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Monday, January 30, 2017

Chronicles of Terror 5. Kim Roberts (Editor) WP Comics (2017)

Another engaging and very enjoyable horror anthology that showcases diverse and highly talented creators. The stories in the anthology have no particular unifying theme other than very high quality. Some of the stories hiding behind the wonderful cover by Bryan Buagh include the following selection from among the excellent collection.
Fate Worse than Death? Marta Tanrikulu (Writer), Pramit Santra (Art), Joshua Jensen (Colours), Micah Myers (Letters), is a clever short that neatly sets up a superb pay off. Marta Tanrikulu has managed the very difficult task of pacing the short story with great care and precision. Pramit Santra's art captures the story with grear skill and detail, the art brings the story forward and then sells the pay off with force and energy. Loshus Jensen's colours are a joy, they add weight and depth to the detail of the art and make the pay off crackle. Micah Myers' letters are natural and subtly unobtrusive, they wear their craft lightly.
How Will You Die Tonight?  Julio Pas Y Vadala' (Writer), Ruyma'n  & Aoyze Nieves (Art, Inks Colours, Letters) is a very clever story that plays with readers expectations with great skill. A seance goes very badly for those attending. Julio Pas Y Vadala' has created a clever set of horrible events that are set up and executed with nasty effectiveness. Ruyma'n  & Aoyze Nieves have a hard task, they have to deliver a lot of  brutal action in a short space and not overwhelm the reader, they do so with great confidence and strong delivery. The very smart idea gets the whole hearted execution it deserves.
I Survive. Nicky Zabierek (Writer), M.C. Carper (Art), Nikki Sherman (Letters), after solar flares create devastation, a new plague comes to feat on the survivors. A survivor helps some others in trouble and leads them to sanctuary, it does not go well. A sharp take on a horror genre classic, Nicky Zabierek's story packs a big punch and has a strong heart. M.C.Carpers art is stupendous, the drenched yellow of the art captures the scorched context left by the solar flares, the colour frames the action with a merciless light that amplifies the story. Nikki Sherman's letters are confident, they deliver a lot of information without ever intruding or slowing down the pace of the story.
Liveliness. Adam Swiecki (Writer & Art), is a joy, a strong story delivered with fantastic black and withe art. A young man determines to leave his family, they strongly oppose his plan and there is clearly something very strange going, happily there really is. The dominant art make the absolute most of the story, the panel layouts control the pacing and reveals with confidence and force. Wonderful.
Road to Ruin. Frank Martin (Writer), Chris Winter (Art), a man has a car breakdown on a lonely road, finds no signal on his phone and then a car approaches. This is a horror story, it is not going to be a good thing, the pleasure of just how bad it can get is captured with great care and wit by Frank Martin. This story has the best soundtrack I have heard in a comic in a very long time. Jet black humour heightens the  tension and lifts the story perfectly. Chris Winter's gorgeous black and white art has so many tones and shades that it is virtually in colour. The details are a joy, they give the story weight and force that it really needs to crackle the way it does.
Mandy the Witch, Victor Carungi (Writer), Keith Chan (Art), Chris Allen (Colours), Brant W. Fowler (Letters), is a cautionary tale in the style of EC comics and others with a introduction by a skeleton host who provides the voice over for the story. Mandy is a witch who is being bullied at school, when she comes into her powers trouble follows. Victor Carungi delivers a light hearted tone and up to date savage pay back. Keith Chan's art is a pleasure to read, the details of the context ground the action, the cast are very expressive, the body language is always eloquent. Chris Allen's colours are bright and vivid, matching and catching the various layers and tones in the story. Brant W. Fowler letters quiet, effective letters flow naturally with the art and story.
Diner Food. A Wulf and Batsy Story. Bryan Baugh (Writer & Art) is a very darkly comic story that uses humour skillfully to amplify the very bloody action. When the staff at a diner take a customer and plan to murder and chop her up they imagine it as a regular night's business, however when two new customers arrive, the trouble really starts. Bryan Baugh has a classic art style which works really well with the dark,bloody comedy of the story. The staff at the diner are a beauty and the beast pairing, the intended victim is happily focusing on all the wrong aspects of the situation, Batsy and Wulf are ravenous and thoughtful. A delicate mix to get right, Bryan Baugh has the confident skill and depth of talent needed to make it all work flawlessly.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Kim Roberts, to purchase a copy of Chronicles of Terror 5 and if having life enhancing experiences and relishing the pleasures of creativity are for you then you should purchase a copy, it is available from

