I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

It’s hard to say what Mannie Murphy’s debut graphic novel I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is about without listing all of the contents, but I’ll try. I’ll admit to being disappointed by the publisher’s summary.

Murphy begins with their adolescent memory of being at a slumber party and hearing the news of River Phoenix’s death. The story takes a deep dive into Phoenix’s life story, film highlights, and his work on My Private Idaho, Gus Van Sant’s seminal film about queer underground culture in Portland. It then ricochets around Portland-adjacent stories of violent white settlers, redlining, and racial strife through the centuries. The explosive trial of neo-Nazi skinhead Kenneth “Ken Death” Mieske for the murder of Ethiopian immigrant Mulugeta Seraw in 1988 takes up a considerable length of the book. A muse of Gus Van Sant, he is the narrative’s path into the rise of white supremacy and its stranglehold on Portland. The strategic infiltration of the police force and the subsequent violence is a case study for the current national crisis. Murphy then circles back closer to home and their experiences at a Portland high school that valued individuality and questioning authority. 

The writing is a thoroughly compelling blend of confession and heavily researched true crime, all told in a stream of consciousness style. The text is neat handwritten cursive filling up half of each page, with varied spacing as needed. In an interview with the Center of Cartoon Studies, Murphy said that the cursive script is meant to function in part as a barrier the reader must be willing to scale, and an emblem of the diary format, as well as funneling access to their 35-55 year-old intended demographic. The ability to read cursive also squares with the requisite generational knowledge to remember Geraldo Rivera, part of a key moment related in the book when skinheads literally broke onto the mainstream American TV scene. Honestly, I hope more people are learning cursive than the alarmist news media reports, because I want Murphy’s progression of thoughts to bloom in younger minds as well. After reading it twice, I can tell the book has only begun growing in my own mind. 

The art and visual format are challenging but rewarding. There are no panels or speech bubbles; one could perhaps make an argument for it as a picture book or illustrated memoir rather than a graphic novel. School newsprint with handwriting guide red and blue lines buckles under the weight of the ink washes Murphy uses for half-page illustrations. Luminous eyes and thickly-lined faces evoke moments from movies, magazine spreads and photojournalism. I couldn’t always tell from the picture alone which celebrities were depicted, but Murphy captures the cool vulnerability of River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves in particular. All of the people have a ghostly aspect that haunts the pages. The landscapes recall postcards. The physicality of the paper and its wrinkles, the visible bleed from the back of the splash pages announcing the chapters, all reinforce the idea of the book as a personal artifact. 

The content and themes are adult, without any lurid or graphic language or illustrations. Older teens who are into true crime and cultural introspection may enjoy it. While a connection to the 80s and 90s can add to the reader’s understanding, it’s not necessary. I struggle to come up with readalikes, it makes me think of Peter Kuper and Art Spiegelman in their attempts to gather accessible stories around monumental concepts. Despite the journal approach to the writing, there are few direct stories of Murphy’s life; they traffic more in public tragedies. And yet, I’m also reminded of Julie Doucet’s New York Diary.

I Never Promised You A Rose Garden is a singular experience and I hope most libraries with adult graphic collections will give their communities a chance to read it. 

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
By Mannie Murphy
Fantagraphics, 2020
ISBN: 9781683964100

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation: Queer

Unsolved Case Files: Escape at 10,000 Feet: D.B. Cooper and the Missing Money

In the first book in a new a new graphic novel nonfiction series, Unsolved Case Files, Sullivan retells the incredible and completely true story of the only unsolved airplane hijacking case in the entire history of the United States. 

Readers are taken chronologically, step-by-step through D.B. Cooper’s plan to obtain $200,000 USD by hijacking an airplane with an onboard bomb. Suspense is created by showing how stressful this situation was for the Northwest Orient Airlines staff, as well as to all those who were on the ground racing to assist with the situation. It ends on a mysterious note, as no one has all the pieces to this puzzle. The most likely theories of what happened, and who D. B. Cooper was are presented. The book concludes with a page of sources that were used to gather all the information to put this retelling together. This is an excellent tool for educators to utilize to encourage students to dig deeper. 

