Another day, another review! This time, it’s a noir tale of crime and lust! Aren’t they all?
Jamie S. Rich and Joëlle Jones first collaborated on 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, which is a charming love story, the structure of which was apparently ripped off to create (500) Days of Summer (I haven’t seen the movie yet). Now they’re back for something completely different! This book is from Oni Press and checks in at nineteen dollars and ninety-five cents. Just so you know.
This is a fairly standard noir tale, with a haggard private detective, a femme fatale, and plenty of suspects in a case of a mysterious disappearance of an heiress who’s about to be married. If you like noir, you’ll probably like this. Of course, the question is: Does it distinguish itself from the rest of the genre? I mean, if it’s just another noir tale, you could pick up a cheap paperback from the 1950s and still get the same effect, right?
Well, that’s true. However, You Have Killed Me has some nice things going for it. First of all, Jones is excellent.
She hasn’t done a ton of work yet, so you may not have seen it, but she’s turning into a very good artist. The book is set in 1939, and Jones gets the details of the day as right as I can tell (I wasn’t, you know, alive in 1939), but more than that, she does a fantastic job with the figures in this book. Antonio Mercer, the harried P. I., is suitably harried and slightly exotic, as befits what I have to assume is his Italian heritage (race and ethnicity are very important in this book, as I’ll get to). The woman who hires him, Jennie Roman, is a gorgeous, obvious femme fatale. We don’t trust her from the moment she appears in Mercer’s office, but thanks partly to Jones, we want to trust her, and as the book moves along, it becomes harder and harder to figure her out. Jones does a nice job contrasting the seediness of Mercer’s life with the high society in which Jennie lives, as well as showing how innocent Mercer once was and the change in him from the past to the present. Again, this is standard noir stuff, but Jones brings it to life beautifully. As the book moves to its climax, her pencils get a bit rougher and a bit more frenzied, bringing the mood up to where it needs to be. The book doesn’t turn into a horror show, but bodies do pile up a bit, and Jones is able to match the intensity of the narrative with her art.
Rich’s story follows Mercer as he searches for Jennie’s sister, Julie, who disappeared a few days before her wedding. The fiancé, Rance Buckland, is a rake who gambles too much, and Mercer tracks him down in a shady club, where he begins to learn more not only about Rance, but about Julie herself.
She liked to gamble as well, and often went home with the club’s trumpet player, a jazz musician named Kane. This leads Mercer into murkier waters, as Rance appears to be seriously indebted to a gangster and Kane seems to have a motive, possibly, for killing her (she was about to get married and, presumably, stop seeing him). Of course, this is a twisty noir tale, and we expect that nothing is as it seems, and it’s not. Mercer keeps digging up new information until he uncovers the truth. As usual, the truth is not something anyone really wants to hear, least of all Mercer.
In that regard, it’s a decent if typical noir tale. Rich, however, does some nice things that make it a bit more interesting than that. Kane is black, and although Rich doesn’t beat us over the head with it, the fact that Julie is having a sexual relationship with a black man and how this affects the way people speak about her hangs over the book.
No one ever mentions that Kane is black, but Mercer makes a few comments about Julie’s family that implies they did not approve (not that they have to be racist to disapprove; she was getting married in a few days, after all). Then there’s Mercer himself. In a nice twist, Mercer was once Julie’s beau himself, and he used to hang out with the sisters when they were all younger. He was never rich, though, and again, the implication is that the family disapproved of him because he was Italian. The tension between the principals, not because of the plot, but because of their pasts, makes this a bit more interesting than just a simple tale of a disappearing girl. As Mercer moves through the book, we get to see his sadness over losing something he once had. Often in these stories, the P. I. might have lost the love of another characters, but it’s rare that we get a sense that the investigator was once not a cynical bastard. In this, we do see that Mercer was once a person who believed in something idealistic, and it’s interesting to see how he goes about his work with that in mind.
Although, as I mentioned, in many ways this is a typical noir story, I tend to like noir stories, so I like this. In other ways, it rises above the typical noir story, and that might appeal to people who don’t love noir. Either way, it has a nifty little mystery that has a good number of twists, and it features art by a rising star. I know what Jones is coming out with next (the Dr. Horrible one-shot from Dark Horse), but after that, I don’t know. I’ll be keeping my eye out for her, though.
Tomorrow at noon: Jews! Or maybe not!