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Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Scorpion Volume 2: The Devil in the Vatican. Stephen Desberg (Writer), Enrico Marini (Artist), Jerome Saincantin (Translator) Cinebook Ltd (2009)

A wonderful swashbuckling adventure, this comic captures the spirit and the details of the genre with flair and the necessary light touch. The fearsome Cardinal Trebaldi is moving ever closer to his goal of becoming the next Pope, the most serious obstacle in his path is an outlaw known as the Scorpion. When the Scorpion makes his hatred very publicly known Trebaldi marshals his forces, warrior monks who are loyal only to him to track and kill the Scorpion. Leading the hunt is the gypsy Mejai who has been hired to find and deliver the Scorpion to the Cardinal's forces. At the same time the Scorpion is on his own quest to find the secret that Trebaldi is hiding. The story twists and turns with great action scenes and carefully set up flashbacks and reveals that mix up the plot nicely. When the action moves to Turkey with the beautiful and very dangerous Ansea Latal the Scorpion starts to edge closer to a very dangerous find and the pursuit by Trebaldi is never far behind.
There is a very difficult balance that has to be struck in this genre, a lighthearted approach to acrobatic heroics that never winks at the reader, that takes itself and the reader very seriously without ever loosing the glint of romance that gives it flavour. Stephen Desberg has all the right ingredients, the setting in Rome and the time frame, swords, wigs, tricorn hats and a world less traveled that offers adventure at the turn of the road. The plot is satisfying sweeping, a villain wants a powerful office and is happy to kill his way to getting there. A flawed hero stands between him and his prize, handsome and athletic he is every inch the leading man. The beautiful women are no puppets, they have energy and agendas of their own and need no permission from anyone to follow them. Nicely framing the close up action is a bigger plot that stretches across history and is revealed in carefully controlled amounts. The whole mix is potent and exhilariting.
The story is delivered with the astounding art of Enrico Marini who manages to provide a richly detailed context and a wonderful cast that feels right at home in it. The cast move with grace and force, there is a supple physicality about the art that is just what the story needs to push forward. This is a story that has action at its heart, it has to be bold and nimble, have an impact without every falling into outright brutality. All of this is done with page layouts that feel cinematic while having multiple panels, the angles and the cutting work to support the pace of the story. A thrilling pleasure to read.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Close to the Bone. Stuart MacBride. HarperCollins (2013)

Full tilt crime story awash with blood, brutal violence and pitch black humour all combined with a fantastic cast and great plot mechanics.A body is found chained to a stake, a burning type around its neck. The victim is revealed to been strangled and stabbed as well as burned. With Asian immigrants being savagely attacked and crippled and a gang war over drugs heating up Acting Detective Inspector Logan McRae is feeling the pressure in Aberdeen. With two missing teenagers, a new Detective Sergeant and a fraught and complicated relationship with the dying local crime boss matters do not get any less complicated. The plot threads are superbly brought together, the action is ferocious and the conclusion every bit as nasty as it should be.
The glory of the story are the astonishing cast, Stuart MacBride continues to make his series cast fresh, engaging and very funny in the face of the most appalling events.
By far the hardest task that Logan McRae has is to retain his status as the leading character in the story as he is surrounded by a large a wonderfully lively cast all jostling for the readers attention. Detective Chief Inspector Steel remains one of the best characters in contemporary crime fiction, as foul mouthed as ever, she is a stinging rebuke to all writers who trap their characters within the confines of their sexuality. DCI Steel is vigorously lesbian as well as being a disruptive force of nature and a very competent police officer. Her presence electrifies the story and the cast with her astonishing range of inventive, savage wit and sheer energy. At the same time even a small walk part on by a man, who inflicts a nearly unbearable punishment beating, is more than a convenient thug, the details given to him and the scene itself lift it up.
The weakest notes in the book are struck by the cast member who is suffering significant psychotic delusions, while this should give her more force the comparison between her delusions and the absurd and horrifying reality in the the city do not favour her. However wild she is, the cold blooded greed and persistent savagery of others in the cast overshadows her.
The plot mechanics are impeccable, the plot lines converge, separate and then collide with tremendous force and superb story logic. The cast never feel driven by the plot, it seems to ignite directly through their actions with and on each other. Not for the faint of heart and needing a very high tolerance for vividly described violence, the story never reads as if it could have been delivered any other way, fantastic.

Lethal Investments. K.O. Dahl,(Writer), Don Bartlett (Translator). Faber and Faber (2011)

A quiet and very engaging Norwegian murder mystery. Reidun Rosendal is found murdered in her apartment and the case appears to be a simple one with suspicion falling on the man she had spent the night with. Detectives Gunnarstranda and Frolich conduct the investigation with steady competence that leads to more questions. The investigation includes Software Partner's, where Reidun worked which has a mystery of its own, with another member of staff gone missing.The investigation becomes much more complicated when there is a second murder and the possible suspects become more numerous. The story unfolds very nicely, the plot threads combine cleverly and the final conclusion is satisfying and sharp. The reveals are cleverly staged and with a focus on the investigation rather than action, the action when it does come is delivered with great force and effectiveness.
This is a strightforward plice procedural and really stands or falls by both the charachter of the leads and the way they manage the investigation. K.O.Dahl sidesteps the frequent genre cliches and delivers both lead detectives who are competent and interesting without being unduly morose, dysfunctional or at odds with their organisation. Instead they are careful and given lives outside of their work that feel natural and revealing. Both are committed to their task and act carefully to complete the investigation in a way that would bring sustainable solution.
The supporting cast are given the time, space and energy to make an impression so that they can credibly complicate and muddy the investigation. In particular the Peeping Tom neighbor of Reidun is brought to vigorous, grubby life and manages to be deeply unsympathetic without every being annoying. The way that the narrative shifts the possibilities and motives for the murders is very well done, with the real dynamic of the story emerging in an engaging and unexpected way. There is no cheating in the book with abrupt plot shifts being forced on the reader to get to the desired conclusion, the pressure that drives the plot is woven very successfully into the fabric of the story.
One of the pleasures of the story is the recognition that murder is a significant act and this infuses the investigation with a force and depth that can be lost sometimes in the excitement of the hunt.