Author Tom Sullivan does an outstanding job of keeping the reader turning pages to see what happens next, and excels at immersing the reader into the 1970s. Pink sticky notes throughout the book give concise explanations of things like teletypewriters, how crazy the world was about letting everyone smoke wherever they wanted including airplanes and hospitals, and the absolute lack of security at airports. It’s hard to imagine this reality today. Additionally, sidebars and notes are added that give easy to understand descriptions behind the physics of flight, different types of parachutes, and all kinds of details that provide the reader with a much deeper understanding of what this whole event would’ve felt like.

The artistic style of this book is fun and completely appropriate for the topic. The entire book is enclosed in a yellow folder as if you’re opening an old police file. Inside reader’s discover scrapbook style pages, and full page artwork rather than the typical panel style often found in comics. Sticky notes, images of real evidence paper clipped in such as boarding passes and airplane schematics, maps, and diagrams provide variety across this publication. Typewriter style font adds to the authenticity of the early 1970s time period. Colors are used to intensify the drama of scenes, such as when D.B. Cooper is jumping out of the plane, the whole scene is pitch black, adding emotion to what a terrifying experience it must’ve been to actually make that jump.

Overall, this book is outstanding. Nonfiction books tend to have the reputation of being on the boring side, but this book is far from being dull. Sullivan expertly weaves together this true story, while adding in facts and explanations that somehow heighten the tension, rather than bog it down with too much detail. It’s a quick read that generates endless discussion questions. I highly recommend not only buying this book, but also keeping an eye out for the next installment, Jailbreak at Alcatraz, which isn’t yet published.

Unsolved Case Files: Escape at 10,000 Feet: D.B. Cooper and the Missing Money 
By Tom Sullivan
ISBN: 9780062991515
Balzer + Bray, 2021
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)

Agnes, Murderess

The legendary nineteenth century Agnes McVee: madam, serial killer, and inn owner of 108 Mile House, may not have really existed; but author and illustrator Sarah Levitt has brought her to astoundingly vivid life in Agnes, Murderess. Levitt introduces the folkloric Agnes to the reader through the backstory of Agnes’s childhood in Scotland through to her immigration to the Cariboo Region of British Columbia, accompanied by the grim ghost of her witchy grandmother Gormul. She also introduces the reader to early British Columbia gold rush geographical naming. The Cariboo Wagon road was started in 1862 from Mile 0 at Lillooet, a major town in the 1860s, where miners prepared to head north to the gold fields near Barkerville. As each mile was completed, a post was planted to accommodate the road crews. Several developed into well known “Mile Houses” when these places developed as stopping places to exchange horses or for travelers to obtain food and lodging. 108 Mile House was not much more than vacant land in 1860 with the 108 Mile Hotel of Agnus McVee fame operating from 1875 to 1885.

The new world was to be an agent of freedom and new starts, but unfortunately for Agnes, the struggle to remove herself from her upbringing and relatives proved to be deadly… deadly for those who met her. Levitt used a brochure about the legendary woman who killed some fifty people at her hotel with the aid of her husband and son-in-law as inspiration for her character and story. Although no official records of the woman or the murders existed, Levitt knew she had to tell the story depicted in the brochure. As noted in the introduction: “the first written record of Agnes did not appear until the 1970s, when an amateur historian self-published a guide to buried treasure in British Columbia.” “Lost Treasure in BC #3” is an expressly gruesome and violent story by Larry Lazeo of Fort Langley who was repeating a story he heard from an unnamed old timer. In 2006, Red Barn Productions filmed the story for CTV’s Travel and Discovery series and is also on a BC Government web page of historical information.

Levitt’s Agnes, taught by her greedy grandmother to adore shiny items, is drawn to the gold of the miners who stop at her hotel. She does not resist the call of that gold, and her bloodthirsty manner of acquiring it demonstrates her strength, both physical and mental, as well as her lack of ethics and morality. This is a woman who is her own person and follows her own desires, but also a woman who is also haunted by her upbringing and her lack of empathy and compassion. She is quick to anger and is reactive without a thought to consequences. She is not a conventional heroine but someone to be regarded at a far distance for your own safety! She leaves Scotland after a squabble between Gormul, and Seamus, a village boy, erupts in the unplanned stabbing death of Gormul with a pair of scissors. Seamus travels with Agnes to the new world and is an unwilling participant in much of the subsequent mass murders, thievery, and mayhem. 

