After crafting over a dozen graphic histories in his Treasury of Murder series (Madison Square Tragedy being the most recent), cartoonist Rick Geary has taken a detour into the fictional with his newest graphic novel, Louise Brooks: Detective (NBM). Set in the 1930’s, Geary’s entertainment centers on Louise Brooks, a silent movie star on the outs from Hollywood, who gets embroiled in a mystery after returning to her home town of Wichita, Kansas.
Her return to Kansas – which Brooks in her own later writings would describe as a “kind of hell” – is factual, though the murder which takes place during our heroine’s visit to a reclusive writer proves an imaginatively twisty examination of small-town duplicity and greed. Geary presents his rural Depression setting with his usual meticulous line work and attention to detail. His depiction of the bright Kansas countryside and neatly maintained midwestern homes provides a witty contrast to the dark deeds (two murders, an abduction, a near hit-and-run and a nighttime chase with our heroine pursued by the book’s villain) within.
In its evocation of evil done in a cozy Our Town setting, Louise Brooks: Detective recalls such darkly ironic works as Thornton Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943). As a graphic storyteller, Geary tends to favor static panels, which frequently gives Detective a Lynchian dreamlike feel. His actress heroine, a personal favorite of the artist, proves an apt and observant narrator with an honest eye to her own failings. Her return to Kansas is marred by family and neighborly judgmentalism, while the first friend she makes on her return winds up a witness to the crimes. Geary’s visual treatment of his protagonist is done lovingly while his handling of the good people of Kansas, innocents and suspects alike, frequently shows his caricaturist’s eye. In lesser hands, the latter approach might have undercut this old-fashioned melodrama, though Geary is too assured a storyteller to bobble his material.
Detective ends with our plucky heroine leaving Kansas for a life in New York with dreams of perhaps becoming a mystery novelist. Though we know in real life that this never happened, this reader can’t help hoping that the fictional Brooks encounters yet another mystery in thirties NYC.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1561639524]