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Murder Wall. Mari Hannah. Pan Books (2012)

An enjoyable police procedural. Detective Inspector Kate Daniels is assigned as the sole Senior Investigation Officer in a murder case in Newcastle, a clear declaration of confidence in her by her management. When she visits the scene she realises that she has a connection to the case and chooses to hide it, at the same time she is deeply concerned about an unsolved double murder eleven months previously. DCI Daniels finds that boss is taking a more active than anticipated or welcomed interest in the investigation and the problem of her concealed connection to the victim become increasingly problematic. Other murders are committed by a very determined killer, the connections slowly emerge and the conclusion is very well set up.
The plot mechanics and the structure of the story are very well done, the narrative is split across the cast including the killer and the reveals are very well set up. The killer has a very well laid out plan, matured over time and they are meticulous about executing it. The reasons that the investigation lags behind the killer is entirely convincing, when it gains a focus they respond with force and thoroughness.
The weakness in the story is the failure, principally by the lead character, to engage the sympathy of the reader.  I enjoyed the story, I was never involved in it at any personal level as I did not feel invited into by the cast. They are all very well drawn, they interacted with each other credibly and their motivations were clear and understandable. I simply did not care enough about them, the plot carried me along, I really did want to see how it would be resolved. I did not feel the emotional context for the story.
Sometimes I just do not catch a book, I can admire it without liking it. I am sure that other readers will catch it and I hope that they do.

A Vein of Deceit. Susanna Gregory. Sphere (2009)

A very enjoyable and engaging medieval mystery that comes with a serious warning to readers, before you start the book go to the back and cut of the pages of the Epilogue without reading them. Then destroy them to remove any temptation that you may feel later to read them, doing so will drastically reduce if not actually remove the pleasure you gained in reading this book.  
Cambridge in the autumn of 1357 has arrived with problems for Michaelhouse College and physician Matthew Bartholomew, the College is unexpectedly short of funds, the Master is assaulted, a pair of precious chalices are stolen and a woman dies in premature labour. The death is a concern as Matthew Bartholomew finds that a potion with a known impact of inducing miscarriage is missing from his store. The presence of a very troublesome brother and sister in Cambridge is adding to the tension. With the death of a college staff in very public circumstances Matthew and Brother Michael have to investigate. 
The story is carefully structured, the investigation travels in all sorts of engaging and enjoyable directions, the reveals are cunningly staged and the nicely tangled coils of the plot unfurl in happily unexpected and satisfying ways.The cast are a pleasure to spend time with, it is very impressive that as the lead characters in a long running series both Matthew Bartholomew and Brother Michael remain engaging and excellent company. They are neither dysfunctional nor fantastically clever, they are competent, thoughtful and deeply concerned, they engage in investigation for solidly grounded reasons and respond to the threats they encounter with plausible reactions.
 The supporting cast is varied and lively, in very short spaces they are introduced and proceed to demand attention from the reader due to their varied and multiple plans, schemes and desires. Susanna Gregory has an exceptional gift for creating a large cast that never become a crowd, they interact with each other without blurring. The walk on parts are as vivid as the leads and this creates a wonderful atmosphere of activity and life in the context.For any historical fiction creating a convincing context is critical, it does not have to be historically accurate, it must fit with the cast and provide information that supports the motivations and actions of the cast. In this book the context is smartly drawn, the very small size of Cambridge, the intensity of theological debate and the fact that differences between social ranks tend to be a bit more fluid in a small and crowded space.
This story mixes superb plot mechanics with a lively cast in a great context and a very welcome spiky humour. Bearing in mind the warning above this is a great fun read, a pleasure.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Puppet.Kim Roberts (Writer). Braden Hallett (Art & Letters). WP Comics (2017)

