“It is my business to know what other people don’t know.”

Maggy Garrison 1. Give Us A Smile, Maggy by Lewis Trondheim and Stéphanie Oiry. Europe Comics, 2017. Translation: Emma Wilson. 54pp.

Maggy Garrison 2. The Man In My Bed by Lewis Trondheim and Stéphanie Oiry. Europe Comics, 2017. Translation: Emma Wilson. 56pp.

Maggy Garrison 3. Shame It Had To End This Way Lewis Trondheim and Stéphanie Oiry. Europe Comics, 2017. Translation: Emma Wilson. 56pp.

Maggy arrives for work, for her first day helping Anthony Wight, Private Investigator, around the office. She tries to put on a happy face but finds her new boss passed out on his desk. She takes an angry phone message, and talks to a little neighbor lady looking for Rodgrigo, a canary who Wight is supposed to be looking for. And then her boss dismisses her for the day. But Maggy is on the job. She finds a way to “solve the case” and make the old lady happy, and make a little money in the process. And even if the job doesn’t pay well, it’s giving her the chance to smoke a few of her boss’s cigarettes.

She arrives for work on her fifth day to find Wight being loaded into an ambulance, and meets a cop she becomes friendly with. In a bar they check out men and Maggy solves another small mystery. And then she runs afoul of some very shady people over some coupons in her boss’s wallet. She’s soon unemployed but having drinks with one of the goons sent to intimidate her. And being double-crossed over a significant amount of cash. It’s more of a crime saga than a mystery, and throughout it all Maggy is just so smart and calm and ordinary that I loved this way more than I normally enjoy stories of reluctant and unlikely amateur detectives.

I’m really excited that Europe Comics is translating some great graphic novels and making them available for the English-speaking market digitally. The digital editions offer me a great chance to save some shelf space and justify the huge, high-resolution tablet my tired eyes need to read these at their best. (They look great on my laptop, but my 12.9″ iPad Pro makes them sing.)

If you’ve been following my reviews for a while, you know Trondheim is my favorite cartoonist. Other than certain volumes of the Dungeon series, I haven’t read much of what he’s written for other artists to draw, and this is delightful. Oiry’s art really serves the story, and her use of color is notably great without being distracting — I stopped several times in each book just to look at the colors she used. (I particularly liked the endpapers, a two-page image of Maggy standing atop a map of part of London.)


Whiteout Compendium by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber. Oni Press, 2017
9781620104484. 240 pp.

Gene: We’re talking about the Whiteout Compendium, but we only read the first story in the book. The second half was originally published as Whiteout: Melt.
Sarah: Right, our book club is just covering Whiteout.
G: This book was made into a film.
S: I have not seen it.
G: Starring the lady in the vampires vs werewolves movies.
S: Yeah, that one.
G: Why haven’t you seen the movie?
S: There’s only one copy left at my library system and I don’t want to wait for it.
G: I don’t remember it being great, but I’m curious about it. Maybe I’ll watch it again. They have this thing called streaming now.
S: I’ve heard about that!
G: For about $3 you can probably make it happen. That’s just a guess.
S: It’s interesting to think about a movie, because the protagonist Carrie Stetko is such a difficult person it would be hard to create her in a movie. Especially as a woman. I feel like guys can be movie antiheroes, or difficult, but women can’t.
G: I felt like she looked wrong in the movie, because the woman who played her (Kate Beckinsdale) is so pretty. The character in the graphic novel is so tough and normal looking that I just wanted her to look a little more like that without having to be some big, buff action hero.
S: Stetko is physically small but has so much presence and power.
G: Not to take anything away from Kate Beckinsdale, who I do enjoy in movies.
But the weird thing is that the book you brought is tiny and has a Steve Leiber cover featuring snow and Carrie Stetko pulling her way through it and the ice. My old copy has a Frank Miller cover that’s black and white and looks straight out of Sin City. The book that I have has chapter art– the original covers for the series, which were all by different artists. Here’s the Mike Mignola (Hellboy) cover. These are not in the Compendium.
S: I really like that the flashbacks are done in a kind of pencil sketch, so you can tell when she’s remembering.
G: Pencils? Or is that a more lightweight inking? It’s hard to tell. But the difference is great. There’s a lot more texture.
S: Crosshatching instead of black blacks.
G: And that’s part of a flashback about what got Stetko exiled to Antarctica.
You need to give the pitch as you always do, because you’re better than me.
S: Stetko is a U.S. Marshal in Antarctica, in this town that in the on season has thousands of people, but in the off season only has a few hundred. There are areas of the continent where different countries’ scientific stations are located. She’s working at the American one.
G: There’s a map at the beginning of the second chapter.
S: She’s at McMurdo. She did something terrible, which got her this “plum” assignment at the ass end of nowhere, where she’s been for about four years. And she weirdly fits in even though the ratio of men to women is crazy, like 100:1. It’s worse in the off season. She gets treated really badly.
G: It’s worse than being a man working in a library.
S: Exactly. (laughing)
The story opens up with a murder on the ice. They can’t tell who it is because his face has been destroyed.
G: And they can’t do an autopsy until he thaws.
S: Which could be a long time!
G: It’s her and the Doctor she calls him Furry, the medical examiner. (He does not wear a tail.)
S: I used to work at a place where people did a season at McMurdo, and they all looked like that, all the guys grow beards, everyone looks even more heavyset than they are.
G: As they’re trying to get the body off the ice, he accidentally snaps one of the hands off the body. It seems like an idiot move.
S: It’s not really a locked room mystery, because people fly in and out, but it’s a small town, and someone there is a killer. So it’s a great claustrophobic mystery, made more intense by the fact that the weather outside can kill you really quickly.
Continue reading “Correction”


