Slow Motion Ghosts

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 Jan 2019

Member Reviews

Detective Hobbes has been reassigned to Richmond police station in West London after making himself unpopular at his last job. He struggles to gain the respect of his new team. We find out early on that Hobbes is a man of integrity, having intervened in a racist beating carried out by a fellow officer.
Soon, Hobbes is investigating a series of bizarre murders, starting Brendan Clarke. Clarke was the singer in a band paying tribute to a dead glam rocker called Lucas Bell. There is a weird and surreal atmosphere to Slow Motion Ghosts that makes this book strangely moving.
I hope that this is the first of many stories featuring Hobbes and his team. Five stars.
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One of the finest crime novels I've read in a long time.  Set just after the Brixton riots, Detective Inspector Hobbes has been sent to a new police station in London (there has been controvesy at his previous station).  The brutal murder of a musician tests him and the men and women who find themselves working with Hobbes, who is a pariah to those around him.

Noon captures the period perfectly, I love the blend of 70's glam rock and the upheaval created by Thatcher's government, riots, mass unemployment and how the Tories created social imbalance and social injustice.

Am looking forward to the next outing of Hobbes and his team.
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Excellent dark crime novel, set against the backdrop of racially motivated  police and community tension post-Brixton riots, and exploring a cultural milieu brought up around a ‘ziggy stardust’ era Bowie-esque  star. DI Hobbes is not the usual anti-hero although he does come it’s the requisite troubled family life, but in this case the psychological impact of being involved in an incident associated with the riots informs the story. 
This is an at times brutal story, reliant on the occult and a myth brought up around the rock star. It could be terribly forced, but is a resounding success.  A narrative approach that i often find infuriating, that of the lead character discovering  / knowing something but it not being revealed to the reader for the purpose of building tension, is handled intelligently and genuinely builds tension rather than feeling forced as it so often can be.
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I'm a huge fan of Jeff Noon's trademark weirdness, but I understand that it may be slightly offputting to those who are into straight-laced crime fiction; well, here it is, a straightforward noir mystery with a distinct lack of the absurd. I'm guessing that this will appeal more to mainstream crime fans, however, I do miss his quirks somewhat.
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This is a brilliantly atmospheric true crime thriller. Although Mr Noon has by and large toned down the trademark weirdness of his usual work, it still delivers a hit of literary vurt. Game Cat would definitely class it as a nice black feather and none of that blue nonsense.
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*** Disclosure - I received a free advance copy of this book from netgalley in return for an honest review ***
 Jeff Noon is a writer of speculative fiction who has been on my reading list for some time (not through recommendation, but through finding his books in discount shops and liking the sound of them). Here he travels somewhat less speculative ground, telling the tale of a murder investigation during the aftermath of the Brixton riots of the early 80s.
 The body of Brendan Clarke is found in unusual circumstances, with his face mutilated in certain odd patterns and with no apparent signs of struggle. The investigation into his murder leads the detectives to look into the earlier suicide of a Bowie-esque rock star as the links between the two are too big to ignore. There then follows an investigation into the cult-like group of misfit teenagers set up in Hastings and the cult status of King Lost, aka Lucas Bell.
 There is the usual conflict within the investigative team - one jaded, opinionated DS, one DS that is hard-working and reliable and one DC that is off-screen most of the time researching things. An added element is the recent controversy surrounding DI Hobbes, as he recently shopped in his colleagues for battering a young black man in retaliation for the Brixton riots.
 The main storyline is good, with enough mystery and emerging evidence to keep the interest. The link in to the past suicide of the cult figure adds an extra element. However it feels Noon went a little too far out of his way to make there a reasonable number of plausible suspects, all of whom are fairly interchangeable if I'm honest (I still can't remember which one of two characters died and which didn't).
 It was interesting to read a crime book written about pre-Google times, so there really was a need for more hard work, door-knocking and evidence gathering.
 There were some early incongruous pieces of dialogue that came across as quite needlessly jarring, for example when someone says they can't remember what someone looked like, it was only a quick glimpse, can't remember anything at all and then somehow when asked about facial markings (apropos of nothing) suddenly remembered a facial tattoo. A couple of instances like that really took me out of the book.
 All in all, this was a reasonably well-told crime book with a decent setting, but not exactly a ground-breaking storyline.
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After a long period under the radar, Jeff Noon's last two books were a sort of slipstream noir; alas, I was sufficiently underwhelmed by the first not to even attempt the second. This time out he's written a straight crime book, which could easily have been even further from the things which made his work around the turn of the millennium such a touchstone for me. Hell, there's not even any techno-weirdness; we open on the 1981 Brixton riots, before moving a few months and a few SW postcodes to Richmond, where Detective inspector hobbes* enters the ramshackle house lowering the tone of a middle class street to find a body. And already there's something unsettling at the edges, something distinctly Jeff Noon but also, given this context, reminiscent of the grim investigations of Derek Raymond's Factory novels. This mood will return about halfway through the book, as the investigation digs into other crimes a decade earlier, which seem to have some bearing on the recent killing, and which circle around the shared fantasy of the weird kids in a small town and the librarian who was their unsound mentor. And in these strands of the novel, their sense of unease and complicity, I was reminded of how good Noon can be. At least until the ending, which is seldom my favourite bit of a novel, especially a crime novel, but here felt especially tacked on to what had gone before.