A sharp and satisfying nasty little story that uses compression to great effect. Jack runs a comedy club and his wife is planning on killing him top get the insurance money. Jack is a ventriloquist and has a puppet called Alice which he inherited from his sister. The plan does not go as expected.
The stunning cover by Braden Hallett sets the tone for the story with precise care and detail.
Kim Roberts has superbly used the compressed space, there is a lot of story, it never feels rushed or squashed, the relevant details are all present with enough room to allow them breathe. This is very impressive writing, the story is set up very effectively, the context provided and the action is launched without ever feeling rushed.
Braden Hallett's art is a pleasure to read, the panels are used to control the pace of the story with care and a lot of information is delivered without clutter or distraction. The cast are powerfully expressive, the faces and body language are clear and subtle. Each member of the cast stands out as an individual, when trouble arrives it has a real impact.
The colours are used to amplify the emotional tones of the panels and the shifting story beats, when they have to be loud they are shouting, giving the action a strong focus and context. The lettering is clear and natural, easy to ready and unobtrusive. The sound effects are every bit as obtrusive as they should be.
A short comic that embraces the form to deliver a smart story with outsize impact.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Kim Roberts, to purchase a copy of Puppet, which you should to see how talent and craft can put a big story into a small space without loosing anything, you can purchase it here,

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Murder Road. Stephen Booth. Sphere (2015)

A very engaging and enjoyable police procedural that is also a soft reboot for the series. A lorry gets stuck under a bridge blocking the only road access to the hamlet of Shawhead. The driver has vanished but blood stains in the cab suggest foul play. Detective Inspector Ben Cooper leads the investigation, which, when the driver's body is found, becomes a fully fledged murder inquiry. The investigation uncover secrets and lies among the inhabitants of Shawhead, it is with a death in a different location that puts the investigation on the path to understanding what really happened and why. The reveals are very well stages, the threads of the story are carefully set up and come together convincingly for the satisfyingly sour conclusion.
Ben Cooper is a great lead character, he is smart, confident and capable, a little unsure in his new position, he is likable and engaging. Ben Cooper has a nice array of professional, managerial and personal issues, none are overwhelming or threatening, all are demanding and require thoughtful attention to resolve.
This is a soft reboot of a long running series, major characters are moved out gently but firmly and Ben Cooper is given the full lead and a new supporting cast are introduced. They are all given the chance to make an impression with the reader and they do so. None are outrageous, in line with the general tenor of the series, all have enough distinct personality to be able to hold their own over time. The cast members who are being moved off stage have it done with grace and care, no one is trashed for effect.
The plot mechanics are very thoughtful, two distinct narrative threads are set up with a third lurking in the background. The way that they intertwine is very smart, there separate investigations are unfurled with care and attention to detail. The knot that ties them together is nicely unexpected and carefully set up to reveal itself for maximum impact.
This is a quiet story, it does not drive forward at speed, it generates a tremendous hold on the reader without advertising it, the cast engage and the plot mechanics bite firmly and the total impact is very strong. The location, the Peak District is one of the major characters in the story, the landscape is always surrounding, hiding and revealing cast members and plot points. It is never cosy, the Peak District is a harsh location and the story has a vein of bitterness and savagery that settles in very naturally into the stunning context. Stephen Booth has the confidence and skill to deliver a great crime story, manage continuity and carry readers with him while making it all look effortless

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Return to Slumberland. Leonardo Melo (Writer), Alberto Pessoa (Art). WP Comics (2017)

