Friday, October 20, 2017

Short Book Reviews: Murder Mystery in a City Without Night

A Man of Shadows by Jeff Noon, Angry Robot, 2017. 

From the first page, I loved this surreal, hallucinatory world. The story centers on a city where eternal day is created by artificial lightning: every space is saturated with brilliance, and the entire society depends upon those with the never-ending task of replacing light bulbs as they burn out. Without natural night and day, the usual measurement of time becomes meaningless, giving the city’s inhabitants the choice of living by many calendars; some are the products of commerce (“Business Standard Time”) but others are whimsical and capricious. Sometimes it’s all a person can do to keep with the necessary changes to their wristwatch. Not surprisingly, many suffer disorders of time due to constant disruption of the body’s internal rhythms. The luscious prose and bizarre imagery perfectly reflect the disorientation of the characters.

Outside the city lies a treacherous region of Dusk, transversable only by special trains, and beyond it, Nocturna. (A few asides refer to regions outside the city’s influence, where crows grow and cows graze in unaltered days and nights, so we know the entire planet has not succumbed to artificial divisions of day and night.) Mysterious mists swirl through Dusk, and those who venture into them emerge changed or not at all. Not surprisingly, Dayzone is far from idyllic, beset by not only light-sickness but a serial killer and kidnappings. The protagonist, a private detective named Nyquist, is drawn into this dark side of light when he takes on the case of the missing daughter of a wealthy, powerful man. His search reveals not only dangerous connections but his own unresolved past.

Innovative world-building enhanced by a surreal and highly literate prose style offer both a challenge and a reward to the reader. My only complaint was that Nyquist is so perennially sleep-deprived, and the text is so reminiscent of the way thought fractures under disruptions of the normal circadian rhythm, that I kept wanting to curl up and nap. Recommended , especially for those who enjoy a hefty dose of weird in their fiction. 

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