BOOK REVIEW: Follow Me Down: A Reckless Book by Ed Brubaker

Follow Me Down: A Reckless Book Vol. 5Follow Me Down: A Reckless Book Vol. 5 by Ed Brubaker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Release Date: October 18, 2022

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This hard-boiled crime graphic novel is a gritty PI story turned grittier revenge journey. In the manner of Hollywood films, it’s over-the-top in places, but it’s also a visceral and (at times) touching story. (Perhaps, because the pacing and drama of the love story are more realistic than the depictions of action – which isn’t a criticism. The book knows what it is, given the almost camp tone of a lead with the surname “Reckless.”) The protagonist, Ethan Reckless, is hired to track down a missing young woman. Ethan isn’t a PI but engages in “problem-solving” activities – often of a legally questionable variety. Finding the girl draws him into a greater mission.

I think pacing is what this book does so masterfully, such that even though the lead character may be a functional psychopath there’s a strong emotional resonance to the story.

This is supposedly the last volume in the “Reckless” series (volume #5,) and I love that it functions so well as a standalone story. If you enjoy crime stories, this one is worth looking into.

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BOOK REVIEW: Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi; Adapted by Fred Duval

Black Water LiliesBlack Water Lilies by Fred Duval
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Release date: October 11, 2022

This is a murder mystery novel by Michel Bussi adapted into a graphic novel. It’s a bold move to transform it into a graphic novel because the story is so setting-dependent, that setting being the timeless tourist village of Giverny in France, a village that served as the model for many of the paintings of Monet. That said, the book worked for me. I found it engrossing from cover to cover.

A trio of police detectives arrives in Giverny to investigate the death of a man who was stabbed and subsequently bludgeoned, his corpse found in a picturesque stream. So, one has this small town where everyone knows everyone else — and the secrets and the rumors, except these outsider detectives who must learn what they can from questioning locals who are used to keeping things to themselves. The detectives aren’t even clear about whether the victim was done in by his womanizing, his attempts to acquire rare paintings, or some unknown cause. Therefore, they have to purse multiple lines of investigation at the same time.

I found the story to be well-crafted in terms of how information is concealed and revealed and how the loose-ends and anomalies are tied up in the end. The art is beautiful and green, and captures the scenic appeal of Giverny. Though I should note that I don’t read many mysteries and those who do and who have intense attention to detail might find problems that I missed altogether.

I’d highly recommend book. Those with an interest in art will find the book particularly intriguing.


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BOOK REVIEW: Arsene Lupin, Gentleman Thief by Maurice Leblanc

Arsene Lupin, Gentleman ThiefArsene Lupin, Gentleman Thief by Maurice Leblanc
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Out: July 5, 2022

This is a beautifully illustrated edition of the first collection of stories featuring the fictional burglar-extraordinaire, Arsène Lupin. While some of the nine stories reference others, they each read standalone.

Arsène Lupin is the Sherlock Holmes of crime. Like Holmes, he’s extremely intelligent, gifted in observation, with deep insight into human nature, and with a range of practical skills from hand-to-hand combat to disguise, but Lupin puts these talents to use for the purpose of theft. While one might think of Prof. Moriarty as “the Sherlock Holmes of crime,” Lupin operates by a code, eschewing senseless violence, carefully targeting his victims, and returning items he feels inappropriately taken. (Mirroring how Holmes occasionally lets a [technically] guilty party go free due to extenuating circumstances.) Besides cameo references to Holmes in multiple stories, the final story pits England’s greatest detective against France’s greatest burglar (though in a way that mostly allows each to retain an unblemished record and mutual admiration.)

