Rebecca & Lucie in the Case of the Missing Neighbor by Pascal Girard from Drawn & Quarterly perfectly balances whimsy, real-world crime fighting, and a bit of grit. Girard draws inspiration from family again, as he did with Nicolas, a comic of the loss of his younger brother. Continuing his work in watercolor that makes the story world take a palatable shape even in its darker moments, Girard leaps into the crime genre with a mysterious disappearance.
The story takes shape around Rebecca, a new mother who is balancing raising baby Lucie, getting herself back into shape, and taking whatever moments she can scrounge for her own self. Her schedule is busy, but Rebecca cannot help but yearn for making a more widespread impact. She ponders returning to work and hangs on descriptions of his workday from her social worker husband, Pascal. Then she overhears the news report of a missing man who works as a caregiver across the street, bringing back the memory of being up with her daughter late one night and seeing a shadowy white van slam its doors and drive off.
Rebecca notifies the police, who find the lead very little to go on without even a license plate number, and she feels there is much more she could do on her own part. Bringing baby Lucie along, Rebecca interviews her elderly neighbors about the missing man, the man’s brother about their relationship, and the neighbors’ grown children. Every interview unravels the story further, revealing passing statements to be lies and showing the character of the people behind their façades.
Rebecca herself gets into the deception, pretending to be in need of an accountant to get an interview with one of the sons and talking her husband into taking a trip to the country so she can follow up on a lead while going for a run. Some of her escapades go a bit far, even into some light law-breaking with trespassing and “borrowing” a hospital ID card to get past nurses.
Lucie’s presence in much of Rebecca’s investigation adds a new dynamic to the cozy mystery genre. Amateur sleuths often have a sense of innocence, such as retired schoolteacher Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote, and nothing shows more innocence than a cooing baby in a sling while Rebecca asks prying questions. Rebecca even uses Lucie to her advantage in gaining access or sticking around to places she had been told to leave alone, amping up the emergency of changing a diaper as Lucie cries.
The six-panel, two columns, three rows layout of each page gives a sense of normalcy throughout the book. Even during moments of climactic investigation with our heroine isolated and surrounded by danger, the colors present a warmth and familial nature that invites the reader. This makes the drama of the frightening scenes, whether Lucie’s fever or Rebecca hiding from suspects looking for her, even more intense with the reader’s emotions already deep in the story.