July 12, 2007

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The Black Diamond Detective Agency, by Eddie Campbell (First Second Books, 2007, 138 pages)
Reviewed by Lucas Lund news@hippopress.com

Unlike most work in the genre of graphic novels Black Diamond really is a novel, a “picture novel” as the cover describes it. This suspenseful tale is set at the end of the nineteenth century in the American West. The unlikely hero is Jackie Harte, a gangster who left his life of crime to marry Julia, a woman he loved since childhood. Complications arise because of Julia’s mental illness and Jackie is framed for the bombing and heist of a train. He changes his name and goes to work for the very same detective agency that pursues him. With tight writing and dynamic pictures the mystery unfolds to its solid ending. It even has a humorous anticlimax.

The art work is very painterly, with color and shading emphasized rather than the ink lines. The tones are sepia and gray, giving a sense of the historical setting and the dust and grime that must have abounded in our past.

The characters are a satisfying mix of corporate types, who remain hands-on in their business dealings, and imperfect others: the gangster hero; his mentally ill wife; a blonde detective named Carl who has been mute for years since his brother died; and Sadie, the artist who draws faces for the detectives and drinks alone at night. With a cast this rich, Campbell could easily create sequels. I look forward to that possibility. A+Lucas Lund