I found these stories to be enjoyable to read, and generally clever, but – having been forced to make the comparison due to the repeated references to Holmes – I couldn’t help but see their inferiorty to the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Lupin is more one-dimensional and fantastical than Holmes. In Holmes, one recognizes that one is unlikely to get extreme intelligence without some sort of countervailing cognitive challenges – e.g. Holmes is an addict who needs to fill his days with work lest he fill them with heroin, and for all his great observational skills, Holmes frequently doesn’t recognize when he’s offending others with his brusque nature and sense of superiority. Lupin can come off as an arrogant jerk (he recognizes that he’s being narcissistic, but doesn’t care) but it seems we’re supposed to conclude that he’s just that good. Lupin is a fantastical mix of super intelligence, preternatural charm, and zero weaknesses – i.e. a perfect being made for pure escapism.

The stories are enjoyable and the art is beautifully rendered, and if you can avoid comparing it to Sherlock Holes and take it as mere escapism, you’ll likely find this book pleasing.

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BOOK REVIEW: Second Chances by Ricky Mammone

Second Chances, Vol. 1Second Chances, Vol. 1 by Ricky Mammone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Out: March 22, 2022

This is essentially a hard-boiled PI story, except, instead of being a private investigator, the protagonist runs what is basically a commercial witness protection program for individuals who are trying to escape from someone (but aren’t witnesses and – thus – can’t get the government to provide a new life on the taxpayer dime.) The story follows the fallout of a case gone wrong, in which the lead, Leblanc, finds himself being pursued by a sexy hit squad and must protect his clients at all cost.

It’s not the most innovative of stories and relies on action a great deal. The action being all the more important because our hard-boiled lead experiences little to no growth throughout the story. That said, it’s no worse than a great deal action stories, and better than some. It has a coherent storyline, lots of action, and characters that are interesting – if in a clichéd sort of way.

The illustration is monochrome but detailed, presumably the black-and-white format is meant to contribute to the noir / pulp feel.

If you like action stories, this is a fine one – but not necessarily one that differentiates itself from the pack.


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BOOK REVIEW: The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Valley of Fear (Sherlock Holmes, #7)The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This (book seven of nine of the Sherlock Holmes canon) follows a pattern set by the first Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet. Both books are arranged into two parts, the first of each is a typical Sherlock Holmes story in which the detective investigates a puzzling crime in England; the second skips back in time (and across the Atlantic) to tell a compelling tale that provides motive and context for the first story.

In “Valley of Fear,” the first story involves the gruesome death of a country gentleman in his own home by sawed-off shotgun blast to the face. While suicide is quickly eliminated, the clues present mixed signals. While it’s not, strictly speaking, a locked-door mystery, its occurrence inside a moat-enveloped manor house leaves open the possibility of an inside-job, but there is confounding evidence that suggests someone fled the scene.

The second story takes place in a mining town in the United States, in a place insinuated in the first part to be “the valley of fear.” This valley, properly named Vermissa Valley, earned this epithet because it was run by a thuggish group of violent men who used a secret society as a cover for the corrupt gangland-like practices they carried out as “the Scowrers.” This story focuses on a new arrival, McMurdo, who we are led to believe was a gangster in Chicago who fled to this quiet – yet gangster-ruled – place to disappear into the protective company of fellow criminals. But, of course, nothing is as it seems.

While this book may be self-derivative, I still found it engrossing. While the two novels use a similar narrative scaffolding, each is unique in its details. In both cases, the second part is especially compelling.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Return of Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes, #6)The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This short story collection is the sixth book in the Sherlock Holmes canon, and – as the title suggests – it marks the return of the famous fictional detective after a hiatus. Doyle had tried to kill off the Holmes character so that he could work on other projects. At the end of “The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes,” Doyle leads us to believe Holmes and his nemesis, Moriarty, wrestled off the Reichenbach Falls, plummeting to stony deaths.