In between, though, one has to struggle through a lot of deeply trying material about fictional musicians.

Now, you might object that Noon's work has often had nonexistent scenes or acts at the heart of the story, and you'd be quite correct. But in his early books he was creating these scenes or acts for stories set nowish, or in the future – an entirely legitimate creative gesture, and one for which he had a real knack. Here, though, he's altering music history – dead glam rocker Lucas Bell is a transparent Bowie/Bolan stand-in, and his freshly murdered fan/emulator Brendan Clarke is a sort-of-but-not-quite New Romantic cult figure. The most obvious problem with this is that Bell's Ziggy Stardust-style celebrity persona, King Lost, is just a bit rubbish. Nothing we hear about the image or the lyrics has the right note of seductive strangeness; it all sounds a bit teenage, and not in the good sense. Deeper even than that, though – you can't just swap bands out of history and keep the rest of the history the same. To stick with the example of Bowie, something like Velvet Goldmine is fine, because there the whole world is different; every band has changed, and the world beyond music is likewise a fairground mirror reflection of ours, recognisable but not. Here, though, or in any story stabbing at realism...if you try to change the history of art, but leave the world the same, you're saying art is without impact on the world. Which is fine in litfic novels about nonexistent litfic novelists, because most litfic is fundamentally interchangeable and impactless, extruded simulacra of meaningful literature. But swap out a pop star who mattered to millions for a pallid imitation? Within your art, you're unpicking the very foundation of the project of art. I've seen it carried off once or twice, where something like Iain Banks' Espedair Street finds a crack in the seventies big enough to hold one significant but unfashionable band. Here, never settles right. Not with someone as weighty as Bowie gone, but the world proceeding unchanged.

*Never capitalised, and the capitalisation is recurringly weird on other words too. Perhaps this is a sign that while the SF elements of Noon's earlier books may have gone, the textual tricksiness remains; perhaps it's just the sort of odd textual corruption you sometimes get with a Netgalley ARC. Or perhaps if there's one thing we should have learned from Cobralingus et al, it's that the distinction isn't even meaningful.
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This is not a book that worked out for me.  I read up to 47% before I gave up on it and DNF'd it.  It may well be that I was not in the frame of mind for this particularly type of story, it felt too dislocated, and with insufficient grounding for me.  The narrative kept going round in circles, and I felt little connection with the story set in 1981 or the characters, not even the main character transferred to Richmond Police Station after being blamed for what happened to DI Jenkes at the Brixton Riots.  The murder victim, 26 year old Brendan Clarke's obsession with Glam star Lucas Bell and the connections with his death and Lucas Bell unfortunately did not capture my interest.  Thanks to the Random House Transworld for an ARC.
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I’m a fan of this author after the quirky mind blowing Nyquist novels, this time he enters the world of more grounded mystery but still that noir feel and off kilter sense remains. I loved this.

The setting is evocative, in the time of the Brixton riots, when the police were objects of suspicion, casual racism was rife and Thatcher was in her prime. Into this comes Henry Hobbes, already at odds with the world he lives in, ahead of his time in many ways. A shocking murder will test his will and nothing about it is quite as it seems…

The whole novel has an edgy, melancholy feel to it, it is as twisted as you could ask for in it’s plot and there is a haunting sense of authenticity throughout. The power of celebrity and the mythology that can surround some of life’s enigmatic characters is a strong theme here, one that absorbs our main protagonist into a world beneath the one he knows and one that is just as seductive to the reader as it is to Henry Hobbes. 

Jeff Noon captures a sense of that era with gorgeous immersive writing and strongly built fascinating characters, then defies the usual crime novel tropes and goes entirely in his own direction. This is not a whodunit so much as it is an exploration of the human psyche and it is both sad and kind of beautiful at the same time. 

Unpredictable and very very clever. 

Highly Recommended.
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