Levitt’s years of research into the gold rush, the Cariboo Region, the men that came to find the gold, and the women who came to service the men, is evident in the authentic and gritty setting of the graphic novel. The remote rural Scottish community and its members are also vividly portrayed but this reader is enchanted by the familiarity of the equally remote area of western Canada and an era that is so paramount to the development of that region.

According to Leavitt, the images of Agnes and her horrendous deeds came to her first and then the narrative expanded to represent journal entries found after Agnes died. Leavitt’s moody illustrations are in black and white, with occasional touches of grey. They are stark, unsentimental, harsh, but, especially in the case of the landscapes, breathtakingly appealing. Leavitt effectively uses deep blacks to amplify the loneliness and mental confusion of the terrifying but oddly ingratiating protagonist who remains with this reader long after the covers closed.

I highly recommend this title for adults and high school students who wish to explore Canadian history and legend, strong female protagonists, mass murders, evil, and the possible long-term effects of a non-nurturing upbringing. It is a story without any definite answers, and I would not want it any other way. Just in case you find this critic and review rather morbid and seek a second opinion, the title was a 2020 Doug Wright finalist for the best Canadian graphic novel. It has also been nominated in two categories for the 2020 Alberta Book Awards: speculative fiction and book illustration. Sarah Leavitt is also the author of Tangles: A Story of Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me. She teaches comics classes at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Agnes, Murderess
By Sarah Leavitt
ISBN: 9781988298474
Freehand Books, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)

Related to…: Retelling

Green River Killer: A True Detective Story

Great true crime comics are a rarity. In a medium known for adventure and horror stories, Green River Killer: A True Detective Story stands out. This is a story that emphasizes slow character development and explores its detectives as much as it examines their investigations. Instead of the macabre fascination that true crime stories often bring to the table, this tale brings a sense of frustration and dread to its subject. It’s also a story that explores its killer’s, Gary Ridgway’s, life and character. It strives to lend its audience an understanding of, if not sympathy for, unthinkable acts.

As the title implies, Jeff Jensen and Jonathan Case drew on a notorious serial killer investigation for inspiration in this Eisner Award-winning book. Even more unusual, Jensen drew on his father’s, Tom Jensen’s, experiences investigating the case. As a result, he is able to capture an intimate portrait of a hero who never draws a gun and has to cheat to pass a physical fitness exam just to stay on active police duty. Tom Jensen’s also willing to learn new technology, read instruction manuals cover to cover, input data painstakingly, and never give up on his most important case. From 1982 to 2003, Ridgway killed at least 49 women and girls. Because many of them were sex workers, Seattle police were slow to act. In the end, it was the dogged determination of local police like Jensen, a member of the King County Sheriff’s Department, that led to Ridgway’s arrest. It’s after the arrest that the tale’s strangest twists take place.

Jeff Jensen and Jonathan Case don’t tell this story chronologically but skip around through Jensen’s father’s life and the case itself. They begin by portraying Ridgway’s first known attempted murder as a teenager, luring a younger boy into the woods to play, then stabbing him and leaving him for dead “to know what it felt like to kill someone.” The boy fortunately survived, but Ridgway learned from this early experience and became even more dangerous. 

The book then delves into Tom Jensen’s life, how he fell into military service and law enforcement, gaining an unexpected passion for his work on the job. Skipping between different moments in these lives allows readers deep knowledge of these principal characters and their apparent similarities. Ridgway is an apparently boring man: a father, a failed husband, not terribly bright. Jensen is similarly a family man, not an action hero, who demonstrates the power of determination over decades while living an almost painfully normal life. Even after he retires from law enforcement, he stays on as a civilian consultant on the Green River Killer case, making it his life’s work. This allows him an important role in the events that follow Ridgway’s arrest.