We Can Never Go Home Volume One: What We Do Is Secret by Josh Hood, Brian Level, Matthew Rosenberg, Patrick Kindlon, and Dylan Todd. Black Mask, 2015. 9781628750843. Originally published as We Can Never Go Home #1 – #5. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature.

1989. Duncan is outside of the small town where he goes to high school, shooting his father’s pistol, when he comes across a truck in which Ben is groping Madison. Ben catches Duncan peering in the window, and in the course of trying to start a fight he throws Madison to the ground. Big mistake. Madison’s eyes glow and shoot lightning, and she uses super strength to toss him through the window of his truck. He calls her a freak and drives off. She threatens Duncan, making it clear he shouldn’t tell anyone about what happened. But on their long walk home she comes clean about her powers. (She’s adopted, has no idea where she got them, and does not want to be a superhero. She just wants to leave town. And then Duncan tells her his secret: he can kill people with his mind. (Really?))

It’s not too far to a scene of old fashioned high school bullying, Duncan giving Madison a mix tape, a somewhat accidental murder, and them going on the run together. The problem is they need some cash, so they start robbing drug dealers. The authorities are soon after them, and so are others interested in using their powers.

There’s a lot to love in the book, particularly the bit where Duncan tries to get Madison to buy superhero clothes at a costume shop. The pacing is great, the violence is realistic, and when others with powers finally show up, it’s weird. It’s a really enjoyable YA adventure that’s a readalike for They’re Not Like Us and the classic Teenagers from Mars.

Two Eyes Made Out Of Coal

Button Man: Get Harry Ex by John Wagner and Arthur Ranson. Rebellion / Riverside House, 2013. 9781781081389. Originally serialized in 2000 AD 780 – 791, 904 – 919, 2001, 1223 – 1233 in 1992, 1994, and 2001.

Harry Exton served as a SAS officer and worked as a soldier-for-hire before retiring to Essex in the early 1990s. There he is approached by a friend who tells him about “The Killing Game” in which men murder one another under the direction of “Voices.” The stakes are high but so is the pay. Harry signs up, and he wins a number of matches. But then, bristling at his fate being controlled by a man he knows nothing about, Harry tries to quit. He finds out that it’s pretty much impossible to walk away from the game.

The violence is realistically rendered and the matches feel smart, though no one is as smart as Harry. (He has a habit of killing the opposing button men when wounding them and taking a marker (a finger) would do. It comes across as not so much ruthless or heartless as practical; why face the same gunman again at some point?) The action moves from the UK to the US, and Harry goes up against fiercer and more numerous killers. And there’s a seductive redhead, a crooked politician you’ll hope gets his, and a loyal dog.

The three stories fall somewhere between Get Carter and The Killer. If you liked either I think you’ll enjoy this one.

