Back from travels to England and France, and I've actually gotten my body back on this time zone, which is no small feat. Getting away from the computer is also no small feat as i'm a bit of an email junkie, but all in a good cause. Plenty to share as well. Lets start here: found on the recommended shelf of London's Forbidden Planet is Hannah Berry's Britten & Brulightly.
I was taken by the first few pages, with Berry's shop worn and time worn private investigator Britten waking to yet another painful day. Why it should be so bad is something that she does an excellent job of explaining to us over the first part of the story. Berry's subdued watercolors and limited palette are we used in service of setting the mood. Frankly, it is an excellent, if not perfect effort is giving us a good run round this story. A little bit Marlowe, a little bit Chinatown, a little bit of something that I've not quite found the words to describe, its a heady little mix.
I usually despise reviews that lay bare the plots of the books that they're reviewing ("This book as about a man who finds out that...") and especially in the case of a detective story, half the fun is the joy of discovery of a new cast of characters, half in the world that the story lies. happily, Berry does an excellent job of making the cast work on the run, giving us bits and pieces of who they are as part of the story instead of cranking up the clumsy exposition machine and stopping the story dead.
One of my few criticisms of the book has to do with the reveal of Britten's partner, a fanciful and, perhaps, unnecessary, addition to a book already packed with a number of interesting ideas. Again, I refuse to spoil the reveal.
From a craft standpoint, Berry makes a good mix of her watercolor work to portray a wet, sodden London and gives us an interesting mix of cartoony stylized characters with realistic backgrounds. In some ways its a mix that, while not seeming to, owes a bit to the manga approach of giving us a solid, real world for the characters to inhabit. The approach works, and Berry's art skills only fail her a bit on an early scene when Britten goes to a dead man's apartment to search for clues, and finds that he's not the only one there. Sadly, there is less menace that there should be in the scene. The writing is solid however, and the scene ads that much more to our protagonist's character.
I'm not sure if the book is available here in the states. published by Jonathan Cape, a division of Random House. Worth looking up.
A few words about the London Forbidden Planet: I've heard about this store for a good 20 years now, and I have to admit that it did not disappoint. I never realized that the New York version that I remember walking into back in '92 was trying to replicate the two story set up that the London version has. The upstairs of London is a bit of a monument to comics as pop culture more than comics themselves, and it has, for instance, a better collection of Doctor Who merchandise than the official Doctor Who exhibit does over at Earl's Court (more on which later).
Downstairs was a collection of graphic novels and comics that just about threw me into a coma. Floor to ceiling in most cases, a reasonable thing in a room with a ceiling that low, there was simply more that you could possibly search through, and thankfully they do a good job of organizing it or you would be completely lost. they deserved a few more of my pounds than I gave them, but considering how packed they were, i hope that are there for another 20 years.
Coming up: into the Tardis at Earl's Court