Stunning art work and audacious writing make for a deeply enjoyable and engaging comic that takes huge creative risks that pay off wonderfully. Windsor McCay's " Little Nemo in Slumberland" is a giant landmark in the history of comics, a extraordinary use of design and colours, the dreams of Little Nemo are a unique creation. This creates a problem for a creative team who wish to create a sequel to the strip, one of the many delights of this comic is how deftly  Leonardo Melo and Alberto Pessoa have sidestepped the problem and created a unique comic of their own.
A veteran of a war, Nemo, has been devastated by his experiences and is trapped by alcohol, depression and poverty, until he meets a woman who has just lost her living space to hijackers. Nemo offers to share his space with her and suddenly starts to dream again. In glorious colours Nemo returns to to the world of his dreams and finds that it is dying. The inhabitants are looking to him to save it, Slumberland has changed just as Nemo has done and the adult does not relish but accepts the challange. The journey is every bit as difficult as it should be.
For any reader who is familiar with the Windsor McCay stories the way that Leonardo Melo solves the problem of drawing inspiration from the strip while clearly forging his own story is fascinating. The cast share the same names and have other echo's this is the slightest jumping off point for a very different story that leads to a very different awaking. Nemo lost something precious in the war, Slumberland has lost someone vital, bitterness, frustration, fear and anxiety are the common threads between Nemo's wakeful and sleeping lives. The parallel between the two is obvious without ever being heavy handed, the two story threads are strong enough to stand by themselves and gain strength from the way they interact with each other.
Leonardo Melo has written a comic that does not require any prior knowledge, the story and the cast stand squarely on their own, the recovery of a lost soul has strong possibilities and Return To Slumberland makes great and moving use of them.
Alberto Pessoa's art is simply staggering, the jagged edges of the black and while waking world captures and amplifies the bleak and desperate situation Nemo is in. The explosion of colour in Slumberland appears optimistic and hopeful until the darker reality is exposed. The balance between the two, in particular the critical transitions between the two when Nemo wakes up are gripping.
The cast are fractionally stylised so that there is a degree of formality in their shapes and movements that adds to the presence and force.
Leonardo Melo and Alberto Pessoa have such a strong creative vision that they make the insanely heavy lifting of task trying to match a unique masterpiece look easy by simply not doing so. They have the confidence to take what should be a overwhelming starting point for their own deeply engaging story and using key themes from the original for their own purposes. A great comic.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Kim Roberts. To purchase a copy of Return to Slumberland, which you should to feel the scientifically proven effects that an increase in joy will deliver, it is available from

Freelancers 1 (of 3) . Roger Bonet (Writer), Ivan Arnal (Art), Rafa Barragan (Colours), Henar Casal (Letters). WP Comics (2017)

A very enjoyable and engaging story that mixes profound cynicism and superheroes to great effect. The Freelancers are a superhero group that are also stars of a reality show on Free TV. When Daikaiju, God of Pestilence explodes from a poisoned river the Freelancers are sent to deal with him, with nicely unpredictable results.
From the start Roger Bonet strikes the balance of the story, Daikaiju is called fort when a when a rotting sandwich is thrown into the river, it is the final item needed to create the conditions for the monster's entrance. The story moves forward with the context for the Freelancers being set up as the TV show they they lead is put into action to capture their triumphant battle with Daikaiju. Roger Bonet has made a very interesting story decision, this is not a superhero parody or a straight expose of hollow actors in spandex, there is a much darker and interesting set of factors at work, the Freelances are not who they are presented to the public, they are also not what might have been expected. It becomes clear that a very dark bargain has been struck and it will be fascinating to see how it plays out as the pressure seriously esclates.
Ivan Arnal's art manages to capture the different aspects of the story with considerable flair and sharp detail. The superhero action is as big and loud as it should be, the quieter action of the TV show is delivered with great force. The shifting requirements of each section are held together with tremendous use of panels to control the pace of the story and to pull the threads of the story together. A small sequence featuring a an assault on a well known franchise about robots who can convert into vehicles is a little self indulgent, it still sets up a smart joke.
Rafa Barragan's colours are superb, they capture the very different emotional context's of the story as the action moves from one location to another. They are as bright as they should be for superhero action, equally bright with different tones and emphasis for the action in the studio.
Henar Casal's sound effects are a joy, they lift the action right off the page with great force and impact. They are cartoony and explosive, the dialogue lettering is natural on the pages and delivers change of tone and emphasis with subtle care.
Roger Bonet has sidestepped a serious problem with any alternative approach to superhero storytelling avoiding the dominant versions of playing with or embracing the absurdity. The concept of people with extraordinary abilities is wholly embraced, the context in which they act has been given a refreshingly different set. Cynicism should be kryponite to superheros, instead it has been carefully used to make them more engaging and cleverly increase the stakes for everyone.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Kim Roberts. To purchase a copy of Freelancers 1, which you should to enjoy such darkly creative story from very talented creators, it is available from

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Girl in the Ice. Lotte and Soren Hammer (Writers). Paul Norlen (Translation). Bloomsbury (2010).

A very engaging and thoughtful Danish crime story. The body of a woman is found frozen in the ice in Greenland far from any inhabited location. Detective Chief Konrad Simonsen leads the investigation and the details of case remind him of a previous, unsolved, murder. A very clever reveal points at a plausible suspect from the outset of the investigation and the story moves from there in unexpected and engaging ways. The story unfolds with great force as a dark history in uncovered and the investigation slowly closes in on the suspect until events force Konrad Simonsen to make very hard decisions.
The plot mechanics are excellent, with the opening setting the stage reader expectations are smartly managed as the story becomes different from what had been apparently set up. The early reveal that places the focus of the investigation firmly on a suspect creates the room to move the investigation to trying to establish if there are connections between the two murders and the suspect. As the investigation proceeds and the tantalizing information become available, it is never conclusive and the investigation is  persistently caught between knowing and proving. A sharp plot move moves the story to a gripping final section as trouble strikes directly at the investigation.
A nicely set up sub plot regarding the site in Greenland where the murder victim worked and powerful people in the Danish government is unfurled with great care. The intersection between power and a police investigation is examined with finesse, the way that power is used is demonstrated with great flair.
The cast are hugely engaging, Konrad Simonsen is thoughtful, competent and suffering with some health issues. He brings consistent clarity of thought to the investigation as the rest of the team find themselves entangled by ambition and events that create problems for them.
The narrative gives the rest of the investigative team plenty of time to reveal themselves to the reader, they emerge with their frailties and plans credibly set up and engaging. They all respond to the increasing pressure of the investigation differently and credibly, the confrontations with each other and events are forceful because they never feel staged.
Paul Norlen's translation is invisible and natural, the story emerges as clearly Danish, the language fits to it without feeling foreign or imposed on the story.
This is a quiet book, the action when it arrives is intense and fierce gripping. Really smart crime fiction that confidently leads the reader on an unexpected and very rewarding path, a great read. 

You are Dead. Peter James. Macmillian (2015)

Engaging and enjoyable police procedural. A woman is apparently kidnapped from an underground car park, later a skeleton is unearthed when a pavement is being repaired, the skeleton had evidently been buried decades before. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace sets up investigations into both cases, personally overseeing the kidnapping investigation. A very strange visitor to a psychologist in London who had a connection to the kidnapped woman creates a link between the two cases.  Roy Grace has to face the possibility that a serial killer has started to be active again in Brighton. As more women go missing and are attacked this possibility starts to become a certainty. The investigations move carefully and as they start to find a focus events become more urgent until the satisfactorily sour conclusion.
Roy Grace is a credible, competent and force leading character, he has a pregnant wife coming close to birth, a house move and a new superior that he has had a distinctly troubled previous history with. He steadfastly refuses to be  dysfunctional, settling for rather harassed and stressed while stubbornly maintaining his focus on the investigation. Peter Robinson has developed a strong career professional who greatly enjoys a hugely stressful role and is consistently aware of the need to maintain his professional and intimate relationships. Roy Grace gives the story a strong central sense of competent strength and allows Peter Robinson to develop a suitably horrible villain.
The villain is wonderfully baroque, deeply committed to the project of capturing selected females and killing according to a deliberate schedule. The plot mechanics regarding the scheming and execution of the sadistic plans are wonderfully thought out and full of telling details. The whole scheme is gloriously elaborate and insane. It is all plausible within the context of the story because the rest of the cast and context are so firmly anchored in the city of Brighton.
Peter Robinson splits the narrative up across a very diverse cast and this nicely mixes up the story and consistently increases the tension. The reader is introduced to cast members, all of whom are given an opportunity to reveal themselves and then follows their paths to very different conclusions. Logan Somerville, the woman who was kidnapped from the car park is given a voice while she is held in captivity, she is never reduced a a helpless victim, she is terrified and  edging to despair. She speaks for herself and gives a voice to the other victims so they are more than just handy props for the plot.
This is a really good crime story, a wide inclusive story that is managed with concentrated discipline and confidence.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Night Terrors Podcast. (Comic) - Writer - Roddy McCance / Artist - Roland Kalnins, (Podcast) - Writers - Roddy McCance and Jonny Murray / Design - Tony Finnegan / Actor - Jonny Murray)

