The cartoon mystery is well-trodden territory for Rick Geary. He has written a comprehensive collection of Victorian murder mysteries, penned a tight and effective graphic biography of the mysterious J. Edgar Hoover, and adapted a number of classical stories to the graphic format. He has a great narrative sense of the subject matter and a confident and accessible approach to the graphic format. As such, Louise Brooks: Detective is a delightful little slice of his copious talent—entertaining, engaging, and just complicated enough to thrill.
Our story opens on the titular femme fatale heading, in a state of retreat rather than defeat, to her parents’ quiet Wichita home. Louise Brooks, that siren of the silent film, queen of the flappers, progenitor of the bob with bangs hairstyle, is a bit older, wiser, and in need of a break from the glamorous life. Still, a fire burns behind her dark eyes, a desire to observe and understand her world, and perhaps to simply do something. She spends some time working in a department store, starts a dance studio, quibbles with her parents, and yearns quietly, in that Midwestern way, for something more. While going through her days, she makes a new, delightfully bookish friend, Helen, who regales her with tales of an intriguing love interest—which, of course, signals that something about this mysterious stranger must be amiss.
Geary spends a substantial amount of time setting up his characters and creating a backdrop for his story, building suspense and perhaps even a bit of anxiety. When will things really get moving? But once they do, they don’t stop. Not to spoil the tale, but the mystery involves such classic, almost campy elements as car chases, romantic waterfalls, spooky barns, and bodies in murky ponds. There are some eerie exchanges and convenient coincidences (perhaps overly so, but who’s keeping score when it’s satisfying?), but all in all it shapes up to be a just-complex-enough mystery to dig into and make some guesses about the mischief afoot. Thankfully, it’s not so intense as to get the reader completely lost in an over-abundance of suspects, motives, or methods, so it’s a great choice for a mystery novice like myself. It’s efficient and fun, setting up a tale, telling it swiftly, and having most of the players get what they deserve.
Rick Geary’s illustration style is distinct. It’s flat and reporterly, almost static, but jumps quickly from setting to setting, and from conversation to memory. This works to communicate his story in an unadorned, just-the-facts manner, adding to the satisfying efficiency of his storytelling. Furthermore, his dry style is a great canvas for the dramatically simple aesthetic of Louise Brooks and a great match for the bare, dry landscapes of the Great Plains. Setting, characters, and mood come together visually as well as narratively under Geary’s expert hand.
Finally, you may be wondering, as I was when I picked this up, why Louise Brooks? Isn’t she sort of a random choice? And indeed, it might be—since the story is a fantasy, her name recognition far from universal, and her background as a 1920s icon not particularly integral to the story, it seems less than essential to have her featured in the story. However, is it nice that a strong, sharp, and bold-when-it-counts woman is dabbling in detective work? Yes! It is indeed delightful to see her confidence and boldness grow as she delves further into the caper. However, it does feel a bit like Geary spends an overabundance of time setting up her character for the amount of importance her personality plays within the mystery itself. Unless… wouldn’t it be wonderful if Geary could turn this initial volume into some sort of dry-witted, understated, and dark mystery series full of brevity and clever twists, with our very own Ms. Brooks as the star? Yes, indeed! The satisfying set up made me yearn for another mystery, or two or five, for her to get her hands on. Louise Brooks, Detective, I am rooting for you!
Louise Brooks: Detective
by Rick Geary