Once Gary Ridgway started confessing, he reached an arrangement with prosecutors. In exchange for his cooperation in locating his victims’ bodies, they would not seek the death penalty. It was a compassionate deal made to benefit victims’ families, but prosecutors and police knew it could spark public outrage. As a result, they did not announce Ridgway’s apprehension for months and did not jail him. Instead, they housed him in a vacant office at a police station, under guard at all times. Ridgway never attempted to escape and seemed to enjoy the attention from police, but he floundered when it came time to locate his victims. He said the landscape had changed over time, and that it had been too long. Jensen and other investigators suspected he was holding back for a surprising reason, though: shame.

Tom Jensen chose a curious and compassionate solution to this problem. He listened to Ridgway as a peer and tried to help the murderer come to terms with his own crimes. Whenever particularly disturbing details started to emerge, Jensen was careful not to shut down Ridgway’s disclosures by revealing his disgust. Instead, he nodded along as Ridgway admitted to necrophilia, to killing a mother while her son waited in his car, and to murdering a frequent sex partner when she made him feel a hint of awkwardness and shame. While many of Ridgway’s suspected victims have never been found, this approach eventually helped investigators discover 42 bodies. From prison, Ridgway claims that he killed over 80 victims, but it seems likely that he is inflating his numbers at this point, as he also still seems to like attention.

Jonathan Case’s black-and-white artwork is a brilliant contribution to this 236-page book. His cartooning style is sharp and his character portraits are expressive, accurate, and realistic enough to evoke complex emotions. His backgrounds are excellent as well, but the visual focus is always on characters. And, unfortunately, corpses. This is obviously a grim tale, but both Jensen and Case work hard to humanize their subjects. While Ridgway’s life seems to possess little humor, Tom Jensen comes across as funny and warm. His love for goofy jokes, his family, as well as Sherlock Holmes and Don Quixote make him approachable, as does the tenderness he shows victims and their families. 

In the end, it’s a story about an everyday hero and a mundane monster. It’s also a story about humanity and pain. Both Jensen and Case work hard to make sure Ridgway’s victims are allowed their humanity as well. The end result is a well-rounded story that calls into question a lot of media assumptions about police work.

The Green River Killer: A True Detective Story is intended for adult audiences. University and public libraries will want to collect it both as a rarity–graphic novel true crime is an underexplored genre–and for its excellence. It discusses a dark criminal case with humanity and decency, and never feels exploitative. Its focus on its unlikely hero provides direction in what could be a scattered narrative. School libraries will likely steer away from this volume, however, though high schools may want to consider its merits alongside other serial killer stories like My Friend Dahmer. Be prepared for book challenges on this one, though. It is grisly and doesn’t shy away from the horrors associated with old corpses and serial murder. The book was originally published in 2011 but was re-printed in 2019.

Green River Killer: A True Detective Story
By Jeff Jensen
Art by Jonathan Case
ISBN: 9781506710815
Dark Horse, 2011
Publisher Age Rating: Adult
Series Reading Order: (Wikipedia or Goodreads)

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)

The True Death of Billy the Kid

Cartoonist Rick Geary has devoted the bulk of his creative career to non-fiction. In addition to illustrated biographies of J. Edgar Hoover and Trotsky, he has published two long running book series: A Treasury of Victorian Murder (including Jack the Ripper and Abraham Lincoln) and A Treasury of XXth Century Murder (featuring the Lindbergh baby, Black Dahlia, and others). As a side project from those series, Geary explores one of the great Wild West folk legends with The True Death of Billy the Kid.

William H. Bonney (better known, of course, as Billy the Kid) was a charming, sociable character with many friends (and was known to be especially popular with the ladies); he spoke Spanish, and was also popular in the Mexican-American community. Yet he became a cold killer when on the run from the law in the territory of New Mexico. As the book’s subtitle would have it, Geary presents an “Authentic Narrative of the Final Days in his Brief and Turbulent Life.”