Gripping and engaging, a clever idea and brilliant execution, a comic and related podcast that support and amplify each other. In 2014 Liam Cunningham, presenter of The Night Terrors Podcast vanished along with his entire on line presence. There had been 16 podcasts broadcast prior to the disappearance, podcast 17 has been mysteriously delivered "The Gamesmaster" and it is revealed that Liam Cunningham had been sent a request and a link and had taken up the implied challenge. This may have been a mistake.
The comic is dense and claustrophobic, Roddy McCance packs a lot of story into four pages.The naaration pulls the reader directly into the events as the unfold and the steady accumulation of detail is gripping. Roland Kannins' art is stunning, the black and white art is packed with details and is horribly suggestive of off panel nastiness. Liam is disheveled to begin with, the progress of fear and anxiety is marked and  effective. The details of the game as they unfold are dark and threatening, the sound effects add to the atmosphere. The panels are used to control the pace of the story with great skill, there is a great deal of work done in a small time.
The podcast is superb, Roddy McCance and Jonny Murray have written a script that never sounds anything other than the spontaneous narration by Liam as he follows the challange he has been give. They also solve one of the biggest problems in horror, why would someone do something stupid that leads them into trouble? It becomes clear that Liam is driven by curiosity and vanity and these motives consistently push him forward in the face of clear details that would suggest other wise. Jonny Murray conveys the enormous range of emotions that Liam is trying to keep under control as he moves through the game, he is talking to himself and an audience at the same time. 
The comic and the podcast reach area that the other cannot and they amplify each other brilliantly, pictures without sound and sound without pictures, they mix and match with tremendous force in the reader's imagination.The care taken in the detail of the art in the comic is matched with the care taken in the sound in the podcast, the details that surround Liam's voice are evocative and unsettling.
For any story the medium is extremely important, it has a huge influence on the story possibilities, this is a really smart use of the possibilities of a website to view deliver different aspects of the story in different ways that combine very successfully to create a much stronger story.  The Night Terrors Podcast can be found here,, read,listen and enjoy the pleasures of very talented creators confidently delivering a sharp story.
Chief Wizard Note: Many thanks to Roddy McCance for sending me the link and giving me the chance to enjoy the substantial pleasures of The Night Terrors Podcast

Friday, January 13, 2017

Jeb Clucker's 100 Acres of Hen. Kim Roberts (Writer), Gabe Ostely (Art), Chris Allen (Letters and Colours) WP Comics (2017)

Very funny and horrifyingly gory, a clever take on a horror staple that uses a simple change to give allow humour and gore happily work together. A tourist party on a camping trip take a wrong turn and find themselves camping in a unscheduled location. It does not go well.
The fact that the entire cast are chickens is a simple and very smart shift in story. The room for chicken related jokes is taken at every opportunity by Kim Robert, who does so without every killing the central joke. In a very short space the cast are introduced, and different enough so that they are clearly individuals, the reader has enough chance to register them before the inevitable happens. The story structure correctly follows a familiar format, the ideas are used very effectively to counterpoint the inherent absurdity of the cast.
Gabe Ostley's art, from the wonderful cover and throughout the book is a joy to read. It manages the difficult task of being completely absurd and satisfying forceful, the cast are chickens acting like humans who are involved in savagely violent events. A tricky balance has to be maintained all the time for the story to be successful, the element of parody has to be respected and the gore has to have a genuine impact. Gabe Ostley achieves this balance with confident skill and amazing detail.
Chris Allen's colours are bright and exuberant, not horror colours at all, they work fantastically in the context of Kim Roberts smart story structure and Gabe Ostely's art. They give the vivid expression to the absurdity and the gore. The sound effects are exactly the right side of cartoony.
What makes this comic work is that beneath the bright and wild story there is real menace arising from the tension between the story structure and the delivery. A very funny story that never forgets that it is a horror story.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Kim Roberts. To purchase a copy of Jeb Clucker's 100 Acres of Hen, you should to usher in the 2017 with a really good comic and give yourself the best possible start, it is available from

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Song of Shadows. John Connolly. Hodder & Stoughton (2015)

