Jeff Noon is the undisputed master of Weird Fiction. His skill lies in warping one’s expectations of reality. In his earlier work, the shift to the strange was hammer-like, smashing the reader directly into a world where the usual rules of life are utterly different. His latest novel, A Man of Shadows, displays a subtlety and maturity that prove that Noon is at the peak of his prowess, as it marries the mundane with the utterly strange almost perfectly.
The tale focuses on the Sam Spade like detective, John Nyquist. A hard-bitten private investigator, cut straight out of the Noir detective genre. He’s brilliantly drawn, a twisted lump of bitterness, but also extremely easy to get under the skin of. His task is to hunt down a missing girl called Eleanor. At the same time, a mysterious killer is on the loose. They call this murder Quicksilver, because he moves so fast. So far, so Noir, but it’s the world Nyquist inhabits that brings us deeper into this world.
Nyquist lives in a city where night and day are quite literally separate places. In Dayzone, lamps produce endless sunlight. Meanwhile, Nocturna lies in eternal night. Between the two we have Dusk, a permanent gloom in which strange things and people lurk. Stranger still is time. In this world, it’s a commodity; different people operate in their own time zones at their own pace. Time is a fluid thing here and of course this dips the narrative into the surreal.
Nyquist’s journey takes him across the entire city and across time. The result means that the poor chap is constantly on the move, with no time to stop and take a breather. As the narrative speeds up and becomes darker in tone, the protagonist becomes more exhausted. This serves as a good marker for the reader; A Man of Shadows is not a book that should be read in one sitting. Read, digest, ponder and then return to be amazed by Noon’s skilful blending of narrative.
Weird story telling is the current trend in genre fiction, but Noon has been writing this sort of thing for decades. He mixes a strange sci-fi world with exhausted protagonists and drug-fuelled characters to create something wonderful and uniquely absorbing.
A MAN OF SHADOWS / AUTHOR: JEFF NOON / PUBLISHER: ANGRY ROBOT / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW