Category Archives: mystery

Book Review: ‘Winter Warning’ by Jerome Charyn

Isaac Sidel, the president with a Glock. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

Writers reach a point in their careers when they can spin gold from within just about any scenario. Jerome Charyn gives himself the perfect backdrop from which to play in his latest novel, “Winter Warning,” published by Pegasus Books. This is the White House. And, if you think Donald Trump is “disruptive,” then get a load of the Isaac Sidel administration: people get punched in the face and guns are fired into the ceiling on a slow day. Charyn makes the most of his opportunity to craft a climactic conclusion to his iconic Isaac Sidel mystery series. And, in the bargain, Charyn revels in speaking to the byzantine interconnections between American and Russian players.

Isaac Sidel, has gone from street cop to police commissioner, to mayor of New York City, to president of the United States. The timeline to the Charyn mystery series places the story in 1989 but, without a doubt, the narrative is every bit as relevant as if it were set in the present. Sidel is indeed a disruptive force. He is, by and large, an accidental president, a vice-presidnet thrust into the highest office after a political scandal. And Sidel is quite outspoken, beholden to neither major party. Where Trump leans to the right, Sidel leans to the left. Side’s liberal inclinations have more to do with a passion to help the oppressed than anything else. Given the chance as mayor, he released countless prisoners from Riker’s Island, victims of an unjust legal system. Our story heats up when Sidel’s more aggressive style attracts various rogue elements, including nefarious Swiss bankers and an erratic former Israeli prime minister.

“Winter Warning” by Jerome Charyn

Jerome Charyn is always a pleasure to read as you cannot help but get wrapped up in the story and find yourself rewarded at every turn. Here is a taste of a story with hints of the supernatural. In this excerpt, Sidel is questioning Pesh Olinov, a Russian operative, about a Russian criminal syndicate determined to make contact with him:

“And that greeting card is some kind of a threat?”

Olinov appraised the portrait of Isaac with an ice pick piercing his left eye.

“I don’t think so. They consider you a werewolf, like themselves. And that’s a mark of respect. Perhaps they would like to meet with you—the presidency means nothing to them. It’s not your power that interests the besprizornye. In their eyes you have none. Perhaps it is a real winter warning, and they are telling you to be more careful with your steps. The Secret Service cannot protect you with their magnetometers, my friend.”

Isaac Sidel is the president who packs a Glock. As much gritty crime story as political fable, “Winter Warning” takes the reader on a mesmerizing journey. This is the story of an American president who prefers to hide in an office he’s set up in the White House attic. That attic becomes home to a makeshift kitchen cabinet and a haven for various rogue elements. But Sidel, as always, is also a man of action. Charyn keeps this president on the run.

Charyn has a delicious way of hinting at what lies ahead and then, like a panther, hits his mark and pounces on his prey. The pace to this narrative is quick and steady allowing Charyn to conjure up elaborate scenes, deliver on his promise, and quickly sneak out the backway. Charyn is a master at creating a rhythmic pattern. We return throughout to an image of a man with a Glock, a man confronting werewolves, and the realization that he is a werewolf himself. This is not a horror story with werewolf tropes. These werewolves symbolize a certain dark and independent spirit. Sidel is indeed a werewolf. He knew it all along. He just needed an opportunity to prove it to others and confirm it to himself. With a target on his back, and nearly no one to trust, Sidel will need strength from any source he can find. This is a riveting mystery with a hard-boiled edge and worldly charm.

“Winter Warning” is a 288-page hardcover, available as of October 3rd. For more details, visit Pegasus Books.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Crime Fiction, Jerome Charyn, mystery, Novels, Pegasus Books

Review: THE BLOODY CARDINAL by Richard Sala

THE BLOODY CARDINAL by Richard Sala

Everything is always perfectly distilled in a work of comics by Richard Sala. Everything from a dramatically constricted pupil to a young woman’s dainty feet. Sala has a way of cutting to the chase: he knows that he wants thrilling motifs and pretty girls–and he does a beautiful job of it. Sala is in fine form with his latest graphic novel, “The Bloody Cardinal,” published by Fantagraphics.

This new Sala villain makes quite an entrance and certainly looks pretty menacing. The Bloody Cardinal is no slouch, either, when it comes to murder. Clara Clarette, a charming young woman who had just purchased a mysterious book, is killed by the bird fiend. Enter Inspector Coronet, and his trusty compatriot, Dr. Sun. The good doctor has a mystical quality about him. He senses a malevolent bird-like creature is responsible for this crime. Sala does not miss a beat and paves the way for the reader to be undeniably hooked.

If you’re new to Sala, you are definitely in for a treat, especially if you enjoy a devilishly good mystery. At its heart, this is a good tightly-wound mystery. The narrative keeps popping along at a brisk pace. Each panel is a wonderfully rendered watercolor. Some cartoonists, like Sala, also happen to be painters at an accomplished level. You can’t help but appreciate how Sala distills scenes and characters to their essence.

The evil eye.

“The Bloody Cardinal” is an online serial, which follows in the tradition of his early classics, “The Chuckling Whatsit” and “Mad Night.” Perhaps it was one of these previous titles that was your introduction to his work. Sala has enjoyed a career spanning over thirty years with no signs of letting up. He has perfected a vision that, inspired by Gahan Wilson, Edward Gorey, and Charles Addams, he can safely call his own.

There is an undeniably sexy aspect to Sala’s work, as evidenced by all the compelling and voluptuous female characters in this book. The key distinction is that these are sexy, but not sexist, depictions in the service of a bigger picture. You get a worldly sense of the world from Sala: a world of books, mystery, the supernatural, and compelling young women to keep one on one’s toes. It is sophisticated fare accessible to general readers much in the same way that Hitchcock provided that special kind of entertainment in film. You could indeed say that Richard Sala is to comics what Alfred Hitchcock is to film. All those little details add up: apprehensive rats, a demonic puppet hung from a string, obsessive note-taking. The journey we take with Hitchcock as well as with Sala, with its Mcguffins and moody atmosphere, is as important as the destination, even more so.

A harbinger of doom.

In an interview last year with Tim Hodler, for The Comics Journal, Sala provides a window into the motivation behind his work: “What has always appealed to me over everything else, beyond horror or comedy or whatever, is a sense of the absurd. I think I got that from reading Kafka in high school and feeling a shock of recognition. I felt a kinship with absurd humor and black humor. Having an appreciation of the absurd – along with my childhood love of monsters – helped me survive in what was a dysfunctional (that is, crazy) household. I was drawn to the surreal and the expressionistic and the unreal, which is where I felt at home.”

“The Bloody Cardinal” is a 96-page full color trade paperback. This is a book that will appeal to a wide range of readers: anyone, say, 13 and up. For more details, visit Fantagraphics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Horror, mystery, Richard Sala, Supernatural

Review: THE NEW DEAL by Jonathan Case

New-Deal-Jonathan-Case-2015

We begin Jonathan Case’s new graphic novel, “The New Deal,” in New York City, 1936. It’s the depths of the Great Depression. NYC is pretty darn cold in the winter, especially when money is so scarce. There’s a young guy, Frank O’Malley, and he’s pleading with passersby to consider buying a ticket to an avant-garde production of Macbeth. Tough sale especially when, just next to Frank is his Uncle Pack hawking apples for six cents each. A potential customer tries to haggle the price down by a penny but Uncle Pack won’t budge. Quickly, we move on as Frank races to his regular job as a bellman at the Waldorf Astoria. And with that Case has hooked you in as the plot thickens and we find Frank to be way over his head.

Pages from THE NEW DEAL

Pages from THE NEW DEAL

Case delivers a solid story built upon his character-driven script and his engaging drawing style. His sly sense of humor and intrigue works its way through every page. He has managed to create characters that feel real while inhabiting the hyperreal world of screwball comedies of the 1930s. We cannot help but be curious about the relationship between a Caucasian bellman, Frank O’Malley, and an African-American maid, Theresa Harris. In public, they keep at a distance and address each other by their surnames. In private, they are playful with each other but still hold back. What we do know is that they care about each other very much and the plot that unfolds will test them.

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This is an exceptionally well-paced and substantial story. It has one foot in the ’30s and the other in today’s sensibilities. This allows us to explore the relationship between Frank and Theresa and the inner world of Theresa with great subtlety. You learn to accept Frank who has to struggle with proving his trustworthiness. And you follow Theresa as she must navigate through the obstacles before her. The more complicated our story gets, the more Frank and Theresa are forced to face what it is that keeps attracting them to each other.

Make no mistake, this is a perfect blend of mystery, humor, and offbeat love story. If there’s any mention of FDR’s “New Deal,” it is only in passing. This is not a history lesson, at least not directly. That said, while you’ll learn a thing or two about swells and dolls and fancy hotels, you will also get a good sense of the cold realities of that era.