A very engaging thriller that has a nicely set up supernatural element that never upsets the balance of the story.Charlie Parker has retreated to a small seaside town called Boreas in Maine to recover and recuperate from a near fatal attack. His nearest neighbor is a single mother, Ruth Winter, with a daughter who is the same age as his own. When a murdered man washes up on the beach near Parker's house and Parker becomes involved in the investigation, it becomes clear that Ruth Winter has something she wishes to hide. The story unfurls nicely as old sins and sinners respond to threats with violence and the weight of the past bears very heavily on the present.
AS with any book that is part of a series this has two stories running through it. The smaller story is the continuity story that involves the series cast including Charlie Parker. The bigger story is the one about what is happening in Boreas and why. The continuity story rests lightly enough on the main story that it does not interfere with the enjoyment of the main story in its own right. John Connolly has  interesting plot mechanics that drive the story, the pleasure and engagement of the book lie in the cast and the writing.
The story moves at a leisurely pace, there are very effective and gripping outbursts of action, the greater part of the story is given over to developing the extensive cast and location. What is noticeable and very enjoyable is that it is the non-series cast that get the time and attention. The town of Boreas emerges strongly because of the detail lavished on some of the cast whom Charlie Parker meets. John Connolly takes the time to introduce them and give them sufficient background and context to become fully developed. This depth of detail becomes important as the plot mechanics start to reveal what is waiting in the shadows.
The solidity of the regular humans in the cast give weight and room to the more extreme characters who start to appear, they gain significant credibility because they are anchored so firmly in an ordinary context. The supernatural elements slide in easily without upsetting the balance of the story because the context has such weight and presence.
The continuity story is equally well done, Charlie Parker has been wounded nearly fatally and cannot just shrug off the impact. Across the arc of the action Charlie Parker recovers and returns to his essential mission with a darker edge than he had before.
John Connolly has delivered a story that has multiple threads without ever getting tangled up in any, a story about small town secrets and lives, a nasty view of the long reach of history and revenge, an episode in a longer story of supernatural trouble all of them rest easily with each other and each has substantial pleasures of their own. Combined they provide a very satisfying reading experience.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

One Way. Christopher Baldwin (Writer & Art). Good Port Publishing (2016)

A glorious and engaging romantic science fiction comic. A space ship is sent on a voyage to make the first human contact with an alien race. The crew are the most skilled and expendable in the fleet and it is clear from the outset that there is a strong possibility that it will be a one way voyage. Trouble starts early and continues right up to the unexpected, heartfelt and utterly satisfying conclusion.
Christopher Baldwin takes the genre standard for a disaster story, a eccentric group of people in a confined space becoming involved in an escalating disaster and gives it a big heart and lashings of humour.
The crew introduce themselves neatly as they start off on their journey, they have a nice range of characters in the cast and they strike off each other with great style and spark. When the first major incident occurs the cast start to reveal themselves and it is this process that continues through the rest of the story. Christopher Baldwin uses the genre staples with care and wit and at the same time carefully unwinds them to find the blood and bones of the humans hiding behind the roles they have given to themselves.
A deep pleasure of the story is the way that the plot, cast and context interact in unexpected and engaging ways. The confidence that Christopher Baldwin has in the story and cast is a joy, the pages are full of funny exchanges that never hide the cast behind gags, they continuously manage to be funny and revealing at the same time. Each cast member is given a change to engage the reader on tier own terms and to emerge as satisfyingly complicated.
The art is friendly and a pleasure to read, the figures are all slightly stiff particularly in a profile view, they all move naturally and relate to each other and their context very naturally. The strong personalities are expressed with eloquent body language, in particular the faces of the cast. They move through their context with force and physical weight that is vital in such a confined space. The spaceship feels right, enough detail to anchor the action firmly without being overdressed. There is a crucial sense of the length of the spaceship, the layers of the space that have different functions are are essentially belonging to different members of the crew, it feels like a working operation.
The muted colours catch the understated emotional tones of the story and bring out the details of the cast and context with strength and quiet force.
Christopher Baldwin has managed a very difficult story and made it look easy, a space opera that has the confidence to push really hard into the implications of the story idea and never backs down to easy ways out. Doing all this heavy lifting with laugh out loud humour and making it all look easy is a considerable achievement.
One Way is superb science fiction, a great comic and a luxurious pleasure to read.