These four mysteries cover a wide range of genres: science fiction, time travel, classic mystery, and superheroes, but they all fall under the Murder Can Be Fatal series and feature bizarre killings and familiar literary tropes.
Death by Chocolate features a food-obsessed Swiss detective, Marcel Petit-Pois, and his intelligent assistant, a chimpanzee named Tesla. Despite Petit-Pois’ bumbling and frequent food breaks, together they manage to solve a series of murders, all related to sweets. Destination: Homicide! pairs up bumbling detectives Ricky Nixon and Eddie Ribbs with reporter Abigail Fletcher to solve not only the murders of defunct superheroes but also the disappearance of the famous superhero, Red White and Blue. Six Million Ways to Die introduces Rex ‘Thunderclap’ Aldrin, a stuntman who, after being seriously injured, wakes up to find that nothing is familiar; not time, history, or even himself. His only hope is to go back in time to the Titanic and solve the mystery of who changed history and why. Failed sci-fi author Marion ‘Mick’ Mulligan is the main character of …And the Blood Flowed Green, in which an alien abduction gone wrong lands him on a backwater planet. When he attempts to get home, he finds himself traveling across the universe and running into a slew of mysterious deaths.
The art in this series is black and white, laid out in straightforward panels with broad white borders. The characters all have similarly lumpy, rectangular faces and blocky bodies. In addition to the graphic story, each book has special features. For example, Death by Chocolate has spreads with collage backgrounds and typed messages from Tesla, narrating her feelings and thoughts about the mysteries. Destination: Homicide! includes newspaper articles by Abigail Fletcher that add additional backstory or flesh out current events. While there isn’t a great deal of scenery or background, the art is crowded with characters and has a busy, energetic feeling.
The press release says these are aimed at “age 8 to 80,” but I’d have a hard time adding these to a children’s collection. All feature gruesome murders and although there aren’t a lot of graphic images and the black and white medium doesn’t show much gore, there are still images of a corpse stuffed with chocolates and similar remains. The books also feature alcohol, gambling, and frequent violence. There isn’t anything about the plots themselves that proclaims they’re written for children, although kids might well recognize the clichéd plots that the stories depend on. Death by Chocolate is a spoof of Christie’s Poirot, with a ridiculous villain and a lot of space devoted to Petit-Pois’ obsession with food and gargantuan bulk. Destination: Homicide! features corrupt politicians, incompetent police, and a superhero cliché that anyone who’s watched The Incredibles will roll their eyes at – superheroes brought down by lawsuits. The sci-fi title …And the Blood Flowed Green has a particularly grim ending for its middle-aged failed writer. While kids might be attracted by the goofy characters and wacky events (zombie cheerleaders, time travel to the Titanic, aliens, etc.), the plots are thin and random events and characters show up without warning. They seem like mysteries written for adults with “things kids like” thrown in to make them appeal to younger readers.
I’d like to see more graphic mysteries for middle-grade readers, and while these wacky adventures might appeal to some kids, especially those who like spoofs like Papercutz Slices, they’re more likely to sit on the shelf or elicit complaints from parents. The most likely audience is middle school, where the kids will be old enough to handle the violence but young enough to appreciate the random, wacky humor and events. However, I don’t see a strong enough appeal in these to make it worth the time and trouble to purchase them from overseas, as they don’t appear to be available from standard library vendors or Amazon.
Murder Can Be Fatal Mystery
by Alan Nolan
Volume 1: Death by Chocolate
Volume 2: Six Million Ways to Die
Volume 3: Destination: Homicide
Volume 4: …and the Blood Flowed Green
The O’Brien Press, 2012