In the first story in this collection, “The Adventure of the Empty House,” we discover that Holmes didn’t die, and has been exploiting his reputed death, playing a game of cat-and-mouse against the remnants of Moriarty’s gang, notably the deadly, Col. Sebastian Moran. The other twelve stories of the collection stand alone among the larger canon, and follow the usual Holmes narrative weave. Most involve murder, but there is one (“The Adventure of the Three Students”) that involves a “crime” as mundane as test theft, and in some cases, e.g. “The Adventure of the Second Stain,” the murder is a secondary issue. Each crime is solved using the intense observation, out-of-the-box thinking, and leaps of intuition of which only Holmes is capable. Usually, the guilty party is brought to justice, but, in some cases, Holmes follows his own moral code, deciding not to assist the authorities in cases for which he believes the crime justified, or unavoidable.

Among my favorites of the collection are: “The Adventure of the… Norwood Builder,” …Dancing Men,” and …Missing Three-Quarter,” but there’s not a vast standard deviation of quality or style in these stories. They are all intriguing and have their own distinctive features while showing Holmes’s quirky brilliance. This is definitely a must-read for Holmes fans.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Sherlock Holmes, #5)The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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A legend tells of a monstrous hell-hound who haunts the moors of Devonshire and who long ago killed the head of the Baskerville estate, a wealthy family and linchpin within the community. When the present head of the Baskerville fortune, Charles, dies suddenly and under mysterious circumstances – i.e. outdoors at night and in the presence of huge paw prints — many neighbors conclude the legendary hound has returned to fulfil the curse of the Baskervilles. The doctor, neighbor, and friend of Charles, Dr. Mortimer, doesn’t know what to think, as a man of science he might dismiss the legend, but he’s the one who found the hound prints. Above all, Mortimer knows that if the new heir to the Baskerville estate is driven away, it would be devastating for the neighborhood. Mortimer thus seeks the advice of Sherlock Holmes.

This is one of the most well-known and beloved stories in the Sherlock Holmes canon (fyi – it’s #5.) One interesting feature is that Holmes, himself, is not present through the middle of the story. As in all of the Sherlock Holmes stories, it’s Dr. Watson who provides perspective and narration, but throughout the second act we see Watson doing the investigating as well. Sherlock is present for the beginning of the story when Mortimer comes to call and the Baskerville heir, Henry, arrives in London, and then he’s there to spring a plot to conclude the case, but in between we learn of only Watson’s activities in Devonshire.

This is an intriguing tale from beginning to end, and it is remarkable how many strange and seemingly disparate strings the story ties up cleverly. It’s a fascinating look at superstition and how it creates converts under the right circumstances. This quick and thrilling read is worthy of your time.


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BOOK REVIEW: The Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Sign of the Four (Sherlock Holmes, #2)The Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This novel is the second of the books in the Sherlock Holmes canon. It begins with a client (Miss Morstan) coming to see Holmes to acquire his advice as to whether she should make a rendezvous to which she has been summoned by mysterious means, Morstan being a beautiful young lady who is weary of showing up to a random public location, having been told to not involve the police. We learn some intriguing facts from the conversation, such as that she began receiving a pearl from an anonymous source each year and that her father (Capt. Morstan) has passed away.

With Sherlock and Watson in tow, Miss Morstan does attend the rendezvous, and we learn that the meeting is with the son (Thaddeus Sholto) of a man with whom her father served in the military at Port Blair in the Andaman Isles (Maj. Sholto.) The mystery of the pearls is cleared up as we discover that Maj. Sholto cheated Capt. Morstan out of his share of a treasure that the Major came into possession of while stationed in India, and his two sons (particularly Thaddeus) feel the need to make amends to Capt. Morstan’s heir, but would like to do so without dragging the family name through the muck or creating legal hassles.

It seems everything is wrapped up with a nice bow, when Thaddeus takes Miss Morstan, Holmes, and Watson to see his (more reluctant to be fair to Morstan) brother Bartholomew, who is the one in actual possession of the treasure. However, when they find Bartholomew dead and the treasure gone, the true mystery begins. The balance of the book involves a chase to find the missing treasure, the men who stole it, and to unravel the mysterious circumstances behind the treasure. The final chapter tells the elaborate backstory of the treasure, going back to India and to the titular four men, the four whose names were found at the scene of Bartholomew’s murder and who previously possessed it — one of whom serves as the storyteller. Along the way, a mangy bloodhound, the Baker Street Irregulars (street urchins employed by Holmes,) and – of course – the brilliant reasoning of Sherlock Holmes are used to solve the case.

