewarding.

Jedediah Berry's debut novel, The Manual of Detection, makes it clear from the beginning that it desires a place in the second category. Set in a nameless city where it never stops raining, it opens with the unheroic image of "Mr Charles Unwin, lifelong resident of this city", bicycling to work with an umbrella strapped to his handlebar. Unwin is an unlikely protagonist for a crime novel. True, he works for the mysterious "Agency", a private investigation outfit that occupies an entire building on the borderline between downtown and the old, anarchic port city. However, he is not a detective but a detective's clerk; his work consists entirely of writing up and filing the case notes of Travis T Sivart, the most celebrated of the Agency's operatives. Unwin is content in this role, happy with his bicycle, umbrella and the wristwatch he received for 20 years of devoted service. His peers are not the hard-boiled American detectives found in the work Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler but the petty officials and minor civil servants who populate much of 19th-century Russian fiction.

Unwin's comfortable routine, however, falls apart soon after we meet him. Sivart - the "detective's detective" responsible for keeping the notorious criminal Enoch Hoffmann at bay and for solving cases like "The Three Deaths of Colonel Baker" - is missing. And there is a growing sense that the Agency and the city it protects are under renewed threat from Hoffmann and his allies among the underclass. This, by itself, is enough to disconcert Unwin; he is even more shocked when he is moved, without explanation, from his clerk's desk on the 14th floor to a private office on the 29th. He has been effectively promoted to detective - which means that he receives the physical trappings of the genre: badge, gun, female assistant and (less predictably) a copy of the Agency's ur-text, The Manual of Detection.

At this point, a stale detective novel might have Unwin flash his badge at a minor official, fire his gun at a thug, and discover his female assistant to be either coyly supportive or seductively dangerous. But Unwin doesn't want the badge, doesn't know how to use a gun, and is far less competent than his assistant. He decides to investigate Sivart's absence only because he wants his familiar clerking job back.

It is the Agency manual Unwin receives, a quote from which precedes each chapter, that truly pushes things beyond mere mystery. These extracts describe the elements of criminal investigation - shadowing, evidence, corpses and clues - as they are portrayed in crime novels. What is impressive here is not just the postmodern playfulness - the blurring of the lines between Unwin's Manual and ours - but the genuine artfulness. The chapter On Evidence, for example, begins:

"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." There is a poetry to the writing here, but also an alertness to ideas. Berry doesn't stop after reminding us that physical evidence is a trope of crime fiction. Instead, he pushes us to ponder what a strange thing the genre is, steeped in a materialism so extreme that objects like guns and doorknobs speak a truth that human beings won't or can't. In this he joins the ranks of thinkers like Walter Benjamin and Ernst Bloch, who saw early crime fiction's fixation on physical evidence as a manifestation of a capitalist world where objects, or even scraps of objects, take precedence over human beings.

