A Man of Shadows. Book Review

A MAN OF SHADOWS by Jeff Noon
Angry Robot, p/b, 384pp, £8.99
Reviewed by Chris Limb

Private detective John Henry Nyquist is on his latest case—tracking down missing teenager Eleanor Bale, daughter of timeline tycoon Patrick Bale. The serial killer currently at large on the streets complicates matters; an elusive figure dubbed Quicksilver who somehow manages to kill in public without any witnesses.

But complexity is part and parcel of living in the twin cities of Dayzone and Nocturna; where eternal daylight and perpetual night hold sway. And in Dusk, the no mans land that separates the two, time is literally beginning to run out for both cases… Could this be the one that kills Nyquist?

A Man of Shadows is unashamedly noir, gloriously so. Protagonist John Nyquist is the archetypal burnt out private eye, catching shut-eye in an office with his name engraved on the door and a bullet-holed ceiling fan, taking to the bottle and pursuing suspects through the alleyways and across the rooftops of a city that never sleeps…

The genius of this novel is the act of taking this archetype and placing him in a scenario that at first glance seems to fit the paradigm perfectly but at second reveals itself to be deeply weird.

The true star of this novel is the double city of Dayzone / Nocturna, a highly original yet simple concept. A city where night and day are places you visit by train. The concept of Dayzone’s roof hung with millions of light bulbs manages to be simultaneously logical and absurd (and a little frightening); the local constellations and neon moons of Nocturna are similarly dreamlike. The claustrophobia of spending time in either half of this metropolis is palpable in the writing. And if the concepts already described weren’t strange enough, the inhabitants can also choose between any number of personal timelines, setting their watches accordingly. Time is fluid here. And yet despite the paradoxes it is so well and so consistently described that it all seems to make sense in its own way.

The unbalancing effect of living in this set-up comes across in the writing as a barely controlled hysteria and Nyquist’s characteristic distrust and suspicion is an understandable reaction to this. The case he is determined to solve would be difficult enough under normal circumstances, let alone these aberrant ones.

This novel—and the double city contained within it—is an immersive and addictive experience; one that, despite the tension of the narrative, the reader will miss once it’s all over. Thankfully there is a sequel, The Body Library, on its way in 2018.

About Phil Lunt (915 Articles)
Hailing from the rain-sodden, North Western wastelands of England, Phil has dabbled in many an arcane vocation. From rock-star to conveyor-belt scraper at a bread factory, 'Dairy Logistics Technician' to world's worst waiter. He's currently a freelance designer, actor, sometime writer/editor and Chair of the British Fantasy Society. He is on the Global Frequency and is still considering becoming an astronaut when he grows up.