Arthur Conan Doyle created one of the most intriguing fictional characters ever with Holmes. If he were just a brilliant man with supreme skills of observation and reasoning, he’d be no more interesting, and have no greater longevity, than any of the many other characters. But in Sherlock we see that brilliance always has a cost. Holmes is also an addict, is troubled by insomnia, and is – in some ways – socially dysfunctional. (e.g. When Watson develops a relationship with Miss Morstan, Holmes confesses that he can’t grasp the value of marriage / long-term intimate relationships.)

What the author does with character, he also does with setting by bringing into the story (through backstory) locales that are exotic and intriguing – e.g. Port Blair. Even by today’s standards there are always little tidbits of the exotic drawn into the story, even though most of the Holmes’ stories — this one included — don’t venture far from London.

If you enjoy crime and detection fiction, this book is a must. It’s highly readable and offers a compelling story. In terms of the Holmes canon, I wouldn’t say it’s particularly better or worse than others, but I don’t find there is a huge variation in quality among these novels and stories. It is one of the better-known titles (except that some call it “The Sign of Four” and others “The Sign of the Four” – the latter being the original title as far as I can discern.)

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BOOK REVIEW: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock HolmesThe Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This collection of a dozen short stories is the third book in the Sherlock Holmes canon, and the first of the short story collections. The cases described range from murder and scandalous thefts to mysteries as seemingly mundane as why a certain pawnbroker, engineer, or governess got a job offer too good to be true. There is often a falsely accused suspect, or no suspect whatsoever. On more than one occasion, two characters are, in actuality, one. It’s typical Sherlock Holmes, which is to say compelling and engaging throughout. Furthermore, there are a couple of cases, such as the first, that break the usual mold, as the author apparently recognized that it would not to do not break up the cycle of: “strange case gets solved and extensively explained, repeat.”

The stories are as follows:

1.) “A Scandal in Bohemia” – The King of Bohemia, about to be wed, becomes the victim of blackmail. This is one of those cases that breaks the mold as a it’s one of the few in which the criminal gets the better of Holmes – though all works out for Holmes’ client.

2.) “The Red-Headed League” – This is one of the three stories in the collection in which an individual gets a job that pays impossibly well with requirements that, while not onerous, are strange. A pawnbroker is given a nice stipend for ridiculously trivial work by a mysterious organization that funds gingers.

3.) “A Case of Identity” – A well-to-do woman’s fiancé disappears, or so it seems.

4.) “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” – A landowner in the countryside is murdered, and his son, with whom he’d recently argued and who was the last to see him alive, is the immediate and only suspect of Scotland Yard.

5.) “The Five Orange Pips” – A man who recently received a note containing five orange seeds dies, somewhat suspiciously, and under circumstances that do not bode well for his heir.

6.) “The Man with the Twisted Lip” – A husband goes missing, and a beggar immediately comes under suspicion as his killer – though there is no compelling evidence of murder.

7.) “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” – A famed jewel goes missing and a suspect is in custody, but when the jewel is discovered in the alimentary canal of a Christmas goose, what is to be made of that?

8.) “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” – A woman fears her stepfather. The woman’s sister died a couple years before, having made an obscure comment about a “speckled band” as she died.

9.) “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb” – A struggling hydraulic engineer gets a job that seems rudimentary enough, but which nearly costs him his life, and does cost him a thumb. It’s clear that his employer is not engaged in the minor crime that the man confessed to in his explanation of why the engineer must work during the dead of night.

10.) “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor” – A gentleman’s bride disappears on their wedding day. There are those who think it foul play.