This is Jonathan Case’s best work yet. You may know him from his artwork for the critically-acclaimed graphic novel, “Green River Killer: A True Detective Story,” which I reviewed here. Or you may have caught his work for the DC Comics title, “Batman ’66.” You will definitely want to read “The New Deal,” a thoroughly entertaining and remarkable work.

THE NEW DEAL is a hardcover, published by Dark Horse Comics, available as of September 23. You can find it at all your favorite booksellers including through Jonathan’s website right here. As always, be sure to visit our friends at Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Filed under Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Hotels, Humor, Jonathan Case, mystery

Review: THE BOZZ CHRONICLES

The-Bozz-Chronicles

THE BOZZ CHRONICLES is going to appeal to those who love an offbeat story with an ooey-gooey weirdness rolled into a droll misadventure. Does that sound like you? More cheezburger, perhaps? Yes, you. And you’ll dig the vintage quasi-steampunk vibe too. We have been enjoying a comics reprint renaissance in recent years. And Dover Publications is doing its part by bringing back ole Bozz which was originally a six-issue series published by Epic Comics from December 1985 to December 1986. Set in Victorian era England, we follow a space alien as he solves crimes with the help of prostitute Amanda Flynn and American Salem Hawkshaw.

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Written by David Michelinie (The Amazing Spider-Man) and drawn by Bret Blevins (New Mutants), this is a comic ready to regain the spotlight. The one thing I can’t help but focus on is how effortlessly quirky this comic is. And, of course, it’s steampunk before there ever was steampunk. It takes its cues from a long tradition of bawdy and oddball British humor going all the way back to Chaucer, and you thought I was going to say, Alan Moore. Funny, but there is a Moore connection. There usually is one if you dig far enough. Mr. Michelinie wrote for “Swamp Thing” before and after Alan Moore. Pretty cool, huh?

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“The Bozz Chronicles” is one of those eccentric comics that goes all out and then sadly comes to an end, like a dazzling magic act. Not every weird and wonderful comic needs to become a perpetual series or franchise. Some of the best just do their unique bit of magic and that’s more than enough. That’s comics at its elusive and ephemeral best.

And if you like this reprint gem, you’ll dig other Dover titles like “A Sailor’s Story” by Sam Glanzman, originally published by Marvel Comics in two volumes in 1987 and 1988. “The Bozz Chronicles” is a 208-page trade paperback and will be available as of September 16, 2015. For more details on Dover graphic novels, visit our friends at Dover Publications right here. You can also find “The Bozz Chronicles” at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Dover Publications, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Horror, mystery, Steampunk

Review: LOUISE BROOKS: DETECTIVE by Rick Geary

Louise-Brooks-comics

A really good murder mystery is always about more than just the murder. There’s tantalizing intrigue but it also transcends searching for clues and skulking about. How about one that features one of Hollywood’s most alluring beauties, Louise Brooks, as a gumshoe detective in Wichita, Kansas? She was never really a detective, was she? And in Kansas? That’s what cartoonist Rick Geary has conjured up with his latest graphic novel, “Louise Brooks: Detective.” And this one is quite a story. It makes you believe that Louise Brooks actually did go all Sherlock Holmes.

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Any good mystery will depend upon a fair amount of trickery and distraction. Just when you think all roads are leading to a resolution, something happens to tell you different. Murder, I tell you! It was bloody murder! And in Wichita! Enter Louise Brooks, stage left, if she still had a stage from which to veer left from. These days, she has dropped down a number of pegs. It’s 1940, she’s no longer the star she once was and, at age 33, she has had to come back home to reinvent herself. There was nothing about solving crime in her plans. So, she is literally forced into something way over her head. Initially, she had just hoped to make a go of it as a dance instructor!

Louise-Brooks-Detective-Rick-Geary

Geary has a wonderful time with bringing Miss Brooks to life. He allows her to live and breathe, starting with a little pout or smirk. She is a big city girl, after all. Who knew she would ever return to Kansas? She is not pleased. But, as she comes to terms with her circumstances, we see her grow. With regularity, Geary will bring her to an extreme close-up and we deal with her directly: read her thoughts, hear her rant, and so on. There’s an interesting thing he does here as he consistently favors going for these close-ups on the last panel of a page on the right side. This is for added emphasis, the last thing you read, before you move on to something else.