The nature of Berry's accomplishment is illuminated by comparison to another recent crime novel concerned with the manipulation of genre expectations. In Javier Calvo's Wonderful World, translated from the Spanish by Mara Faye Lethem, a young Barcelonian antique dealer named Lucas Giraut attempts to save the family business and solve the mystery surrounding his late father's unjust imprisonment some 30 years ago. Giraut is an affecting creation, a pudgy young nerd whose designer suits fail to redress an utter lack of machismo or help him stand up to his strong-willed, silicone-infused mother who wants to sideline him while globalising the family business. Calvo is clearly interested in evoking the feverish, speculative deal-making of the gold rush days of global capital, which often brought together new money and old artefacts, high and pop culture, big business and the gangster spirit. Thus Giraut's plan involves enlisting a strip-club owner and his criminal associates in a scheme to steal a group of medieval paintings called the St Kieran panels, which he hopes to sell at a vast profit to a global collector whose most defining feature is his spectacular wealth. While saving the business and showing his mother who's boss, he will also solve the mystery of his father, who met his ruin in search of the St Kieran panels. In his preface, Calvo credits "the ghost of Charles Dickens" with writing his novel. The influence is most obvious in Giraut's fixation on his father's undoing and imprisonment. It is also evident in Calvo's deft plotting, generous use of cliffhangers, and exaggerated characters: Bocanegra, the large and menacing strip club owner who wears women's fur coats; Pavel, a minor Russian gangster who aspires to be a Rastafarian; and Hannah Linus, the Swedish owner of the gallery where the St Kieran panels are being exhibited, who is cold and ambitious on the surface but secretly filled with wild, hedonistic lust. The problem with this amusing tale is that Calvo riffs on so many genres and influences at once that it is hard for him to explore or exploit any one in a meaningful way. Perhaps in keeping with the fact that he has translated David Foster Wallace into Spanish, he seems committed to the kind of frenzied, excessive postmodernism that produces large casts of characters surrounded by a barrage of cultural references, brand names and helter-skelter prose. So, in addition to the characters already mentioned, we also meet Aníbal Manta, a gargantuan hit man who reads X-Men comics (a clear commentary on the bizarrely cobbled-together nature of Giraut's gang); Valentina, Giraut's neighbour and closest friend, a 12-year-old girl who seems to be growing delusional in her obsession with the writing of Stephen King; and so on. There is even a running extract from a fictitious King novel called Wonderful World, suspenseful and hokey in equal measure. But this similarity to the Manual of Detection within The Manual of Detection only highlights the differences between the two writers. For Berry, the conventions of mysteries are useful tools for asking the same sorts of questions that literature, genre-tweaking or otherwise, has always asked. For Calvo, they are another set of cultural artefacts to joke around with. His novel possesses an affected irony that is the equivalent of the narrator constantly drawing scare quotes in the air, as in this representative sample: "As the Jaguar gets to the end of the Ramblas, the landscape changes. The tiny street entrances on either side are filled with shady-looking people. With that stereotypical gesturing that people use when carrying out illegal transactions. Looking around furtively. Making transactions below waist level and looking over their shoulders with serious expressions. There are also guys vomiting with the palms of their hands resting on the façades of buildings and their heads hanging between their arms." This approach is by turns dazzling and irritating. More importantly, behind its frenetic excess, Calvo's book is a fairly conventional thriller. There is never any doubt about who is good, who is bad and what general shape the resolution will take. Berry's denouement is more complicated. As Unwin goes uneasily about trying to find Sivart so that he can return to his clerk job, the novel begins to raise questions not just about Sivart (the living embodiment of the detective genre) but the nature and function of the Agency. As Unwin penetrates deeper into the mysteries of the organisation he has served so faithfully, and so unquestioningly, he discovers that above the detectives are the watchers, high functionaries who practice a form of dream detection that involves entering the minds of citizens and criminals alike (a process rendered beautifully in a stunning sequence). Unwin also learns that many of the "criminals" the Agency is fighting are little more than poor people that the city doesn't want inside its tightly patrolled boundaries. As we follow these revelations, it becomes almost impossible not to read the The Manual of Detection as an allegory for our own times, in which the methods applied in the name of keeping would-be terrorists at check are often as insidious as the evils they are meant to prevent. Unwin, the everyman hero, eventually comes to question the official line about crime and terror - to understand that the conflict in his world is not just between crime and detection, but also between power and liberty, with no neat or permanent divisions between the two. In doing so, he steps beyond the boundaries of his genre and into a world that, like our own, is messy and confusing, the kind of place Walter Benjamin had in mind when he wrote: "In times of terror, when everything is something of a conspirator, everybody will be in the position of having to play detective." Siddhartha Deb is the author of the novels The Point of Return and An Outline of the Republic.

The bio

Favourite book: Peter Rabbit. I used to read it to my three children and still read it myself. If I am feeling down it brings back good memories.

Best thing about your job: Getting to help people. My mum always told me never to pass up an opportunity to do a good deed.

Best part of life in the UAE: The weather. The constant sunshine is amazing and there is always something to do, you have so many options when it comes to how to spend your day.

Favourite holiday destination: Malaysia. I went there for my honeymoon and ended up volunteering to teach local children for a few hours each day. It is such a special place and I plan to retire there one day.

Company Profile

Company name: Cargoz
Date started: January 2022
Founders: Premlal Pullisserry and Lijo Antony
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 30
Investment stage: Seed

Profile of Udrive

Date started: March 2016

Founder: Hasib Khan

Based: Dubai

Employees: 40

Amount raised (to date): $3.25m – $750,000 seed funding in 2017 and a Seed+ round of $2.5m last year. Raised $1.3m from Eureeca investors in January 2021 as part of a Series A round with a $5m target.

