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Thumbnail sketch: An urban landscape of light, dark and the places in between is the setting for an imaginative and fantastical Urban Noir tale. Searching for a runaway girl in a city stalked by a seemingly invisible serial killer, private detective John Nyquist must come to grips with time itself or risk losing himself — and her. 4 Stars
My Take On A Man of Shadows
One of the oldest metaphors around is light and darkness standing in for good and evil. God separated “light from darkness” in Genesis, Shakespeare’s love-besotted Romeo compared Juliet to the sun, and a Scottish prayer asks for protection from “things that go bump in the night.” In A Man of Shadows, author Jeff Noon’s electric prose and stylized imagery blur this simple idea into a fever dream of a tale about light, darkness, family, loss and time.
This review is based on an Advance Reading Copy (ARC) received through NetGalley. The book is scheduled for release on August 1, 2017.
Time plays an important role in the story — after all, isn’t day turning to night followed by a return to day simply a visible reminder of time’s passage? Time is a commodity in Dayzone, where a walk to the corner tavern can involve adjusting your watch several times, and you’ll go thirsty if you and the barkeep don’t agree it’s past opening time.
Dayzone is the city where private detective John Nyquist has his office. Called the City of Light, Dayzone is covered by millions of light fixtures of all types, creating perpetual daytime by blocking out the sky. Burned-out bulbs are replaced around the clock by ‘bulb monkeys,’ workers who climb and swing through the jungle of wires and fixtures to prevent any spot of darkness. In one of my favorite passages, Nyquist takes to the stairs of his office building, going floor by floor in hopes of catching a glimpse of the actual sky above the layer of fixtures.
Nyquist is working the case of a teenage runaway, a girl whose family said she had become afraid of the dark. Like many of the folks who work in Dayzone, including Nyquist, the girl’s home is in Nocturna, a suburb shrouded in perpetual darkness. The bulbs in the artificial firmament over Nocturna are nearly all burned out; the few still lit are viewed by residents as faux stars. Eliminating the visible passage of time hasn’t made either city wholly good or wholly evil. For example: Quicksilver, a serial killer who has never been seen, strikes victims surrounded by crowds of potential witnesses under the bright lights of Dayzone.
Between the cities of light and dark is in an area called Dusk. More so than Nocturna, Dusk serves as the boogeyman or creature under the bed in this tale. Nyquist has a personal connection to this mist-shrouded off-limits zone, and it is at the very edge of Dusk that he’ll begin to unravel his runaway case. The answers he finds are unsettling enough that Nyquist begins to wonder if he’s falling under the spell of ‘chronostasis,’ a sickness residents of these contrived cities contract when they become unmoored in time.
I can’t say much more specifically about the plot without spoiling it for future readers, but hopefully I’ve given you a taste of this noir tale. To me, A Man of Shadows is more Urban Fantasy than Sci-Fi, but it was a very enjoyable read. The setting is unique and imaginative, the story layered and the prose vivid. I had no previous experience with the author’s work but now plan on taking a look at earlier books. I’m pleased to also note a series set in this sandbox is planned, with the next entry due in 2018. Sign me up for another round.