This Louise Brooks adventure is supposed to just be a little detour from Mr. Geary’s ongoing work on his Treasury of Murder true crime series. However, there’s definitely a case to be made for more Louise Brooks adventures. He’s found a way where that could happen. So, stay tuned.

“Louise Brooks: Detective” is an 80-page hardcover and is available now. You can find out more by visiting our friends at NBM Publishing right here. You can also find this book at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Hollywood, Louise Brooks, movies, mystery, Rick Geary

Review: ‘The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes’ by Zach Dundas

Holmes investigates Holmes. Art by Henry Chamberlain.

Holmes investigates Holmes. Art by Henry Chamberlain.

It is clear that Zach Dundas loves Sherlock Holmes. A quest to explore how and why the interest in Sherlock Holmes has endured is the subject of his new book, “The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes.” In a highly accessible and conversational narrative, Dundas weaves classic Holmes stories into his own idiosyncratic reportage. The result is jolly good fun and goes a long way in explaining the Holmes phenomena.

Can one really put one’s finger on the Holmes appeal? Well, sure, for one thing, he’s a comfortably familiar character right up there with Superman, Snow White, Snoopy, and Frankenstein. He’s the ultimate brand. Of course, do people still actually read the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Well, Dundas is here to assure you, if you have not, that it’s fun stuff. Much of the appeal to this book is Dundas’s unbridled enthusiasm for his subject. He makes no bones about letting you know his passion runs deep going back to reading Holmes tales as a kid.

Time and again, Dundas will casually describe to you an adventure from Sherlock Holmes lulling you in until you’re deep into the plot. Then he’ll alternate with one of his own quests such as dragging his family all across the moors of the English countryside or endless searching for the real-life potential counterparts to fictional Victorian London. For Dundas, part of the mystery lies in attempting to understand what all his fellow tourists see in Holmes.

As he waits in line to enter a replica to 221B Baker Street, Holmes’s fictional digs, he can’t help but get a little smug assuming no one else in line has actually read Doyle. This lapse can be forgiven. When the only thing setting you apart from the crowd is the fact that you’ve read something that they haven’t, that’s more of a humbling experience than something to be proud of. And, it’s in that spirit, that Dundas shines as he shares his various facts and insights.

What you get here is a low-key and quirky look at what Holmes meant in his own time and what came soon after-and beyond. As Dundas observes, Holmes went retro rather quickly and embraced his new position, as it were, with gusto. With the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, the Victorian era quite literally came to an end. However, in the Holmes universe, the Victorian era would now enter a perpetual loop as Doyle kept on creating Holmes adventures set circa 1890. In short, Holmes was the original steampunk. And, with that in mind, it makes more and more sense as Dundas explores the myth and mystique of Holmes leading him all the way to Benedict Cumberbatch.

Ultimately, the mystery to Holmes does seem to be that such an esoteric character should have such broad appeal. That said, there are a number of erudite, refined, offbeat, and just plain weird characters that have struck a chord with wide audiences. Doctor Who is one, for sure. But you can rattle off any number of them from Star Wars to Game of Thrones and so on down the line. The general public is not always looking for some obviously populist figure to be the next pop culture superstar. And, with Holmes, you get a ready-made multi-layered artichoke of entertainment at the ready to be peeled back for deeper and richer understanding. That is what Dundas delightfully demonstrates in this quite entertaining book.

“The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes” is 336-page hardcover, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and available as of June 2. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, mystery, pop culture, Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Review: ALL MY GHOSTS by Jeremy Massie

All-My-Ghosts-Massie-Alterna-Comics

For a relatively young country, the United States holds a tremendous amount of history, with much of it leading back to Ole Virginny. “All My Ghosts,” a new comic from Alterna Comics, is set in a small town in Virginia, rife with history, and ghosts. Our main character is Joe Hale, the editor and owner of The Wise Progress. This is likely a nod to The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. Given that this story takes place in Wise, a small college town up near the Appalachian Mountains, I believe I’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s a nice quirky setting that adds some extra flavor.

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Filed under Alterna Comics, Comics, Comics Reviews, History, Journalism, mystery, Newspapers

Review: THE BLACK FEATHER FALLS Book One (of four), by Ellen Lindner, published by Soaring Penguin Press

Ellen-Lindner-The-Black-Feather-Falls

Ellen Lindner has a wonderful way with prose and composition. Her intricate artwork and distinctive voice give life to her latest creation, “The Black Feather Falls.” This is a webcomic told in four parts, which you can view at ACT-I-VATE here. The first part is now collected and will be published by Soaring Penguin Press.