My Favorite Murder

The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin. Felony and Mayhem Press, 2005, originally published 1944. 9781933397009.

After thoroughly enjoying The Moving Toyshop, I decided to go back to the first book featuring literary detective Gervase Fen. A company of actors and a playwright have arrived in Oxford to put on a repertory production of a new play. One of the actresses, thoroughly disliked by pretty much everyone, is found dead, shot through the head at close range. The police are certain that it’s suicide, but Gervase Fen is convinced otherwise. The writing is delightful, light and joking, full of glorious turns of phrase and a very literary vocabulary (have your dictionary handy). The characters are all quite flawed and interesting and the action (and there is a lot of it) takes place over the course of a single week.

Is it a flaw of Generation X that we think we invented self-aware metafiction? This book is clear proof that we didn’t: it is full of winks at the audience and joyful tweaks of mystery conventions. The murder itself doesn’t happen until well into the book, with the author teasing the reader about it the whole time. Then our detective solves the murder and announces that he has done so to every character, but refuses say who the culprit is, with another third of the book still to go. Asin other golden-age mysteries, all the clues are available to solve the mystery, but the complexity of Crispin’s solution to this impossible crime may make you roll your eyes. But you know what? I enjoyed the ride so much that I didn’t care one bit.

Going, Going, Not Quite Gone

The Disappeared (A Retrieval Artist Novel) by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. WMG Publishing, 2012. 9780615458564. 319pp.

Rusch founded Pulphouse Publishing along with Dean Wesley Smith back in the late 80s, and I loved almost every short story collection they published. (Their five volume edition of The Collected Short Fiction of Robert Sheckley is still my favorite.) Rusch edited The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy for a few years in the 90s, wrote some great books and short stories, and then kind of fell off my radar. I was weeding books in my garage, saw a few of hers, and realized I didn’t know if or what she’s been writing lately. It turns out there are lots of answers to that question (she’s still prolific), and my library had this one, the first in a 15 book series.

Human civilization has expanded beyond our solar system and has contact with several little-understood alien civilizations. When humans are on alien soil, they’re subject to alien laws. The problem is that the laws are little-understood, punishments are harsh, and the aliens are not really up for explaining ahead of time. And when they’ve been violated they are far from understanding. If they’re in trouble with aliens, and if they can afford it, humans hire a disappearance agency to help them start a new life with a new identity so that they (and in some cases their families) can escape justice.

Which brings us to the moon and several cases involving the man who will be our hero, Detective Flint. He’s supposed to help several alien species out for justice. One wants to send an attorney away for decades of hard labor that will probably kill her. Another is there trying to take two children, claimed for crimes their parents committed years earlier. (The crimes committed to warrant such punishment are a mystery until late in the book.) The only things on Flint’s side are the moon’s legal bureaucracy and his partner, a senior detective with a bad rep and little respect for him. Flint doesn’t really want to help the aliens, but he doesn’t seem to have much choice.

Hard to say more than that without ruining it. Hell, I feel like I can’t even explain what a retrieval artist is as it’s kind of a late reveal, and I recommend you don’t look into it ahead of time, either. There’s a manhunt, grisly crime scenes, great characters, intimidating aliens, and a few mysteries/problems to be solved, all written in Rusch’s well-plotted, straightforward style. It was a great read that I could not put down.

Life and Death in America

Killings by Calvin Trillin. Random House, 2017. 9780399591402.

In the introduction to this expanded reprint of essays originally written for The New Yorker, Trillin writes about how he could cover stories of murder in a very different way than a newspaper could. His column inches weren’t dictated by how important the editor decided the victim was. He wasn’t writing for the paper of record, so he wasn’t required to cover every significant news item. He could write about people who were ordinary without having to justify the reader’s interest with “what reporters call a “nut graf” (“The Iowa murder is a part of a growing national trend toward vaguely disreputable people in small towns killing each other”).” Writing essays on death allowed him to capture moments in time and see the details of lives and communities that would ordinarily be hidden.

Unlike his more famous essays about his family or food, Trillin keeps himself out of these. He sets the scene, delves into the people involved, then tells the story of a death and its aftermath in a way that is never sensationalized. His writing is expert but never feels artful. There are occasional moments lightened by Trillin’s dry wit, but his precise style and elegant reconstruction of events gives each lost life the requisite gravity and respect.