Billy the Kid was especially famous for his daring escapes from jails, which is a major focus in this story. The main action takes place in 1881. After an intense shootout which left the last remaining member of his gang dead, the Kid has been captured. He stands trial and is convicted of the murder of a sheriff three years earlier. Brought to the town of Lincoln to await his hanging, he has time to observe his jailer’s routines and make plans. There are several theories about what happened next—and as usual Geary makes a point of mentioning all of the possibilities—but the end result is clear. Bonney kills both of the deputies assigned to guard him, and after a lengthy, frenetic standoff he convinces the townspeople to provide him with a horse to make his escape. After an apparent southward escape route through Texas to Mexico, he heads back north to his longtime refuge at Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

He has friends there and can shelter in ranches while making periodic visits into town (also gathering funds for a permanent disappearance). Sheriff Pat Garrett has been biding his time while Bonney was on the lam, sifting through contradictory reports of the outlaw’s activities and whereabouts. The most credible news places him in the vicinity of Fort Sumner, so Garrett finally travels there in the company of two deputies. They make camp outside of town, and what follows is a bit of a comedy of errors. Asking around town makes the townspeople nervous, but does not yield any concrete information about Billy’s location. Yet over the course of the evening, the lawmen encounter their quarry twice without recognizing him! The sheriff calls on his old friend Pete Maxwell, waking him from sleep. When Bonney appears, asking about the lawmen in Spanish, Maxwell says, “That’s him.” The outlaw raises his gun, but hesitates, and Garrett fells him with a single shot.

Thus did Billy the Kid come to an inglorious end. The legends began almost immediately, and there were several men in later years who claimed to be the outlaw, somehow escaped and living his life in anonymity. Bonney’s burial place has been flooded out, so the exact location of his remains is unknown, leaving one final mystery to add to the legend.

Geary employs a distinctive cartooning style. His black and white images have the look of woodcuts, full of sharp lines and deep shadows. The story is told in a series of static images, much more in the manner of an illustrated book than a typical comic book. It lends the subject a well-deserved gravity. As always, Geary includes a list of Sources, showing his historical background research and giving readers places to go for more information. Like his Treasury of Murder series, Geary doesn’t shy away from the violence of the era, making this work most suitable for adult collections. However, an interested older teen reader might also appreciate this work.

The True Death of Billy the Kid
by Rick Geary
ISBN: 9781681121345
NBM Publishing, 2018

Black Dahlia (A Treasury of XXth Century Murder)

In January 1947, the nude, bloodless, and mutilated body of Elizabeth Short was found in a Los Angeles park. It was one of the most shocking crimes of the mid-twentieth century and one of the first to capture national media attention. Decades later, it remains unsolved with most of the evidence still sequestered unseen in the files of the Los Angeles police department, though rumors and theories continue to thrive as to the facts of Short’s life and death.

“Over the years,” Rick Geary writes, “the story of Elizabeth Short continues to fascinate, horrify, and inspire. A young woman of many facets: An ambitious striver, set on a career in show business…and a submissive innocent, who only wanted to marry a soldier and settle down and raise a family. An open and friendly social butterfly…and a morose loner, full of secrets. A hard-nosed, streetwise seductress…and the perfect victim” (p. 80). Few things capture the interest and imagination of our society like the unsolved murder of a beautiful young woman, and the enduring interest in the Black Dahlia case is an example that proves the adage. In Black Dahlia Geary explores the mystery of the case, what is known about Elizabeth Short, and what questions remain unanswered, likely forever.

Geary tells the story of the Dahlia case with a deft hand, from the initial discovery of Short’s body in January 1947, through the investigations into Short’s life and relationships that continued to hit dead ends and frustrate detectives, to the 1982 death of Jack Anderson Wilson, the last lead in the Dahlia case. Along the way, he exposes the layers of corruption, including ties to organized crime that hindered the investigation and eventually resulted in the resignation of LA Police Chief Clemence Horrall and a revamping of the city’s law enforcement agencies.

While his story is well-told, it is in the artwork that Geary demonstrates his mastery of his subject and its genre; understated black and white line drawings capture the stark brutality and sadness of Short’s death and the pathos of her life without slipping into melodrama or cheap titillation. Geary offers his subject a sober and thoughtful treatment, respectful of Short’s humanity and person-hood, even as he uses her story to illustrate the dark side of the side of glamour and the rottenness at the core of the city’s law enforcement bodies.

Part of Geary’s A Treasury of XXth Century Murder series, Black Dahlia is a quick and engaging read, one that is likely appropriate for teen or adult graphic novel collections. True crime enthusiasts looking for new information might be disappointed here as Geary doesn’t offer any new details on the Dahlia case. What he offers instead is a concise overview of the crime, one that provides the curious reader with an introduction to this famous case and a subtle commentary on the sociocultural impacts of the Dahlia murder on the LAPD, on modern policing, and on the emergence of “crime of the century” media spectacles that have become all too common in America.