11.) “The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet” – A banker who is holding a crown as loan collateral, suffers a theft that threatens his professional reputation, and potent circumstantial evidence points to the banker’s son.

12.) “The Adventure of Copper Beeches” – An unemployed governess is offered a job that pays three times the going rate for light work involving one child, so long as she agrees to cut her hair, and — on occasion – wear a certain dress while sitting in a particular chair.

Doyle creates fascinating characters in Sherlock Holmes and his protégé Doctor Watson, characters that continue to spin off stories to this day, and for good reason. While there is a lot of hokum in these stories, the idea of being able to draw such great information from such miniscule signs captures the imagination. And Doyle does make efforts to break up the monotony. While I pointed out that there are three stories in which characters get great jobs with bizarre requirements, each of these cases is different with respect to why the client got said well-paying job – though it is true in each case that something more nefarious than meets the eye is afoot. It’s not all murder and burglary, sometimes it’s cases that are intellectually interesting if trivial in stakes. And once and a while, Holmes doesn’t get his man, so to speak.

This is a readable and entertaining set of stories. I’d highly recommend giving it a read.


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BOOK REVIEW: Pantomime by Christopher Seleba

PantomimePantomime by Christopher Sebela
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Out: July 20, 2021

This is an “Ocean’s Eleven”-style heist team-up story but with the notable twist of it being a group of teenagers who are students at an academy for the deaf. That’s not the only variation on the basic premise, there is also something off about the lead character, Haley, that is gradually revealed over the course of the volume. A blurb-advertised novelty of the book is that it features American Sign Language. Without the element of time / movement, mostly what this does is serve as a reminder that the main characters are deaf.

The premise is that a sister and brother, Haley and Max, are orphaned and end up being sent to Wayfair Academy, a boarding school for the deaf and deaf-mutes. In time, Haley becomes the ringleader of this troupe of teenaged burglars, starting with a retrieval by theft, during which they only “steal” confiscated electronics that belong to the students, themselves. We can see that Haley is drawn to crime, and is always on the lookout for a problem that they might “solve” through theft, as when one of the kids can’t afford tuition because her parents are in legal trouble. However, during these fledgling criminal days, one can’t see yet whether Haley is just a risk-loving teenager going through an adventure-seeking phase, or something else entirely. Generally, she is presented as a sympathetic character (disabled and orphaned nerd – how much more sympathetic could one get,) but we see these glints of crazy. The first real burglary-for-profit that they commit (for the previously-mentioned tuition fund) turns out to be the house of a local crime lord. From this point, they get sucked into working for this man, a man they call “The Manager.” The balance of the story is about whether they can get out from under the thumb of this thug who was their first true victim.

The story is clever, played out as an elaborate and risky plan in a manner appropriate of heist stories. The character development feels muddled as one is reading. While, by the book’s end, it seems quite clear who Haley really is, the fact that it’s light years away from who we would have guessed in the opening panels means that the tone of the book is largely changed. It almost feels like it’s a genre change from caper-based crime fiction to something that definitely doesn’t merit as whimsical a term as “caper.”

I would have liked to have had a better sense of this being a deaf team of burglars. Maybe I was missing subtle cues in the art or text, but – besides the use of sign language and, perhaps, one scene where a character is oblivious to something happening around them (which could have just been run-of-the-mill obliviousness) – it was easy to forget these kids were deaf. [I will admit, part of this might be my inability to relate. I think it would be a particular kind of terrifying to commit crime without being able to hear. My head would be swiveling about like a hoot-owl’s. Maybe these kids were just better acclimated to high-risk activity in a sensory-deprived situation.]

It’s a compelling story, but does feel a bit disjointed by way of this tone shift. Some readers might find this appealing, others troubling. It’s also good to have a work that both features deaf lead characters, and paints them as complexly as any other characters. If it sounds like it would be up your alley, it’s definitely worth checking out.


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