Saturday, October 12, 2013

Red Handed

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes (First Second, 2013).

I enjoyed one of Matt Kindt's previous comics, Super Spy, with some qualifications and quibbles. The labyrinthine story was great fun, but while I enjoyed Kindt's artistic style and flair, I had trouble differentiating the many characters. Very different people looked so similar that reading it was occasionally really frustrating.

That's not a problem with Red Handed, released earlier this year by First Second. While Kindt's style is as eclectic and original as ever, he's successfully made every one of the dozens of characters and bit players very distinctive. A case might be made that there are just too darn many of them, but I won't make it. The story is a huge and wonderfully constructed creation that needs them all.

The book is a sly tribute to detective fiction of ages past, specifically recalling both Dick Tracy (in the name of the lead character, Detective Gould) and Encyclopedia Brown. Our hero is a powerhouse of police detection, and no crime in the town of Red Wheel Barrow goes unsolved for long. Lately, however, Gould has been delayed - not at all stumped - by some really outre cases of either petty theft writ large or just the sort of criminal derring-do really outside Gould's usual caseload.

As with Super Spy, of course, all of these fractured, episodic cases are incredibly interconnected. There's a huge amount going on beneath the surface, and visual clues that absolutely nobody will spot on the first or even second pass. In fact, the book is so episodic, with each little story punctuated with as full a stop as can be imagined, that I had to remind myself that I was reading Kindt and that there would surely be a payoff in time.

Gould soon realizes that there's a pattern to these outre crimes, but he doesn't realize it in time. He's on the receiving end of a massive crime himself, and is forced to take outre action to put an end to it. His action really surprised me, and not only does the book end without an easy answer, it ends demanding readers start again fresh to watch everything unfold with a better understanding of what has happened. Gloriously good stuff, and highly recommended.

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