A Man of Shadows
by Jeff Noon
Regular readers of the newsletter and folks who’ve been buying books from me for a while will know that I’m a fan of strange and unusual fiction. Naturally then, I’m also a fan of the works of Jeff Noon. In retrospect his books were probably partly the cause of my love for this sort of fiction. My ideas about what speculative fiction could do were profoundly changed by reading his debut novel Vurt in 1993, and his 1998 collection Pixel Juice is still one of my all time favourite short story collections. He has other novels and collections and even a play, as well as forays into all sorts of media and mediums. To date, I’ve liked everything so it should come as no surprise that I was thrilled to hear that he had a new book on the way. Then Angry Robot, the publishers, sent me an advance reading copy and I’m thrilled to say that the book is everything I hoped it would be. Noon‘s lyrical use of language and remarkable ideas present something of a challenge to convey in a review, they kind of have to be experienced to be appreciated, but I really want folks to know about this book so I’ll do what I can.
To begin with, A Man of Shadows is a classic gumshoe detective story in the style of Dashiel Hammett or Raymond Chandler. Straight down the line, core tropes and everything. What makes this book so good is that while sticking rigidly to the P.I. structure and narrative, he changes everything else around it. Begin with the city, a place that having recognised what it was, set out to become itself even more. It was a vibrant place where things happened all the time, day or night, famous for its activity. But it wanted to be more, and so a canopy of bright lights were grown over it, bathing the city in the constant bright ‘now’. But then the now was not enough and in Dayzone, as it’s called, time too is a commodity as the citizens carve up the endless unchanging light to suit themselves.
Professional time, business time, time to work, time to play. Bespoke time just for you and your lifestyle, legal and safe but please only purchase from authorised vendors. But the light can get too much for anyone, so right next to Dayzone is Nocturna, as artificially dark as the other is light. Some people live in one or the other, and many move between the two. It’s not a clean line however and the area where they overlap is The Dusk. There are rumours and stories about The Dusk. That it’s haunted by the spirits of the dead or worse, and that those who enter return changed if they return at all. And also there are those who say it’s growing.
Nyquist is a P.I. hired to find the runaway daughter of a wealthy industrialist. It’s a by the numbers case of checking contacts in the seedy side of town, find the girl bring her home. Very soon he discovers there’s something not right about any of it and that he’s a piece in a game out of his control and understanding. While he looks for the girl a killer is stalking the city who strikes at random so quickly that no-one even sees the attack. Victims collapse covered in wounds that seem to just appear. Is there a connection between the killer, dubbed ‘Quicksilver’ and his case? Nyquist doesn’t know, which is the core of his problem. The investigators first questions are where, who, what, how and when. But Nyquist is moving through places that defy reality with people who don’t know the truth about themselves, can’t describe a murder he watched happening, in a city where the time is whatever you can afford to make it.
I really enjoyed this one, as well as a clever story with a great protagonist, it’s also an example of just how much Noon loves language. The descriptions, especially of the strange stuff are just a pleasure to read. If you’re a fan of China Mieville, Brian Caitling or Jeff VanderMeer this is one for you.
I’ve also noticed that this is the first in a series, Rest assured it does have an ending, and an awesome one. After reading it I can say that I couldn’t even guess at what the next book will be about, but that I’m looking forward to it with mad anticipation.