Monday, May 19, 2008

Graphic noir. . .

Why the picture above? Well, apart from testing out the merits of my new digital camera, and being slightly obsessed these days by dots (I bought this bowl for only $2.00 at IKEA and I don't know why, but it gives me such pleasure to beat eggs in it), I really needed something visually bright and sunny to do after reading a rather gloomy, but brilliant graphic novel. Cooking an omelet was the best I could come up with. And since one of the characters was a talking teabag (not nearly as photogenic), an image of domesticity is perhaps not completely irrelevant.

Britten and Br├╝lightly by Hannah Berry is a noir mystery set in an unknown city somewhere in the British Isles where it rains all the time (which makes things very difficult for the teabag, aka Stewart Br├╝lightly, as when he gets wet, he infuses). The Britten of the title is Fernandez, who everyone thinks is French but who continually insists has never been in that country. He is a private investigator nicknamed "The Heartbreaker" because he mostly investigates love affairs for jealous spouses and inevitably has to break bad news to them. This has taken its toll and Britten is fairly depressed. He lives alone and talks only to his "partner", the teabag he keeps in his jacket pocket or propped up on a table. Only a murder will get him out of bed, so when a woman hires him to investigate her fiance's suicide - which she is convinced was actually a murder - Britten takes the case. Blackmail, a publishing magnate and secrets from the past all complicate the mystery which has an unexpected if rather depressing ending. The artwork is wonderful; Berry has drawn from multiple perspectives and creates a despairing mood through the constant rain. Moody blues and nostalgic sepia mix with the mostly gray and black palette to create a sad but very clever narrative with just enough expected touches of comic irony to satisfy noir readers. This is an import title from the U.K. and you won't find it easily at bookstores, but your local independent will be able to special order it, and library wholesalers will have no problems obtaining it either. It's definately worth the wait, and apart from a tiny bit of cussing, there are no content issues for teens. I'd recommend it for mystery readers, but also for anyone who doesn't think they like graphic novels. This might change your mind.

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