Black Dahlia (A Treasury of XXth Century Murder)
by Rick Geary
ISBN: 9781681120522
NBM, 2016

Madison Square Tragedy: the Murder of Stanford White

Madison Square Tragedy:  the Murder of Stanford WhiteEvery time I’ve written a review of a new addition to Rick Geary’s Treasury of XXth Century Murder series, I start with the phrase, “Well, Rick’s done it again.” Trust me, this time will be no different. Once again the titan of tragedy has provided us with a new story of murder, denial, romance, hatred, and revenge that will keep readers glued to their seats. In his latest story, Geary tells us of one Stanford White: successful architect (he designed Madison Square Garden), popular with the ladies, and richer than you can imagine. Naturally, this earned him some enemies along the way. Once again, Geary brings us a story full of weird coincidences, weird people, and a justice system that wasn’t quite ready for prime time.

When Stanford White took up with the underaged Florence Evelyn Nesbit, a dancer in the cast of Floradora, he had no idea he wasn’t her only admirer – there was also a Mr. Harry K. Thaw. As weird as Mr. White was, Mr. Thaw wasn’t close behind. Even with everything she went through – imprisonment, weird trips with Mr. Thaw’s mother, and alleged rapes by both men – poor Evelyn never understood she was just an unknowing pawn in the game that was playing out. Mr. White ended up dead, but will we ever really understand Mr. Thaw’s unquenchable rage?

Geary always does such a great job of making a really complicated and detailed story easy and fun to follow. There are many locales, many different faces, and a lot of different scenarios in which we find our main players, but Geary manages to make everything fit together seamlessly. His ability to make a story interesting isn’t just because he chooses interesting stories, it’s because he’s a great storyteller who brings people to life through his words and his illustrations.

The illustrations in Geary’s XXth Century Murder series are entertaining to look at and certainly add much to the story, as fascinating as that story may be. Of course, I love me a good pictureless murder mystery, but Geary’s illustrations bring all the players to life. They do a great job of setting the bigger stage, because oftentimes these stories span cities, states, countries, and continents. His black and white precise line drawings are crisp and well developed. Each line is perfect. There’s no shading here; everything is clean, clear and concise. Narration is provided in every panel and never takes away from or gets in the way of the illustration itself. Text neatly flows into the pictures and the two work well together to create panels full of information and action. The illustrations in this book are particularly pleasing. At the moment of the murder, Geary gives the characters facial expressions that are so expressive, makes the resulting chaos from the murder so cacophonous, that I felt like the book had suddenly become animated. Geary’s ability to create motion and movement within panels with no coloring is tremendous and makes me feel like I’m watching an old murder mystery on black and white film.

As always, Geary has given teens and adults another great entry in his Murder series. Geary’s stories provide the reader with that feeling that everything isn’t quite right; maybe justice was served and maybe it wasn’t. As I’ve mentioned before, I love recommending these books not only to interested readers, but also to those doing reports on specific crimes or time periods because of how well researched they are. Each book ends with a detailed bibliography and information on what happened to the main players after the main event. Get ready for another intriguing and fascinating tale of murder thanks to Rick Geary and his Eisner-award winning series, Treasury of XXth Century Murder.

Madison Square Tragedy: the Murder of Stanford White
by Rick Geary
ISBN: 9781561637621
NBM, 2013

The Illustrated Guide to Criminal Law

Criminal LawWhy do I need an illustrated guide to criminal law, you ask? Because, as Burney states repeatedly, ignorance of the law is not a valid defense. But not to worry – Burney has created a guide to help you understand the law. Burney, a practicing lawyer, started a Tumblr, which he began in an attempt to explain the basics of criminal law to the average person. He doesn’t cite case law, but instead makes up clear examples to illustrate each of his points. This book grew out of that site.