The-Black-Feather-Falls-Ellen-Lindner

The beauty of Lindner’s work is on many levels, not the least of which is her dynamic composition. We begin with the main character, Tina Swift, juxtaposed by her striking view of two pyramids that act as visual and symbolic thrust. They lead us to more energetic play with geometry of body language and setting.

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Take a closer look at Tina Swift. On Page 2, we see her face is a crisp collection of lines and angles with a few accenting curves. We take in the rest of the page: in the first panel, we see a typewriter rendered to the last detail acting as a still life accompanied by Tina’s sharply rendered hands. The last panel caps off with another view of those pyramids. In the span of time that we’ve read the first two pages, we already know a mighty adventure is about to be retold.

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And, by Page 3, we have entered a new world. Tina is an American abroad. She’s in 1920s London. As engaging as Lindner’s artwork, her prose charms you and immerses you in the customs and logic of another time. Lindner was an American abroad herself and you sense a loving attention to her past home byway of this murder mystery. It’s as if Lindner travelled back in time and is reporting to us her observations with a fresh vitality. She provides a somewhat similar treatment of Brooklyn in the early 1960s for her work, “Undertow.” The writing for this story is quite fun and feels in step with such British writers of the time as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and the Mitford sisters.

Our team of brash young American, Tina Swift, and young British spinster, Miss McInteer, are delightful as polar opposites that manage to attract. They do have quite a compelling murder mystery to solve that apparently will turn into another cold case if not for them. All the elements are in place for a delicious read.

You can read the latest installments of The Black Feather Falls at ACT-I-VATE here. Be sure to pick up the first collection of The Black Feather Falls from Soaring Penguin Press and look for updates here. And do visit Ellen Lindner at her site here.

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Filed under ACT-I-VATE, Comics, Comics Reviews, Dean Haspiel, Ellen Lindner, mystery, Webcomics

Review: VELVET #1, published by Image Comics

Velvet-Brubaker-Image-Comics

“Velvet,” published by Image Comics, is your next spy thriller addiction. It is written by one of the best crime fiction writers that comics has ever known, Ed Brubaker. And he is teamed up with one of the best artists he’s ever worked with, Steve Epting. This new series blasts away from the start. We have the dark and moody color palette that Brubaker favors, provided by colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser. We have the nondescript lettering, as if out of typewriter or teletype machine, provided by letterer Chris Eliopoulos. Yes, this comic is like a good martini, shaken, not stirred.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Crime, Crime Fiction, Ed Brubaker, Image Comics, mystery, Pulp Fiction, Spy Thrillers

Review: SHORT HAND #1 by Jason McNamara and Rahsan Ekedal

Short-Hand-McNamara-Ekedal-2013

An odd little old gentleman proves to be very entertaining in this week’s releases from ComiXology Submit. “Short Hand #1” is a breath of fresh air. The main character has star power even if he can barely reach for the stars or just about anything else for that matter.

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Meet Oscar Lindstat. He is one big ball of mischief and that has landed him a twelve-month house arrest. He’s 80 years old but he can still give the likes of Lindsay Lohan a run for her money. At the start of our story, “The Toothless Fairy,” we find Oscar is two months into his arrest and he’s triggered a visit from the sheriff and a deputy for tampering with his ankle monitor. Oscar looks sickly and vulnerable but surprisingly spry.

Sheriff Sumner looks worn out just looking at Oscar. That’s why he’s brought in backup, Deputy Woods, who is being lured into making Oscar his very special responsibility. Little does Sumner or Woods know that Oscar never gave up solving crimes and a little ole ankle monitor sure isn’t going to stop him for long. Thanks to crisp writing, by Jason McNamara, and engaging artwork, by Rahsan Ekedal, we quickly buy into the premise.

Short-Hand-Comixology-2013

This comic has a sharpness and confidence to it that serves it well considering that you have a subject that you would suspect to tread along slowly. Yes, Oscar doesn’t move all that fast but this is definitely one of the most quick-witted comics you’re going to come across. “Isn’t it the little crimes that matter the most?” asks Oscar. It’s not a concept that resonates all that well with Deputy Woods. But maybe the guy just needs a little time to figure out what matters the most.

“Short Hand #1” is 25 pages, priced at $1.99, and you can check it out at ComiXology here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Comixology, Comixology Submit, digital comics, Humor, mystery, Webcomics