Mysteries with a touch or more of the supernatural are not hard to find on library and bookstore shelves these days; but I found Ben Aaronovitch’s novel of elastic realism, Midnight Riot, to be something special, mainly because of the voice of the narrator, London Police Constable Peter Grant. Caught in the wrong (or right?) place at the right (or wrong?) time, he stumbles upon a murder scene where a ghost approaches him and claims he witnessed the crime. As a result, Grant is assigned to work with Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the Department’s go-to man for crimes involving magic. In short order, he finds himself enmeshed in a family feud among the personifications of the various tributaries (both above and below ground) of the Thames River. Meanwhile, this being a police procedural, he and Nightingale plod away at unraveling not only the original murder, but various other nasty events that seem to be related to it. And, under Nightingale’s tutelage, Grant begins to develop the magical abilities that he seems to have a gift for (as evidenced by his having been able to talk to the ghost witness in the first place) but of which he’s been previously unaware. Grant’s voice is colloquial and self-deprecating, the pages turn quickly, and London comes alive in all its squalor and beauty. And did I mention Toby, one of the best canine sidekicks in contemporary fiction? Fans of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere should enjoy Aaronovitch’s novel and its sequels quite a lot. Now to decide whether to shelve it with the mysteries or the fantasies…
Soon to be graduating with a degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Washington’s ISchool, Andrea Gough took time out from her classes (including mine!) to send me this book review. The book is actually one of my favorites, as well. I hope you enjoy it as much as the two of us did.
In Britten and Brülightly (Metropolitan Books, 2009), Hannah Berry’s graphic novel mystery, Fernández Britten is a depressed private investigator. It seems as though all he does is deliver the information that ruins lives. He’s considering two options: a career change, or suicide. He’s leaning toward suicide. Before he does, however, he’s approached with a new case: a young woman’s fiancée has been found dead, and the police ruled it suicide. She’s convinced that it was murder. Britten and his partner Brülightly decide to take it as one last case, one that Britten hopes will finally provide him the redemption of a positive outcome. While Britten’s outlook is fairly bleak, sparks of wry British wit come courtesy of Britten’s partner Brülightly, who is—did I mention this?—a teabag. It sounds like a deal-breaker, I know, but Berry carries it off flawlessly. Here’s an example of one such exchange, after the client has first called, and Brülightly asks Britten what she seems like:
Britten: Mid-twenties; well-bred; either hard-nosed by nature or as a result of coping with this murder, it’s difficult to say.
Brülightly: Was she alright?
Britten: She seemed quite composed.
Brülightly: That’s not what I meant…
Britten: I know what you meant. Don’t be lecherous: you’re a teabag.
Brülightly: I’m a teabag with needs, Fern.
Flashes of humor aside, Berry has crafted a well-executed, hardboiled mystery. Britten and Brülightly’s search for the truth is labyrinthine and complex enough to satisfy most mystery fans. At the same time, this noir mystery is matched and enhanced by Berry’s atmospheric, nearly atonal painted illustrations. She plays with form, moving away from cartoon-inspired boxy drawings to distinctive illustrations that span an entire page, which both build upon and facilitate the flow of dialogue and action. I don’t read a ton of graphic novels, but if more were like this then I absolutely would. So, if you’re a graphic novel novice or enthusiast, or simply a fan of complex noir mysteries in the style of Dashiell Hammett, definitely give Britten and Brülightly a try.