The book is laid out clearly, building from a simple definition of “What is a Crime” and the “Purposes of Punishment” through defining Guilt (i.e. who’s responsible for a crime) and Defenses. In each section illustrations help break down each term, from least guilty to most and from most defensible to least. While the illustrations are incredibly helpful to understanding distinctions in the law, it can be a little depressing to read about all the ways a parent can kill his child and how culpable each act makes him. My favorite fact I learned was that you cannot use The Chutzpah Defense. What is that, you ask? Burney defines it as “unmitigated gall.” The classic example is asking for mercy from the court because you are an orphan when you are the one who killed your parents in the first place.

Despite Burney’s best efforts at simplicity and clarity, reading this book as a whole is a lot of information to take in at once. The law is dense. But the book is so well written that I can easily see it being used as a textbook in a high school senior-level intro to law class. Burney does all the illustrations as well. I’m not sure where he got art training. I suspect he has just taken his talent for doodling and run with it to great success. His art is clear and well articulated.

At the end of the book he gets a bit wordy, with a lot of text and few illustrations. Rather than discussing specific points in the law, Burney takes the opportunity to give a broader view of what makes a successful law and why that has been changing. He stresses that laws should be designed to take a person’s state of mind into consideration: that is, what you are thinking when you act matters as much as the act itself. He also injects his own opinion into this section, eloquently stating that the law is getting bloated and filled with no fault laws – laws where your state of mind or intention have no bearing, you’re just automatically guilty. He argues that these kinds of laws breed a sense of distrust and unfairness in the law that undermines the point of having laws. Laws work when people trust that the punishment will fit the crime and that evildoers will be punished. When that connection between the act and the punishment is broken, people no longer put their faith in the legal system.

The Illustrated Guide to Criminal Law
by Nathaniel Burney
ISBN: 978-159839183
Jones McClure Publishing, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: (teen to adult)

A Treasury of Victorian Murder Compendium

A Treasury of Victorian Murder CompendiumMayhem! Murder! Salacious stories that rip right through morality, leaving the reader gasping in horror at the mad depravity of these criminals! Rick Geary has penned some of the most shocking stories of vicious killers from the Victorian era. Some of his best work is collected into this volume that promises the sensationalism of the era’s journalists plus a modern cold retelling of the facts. The book starts with three shorter stories that are semi-straightforward, though still wrapped in mystery. These build up to the most famous of serial killers, Jack the Ripper. Told with little speculation as to the identity of Saucy Jack, Geary lays out the crimes from the perspective of a contemporary who provides clinical descriptions of some of the gruesome aspects of the murders. This is followed by a curious look at the assassination of President James Garfield, including a fairly detailed depiction of the history and similarities between the president and his assailant. After the gritty slums of London, the interlude of politics and American history might have felt a bit slow. However, it gives the reader a bit of a refreshing breather before delving into the growing madness of Charles Guiteau, with his delusions of grandeur and “divinely inspired” political dreams. The book concludes with the most horrifying of all the criminals, the notorious H.H. Holmes and his speculated 100 murders in the late 19th century.

Geary’s very dry wit and expert pacing hit just the right note on this journey into the macabre. A bit of history about the Victorian Era begins the work, setting the stage for the conservative cloak of respectability characteristic of the times. Victorians’ high-minded attitudes hid the degeneracy of most of the murderers, making the facts all the more shocking. That contrast weaves through each of the tales, offering some background and an explanation of how the crimes could be committed. Like many true crime tales, the fact that these are actual deaths lends its own chill alongside Geary’s well-researched and gritty prose.

For any other topic, I imagine I would find Geary’s drawings, with their often mashed faces and sometimes dead eyes, a bit grotesque, but they fit these creepy tales well. You can see Geary’s style change a bit, probably because these were not all drawn at the same time. His attention to detail is very impressive, giving wood grain to the floors and textures to clothes. I really enjoyed his use of shadows for dramatic effect, especially when his panels are set from afar. Still, some of the more stylized images might be distracting to someone more interested in the history.

Not for a first time traveler into the world of serial killers, nor for the expert reader, this volume holds the most promise for dabblers who have a taste for the ghoulish and are looking to be shocked by the strange and grisly world of Victorian murders.

A Treasury of Victorian Murder Compendium
by Rick Geary
ISBN: 9781561637041
NBM Comics Ltd, 2012