‘A Man of Shadows’ Review

Jeff Noon came out with A Man of Shadows in the fall of 2017. Set in an alternate reality 1959, a dreamy, vertiginous noir that follows Private Investigator John Nyquist through the twin cities of light and dark; Dayzone and Nocturna. Basked in perpetual artificial light from the hundreds of thousands of lamps and light bulbs and humming-hot neon overhead, Dayzone never knows darkness. Sister city, Nocturna, rests always in the dark with artificial moon and constellations to guide her residents home. The only way to get to and from Dayzone and Nocturna is to travel by train through Dusklands, the no-go zone of always twilight hour light where the mists are visceral and dizzying and real monsters barely seen are waiting for the burdened. Unlucky, broken, or grief ridden individuals willingly walk into the Dusklands to be forever taken by the the mists.

The inhabitants of these cities are obsessed with time. There’s nearly as many clocks and watches as there are lights in Dayzone. Time for everyone here is tangible, changeable, and unique to whoever you are, wherever you are, and whatever you are doing. Hundreds if not thousands of timelines exist in the world Noon has created. Your job has a specific timeline and you’re off at 7pm, the coffee shop downstairs is just opening up at 6am, and you want to get a beer around the corner where it’s noon. A quick adjustment of your timepiece and you’re in any of, or all of, their timelines at once. Chronostasis is a real mental problem for a host of the cities population.

A seemingly invisible serial killer known as Quicksilver has left his latest victim in a busy market, dying in the arms of her helpless husband. Meanwhile, P.I. John Nyquist has taken a teenage runaway case, looking for Eleanor Bale, daughter of Patrick Bale, CEO of a large company designing and profiting from the creation of new timelines within the city. This case might just be the key Nyquist needs to unlock the mysteries of what is going on in the cities of light and dark.

The setting and ideas behind of A Man of Shadows are a fascinating and intriguing concept. I loved the idea of the story and the dark noir world building that this book pulls you along with. The downside is, it literally pulls the reader along. While an exciting concept is one thing, the novel fails to build interest in what is at stake for our characters. Nyquist is a dime a dozen P.I., with no real personality and no real success’ in the story. He had a lousy childhood which turned him into a lousy adult. Drinking problems, and a bit too much of a weird obsession with a young teenage girl makes for an off-putting character who is difficult to like or root for. The same rings true for each and every character in the story. The end is predictable, if not cheesy. What’s left is a  story where the world building is the best part of the read and the characters were the downside to the entire thing.

A wonderful and captivating world, with a subdued, dull population. I really look forward to seeing how Noon tackles his fantastically weird worlds with Nyquist running the show in the future. If the P.I. can get even nearly as fun as the world’s he’s finding himself in, were all going to be in for one hell of a delight. Based on this first installment, you might be better off in the Dusk.

I’ve rated A Man of Shadows ⅗ stars on Goodreads.