SPECS

Engine: 4-litre V8 twin-turbo
Power: 630hp
Torque: 850Nm
Transmission: 8-speed Tiptronic automatic
Price: From Dh599,000
On sale: Now

The years Ramadan fell in May

1987

1954

1921

1888

Monster Hunter: World

Capcom

PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Company Profile

Company name: Namara
Started: June 2022
Founder: Mohammed Alnamara
Based: Dubai
Sector: Microfinance
Current number of staff: 16
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Family offices

Company profile

Name: Yabi by Souqalmal 

Started: May 2022, launched June 2023

Founder: Ambareen Musa

Based: Dubai 

Sector: FinTech 

Initial investment: undisclosed but soon to be announced 

Number of staff: 12 

Investment stage: seed  

Investors: Shuaa Capital

EMILY IN PARIS: SEASON 3

Created by: Darren Star

Starring: Lily Collins, Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, Ashley Park

Rating: 2.75/5

Zimbabwe v UAE, ODI series

All matches at the Harare Sports Club:

1st ODI, Wednesday, April 10

2nd ODI, Friday, April 12

3rd ODI, Sunday, April 14

4th ODI, Tuesday, April 16

UAE squad: Mohammed Naveed (captain), Rohan Mustafa, Ashfaq Ahmed, Shaiman Anwar, Mohammed Usman, CP Rizwan, Chirag Suri, Mohammed Boota, Ghulam Shabber, Sultan Ahmed, Imran Haider, Amir Hayat, Zahoor Khan, Qadeer Ahmed

NYBL PROFILE

Company name: Nybl 

Date started: November 2018

Founder: Noor Alnahhas, Michael LeTan, Hafsa Yazdni, Sufyaan Abdul Haseeb, Waleed Rifaat, Mohammed Shono

Based: Dubai, UAE

Sector: Software Technology / Artificial Intelligence

Initial investment: $500,000

Funding round: Series B (raising $5m)

Partners/Incubators: Dubai Future Accelerators Cohort 4, Dubai Future Accelerators Cohort 6, AI Venture Labs Cohort 1, Microsoft Scale-up 

How to invest in gold

Investors can tap into the gold price by purchasing physical jewellery, coins and even gold bars, but these need to be stored safely and possibly insured.

A cheaper and more straightforward way to benefit from gold price growth is to buy an exchange-traded fund (ETF).

Most advisers suggest sticking to “physical” ETFs. These hold actual gold bullion, bars and coins in a vault on investors’ behalf. Others do not hold gold but use derivatives to track the price instead, adding an extra layer of risk. The two biggest physical gold ETFs are SPDR Gold Trust and iShares Gold Trust.

Another way to invest in gold’s success is to buy gold mining stocks, but Mr Gravier says this brings added risks and can be more volatile. “They have a serious downside potential should the price consolidate.”

Mr Kyprianou says gold and gold miners are two different asset classes. “One is a commodity and the other is a company stock, which means they behave differently.”

Mining companies are a business, susceptible to other market forces, such as worker availability, health and safety, strikes, debt levels, and so on. “These have nothing to do with gold at all. It means that some companies will survive, others won’t.”

By contrast, when gold is mined, it just sits in a vault. “It doesn’t even rust, which means it retains its value,” Mr Kyprianou says.

You may already have exposure to gold miners in your portfolio, say, through an international ETF or actively managed mutual fund.

You could spread this risk with an actively managed fund that invests in a spread of gold miners, with the best known being BlackRock Gold & General. It is up an incredible 55 per cent over the past year, and 240 per cent over five years. As always, past performance is no guide to the future.

About Takalam

Date started: early 2020

Founders: Khawla Hammad and Inas Abu Shashieh

Based: Abu Dhabi

Sector: HealthTech and wellness

Number of staff: 4

Funding to date: Bootstrapped

Company profile

Company name: Fasset
Started: 2019
Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $2.45 million
Current number of staff: 86
Investment stage: Pre-series B
Investors: Investcorp, Liberty City Ventures, Fatima Gobi Ventures, Primal Capital, Wealthwell Ventures, FHS Capital, VN2 Capital, local family offices

KEY DATES IN AMAZON'S HISTORY

July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to Amazon.com, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the Amazon.com platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Klipit

Started: 2022

Founders: Venkat Reddy, Mohammed Al Bulooki, Bilal Merchant, Asif Ahmed, Ovais Merchant

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Digital receipts, finance, blockchain

Funding: $4 million

Investors: Privately/self-funded

The bio

Job: Coder, website designer and chief executive, Trinet solutions

School: Year 8 pupil at Elite English School in Abu Hail, Deira

Role Models: Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk

Dream City: San Francisco

Hometown: Dubai

City of birth: Thiruvilla, Kerala

In Full Flight: A Story of Africa and Atonement
John Heminway, Knopff