It’s really tempting to call Jeff Noon’s new book, A Man of Shadows, a time travel book (and we all know how much I love time travel books), but that’s a misleading description of this extremely quirky and strange new science fiction book, which has been described by some reviewers as “new weird.”
Imagine a noir detective story, the hard-bitten, world-weary, possibly alcoholic private eye battling his own demons in a world that’s inherently corrupt and untrustworthy, setting out to investigate something that seems reasonably simple at first but turns out to reveal levels of corruption and damage throughout the society. That’s one way you can describe this book: Nyquist, the protagonist, is a private eye who’s been hired by the head of one of the major corporations of his world to find a runaway young woman.
But the way this world is set up is what makes the book unique. There’s the Dayzone, where there is never darkness, because there are electric lights turned on everywhere, and you can’t see the sky to determine whether it’s actually day or night. Then there’s Nocturna, which is the opposite: eternal night, no lights to speak of other than the few nearly burned out bulbs that serve as constellations. In between the two zones is Dusk, a scary place which is neither day nor night but fog and confusion.
How’s this a time travel novel, or like a time travel novel? Well, when you have no natural night or day, time becomes very fluid, and in this world, time zones change with the drop of a hat. You can choose what time you have, purchasing your own time zone from one of the large corporations that control these things, and then you have to adjust your idea of what time it is with those of the people around you. As you can imagine, this can get quite confusing.
Throw in a serial killer operating in the brilliant and eternal light of the Dayzone whom no one seems to be able to see, let alone catch, and add the possibility that this killer, known only as Quicksilver, might have something to do with the young woman’s disappearance, and the dawning possibility that this woman might have a more crucial role in the maintenance of the world than Nyquist first imagined, and you have a truly original, extremely mind bending, speculative fiction/noir detective/weird book. Not for the faint of heart, A Man of Shadows will have you looking at the differences in time between different clocks in your home with growing suspicion.