Capsule Reviews

High Crimes

Christopher Sebela and Ibrahim Moustafa

Dark Horse (originally serialized digitally by MonkeyBrain)

High Crimes is a love letter to a mountain, and to the beauty of human tenacity, tightly written, paced, and illustrated by the excellent team of Christopher Sebela and Ibrahim Moustafa. The heart of the story is the protagonist, Zan, a disgraced former Olympic athlete. Tiny, determined and drug-addicted, she is pitted against the harsh task of summiting Mt. Everest (Incidentally, there are also people trying to kill her). Next to Zan, and her reluctant Sherpa guide, the other characters pale in comparison—a series of fairly stock villains and expected sidekicks—but the brutal motivation and history that drives Zan is enough to make the story more than worthwhile. Her character study is both pointed and poignant; Zan holds on to her Olympic medals even when logic would prescribe otherwise, and much of the story is about her own psychological battle with her former identity and former habits, and it works very well.

The main thrust of the story is compelling enough, a spy thriller that involves secret agents, microfilm and grave robbery, but the smaller, brutal, details are where the book shines. Zan and her mentor separate hands from Everest corpses in order to identify bodies for family members (in order to, of course, get paid for further services), and there is more than one moment where Zan has to gear up using things discarded from dead climbers. Zan herself gets beaten up all the time, although—in a welcome relief from the standard noir trope of brutalized women—despite being pursued by a bevy of threatening men, Zan’s primary sparring partner is Mt. Everest. The juxtaposition of intentional and targeted human violence with the incessant and impartial pounding of the natural elements is beautiful and harsh, and the book balances the two perfectly.

The mountain, Everest, Chomolungma, the Holy Mother, is her own character, and Moustafa’s art brings her out in her dangerous and awe-inspiring beauty. The double page spreads are especially beautiful in their depiction of the vast whiteness and blankness of Everest snow, and highlights that Moustafa’s artistic restraint is just as important as the gorgeous details he inserts in the rest of the book. —SYK

The Creep

John Arcudi and Jonathan Case

Dark Horse

The Creep, by John Arcudi and Jonathan Case, is a bundle of noir tropes executed with gorgeous precision. The lead, Oxel, is disfigured and disabled, although Case’s take on the character, is both sympathetic and charming, not quite the horror that the writing would seem to imply. Case’s art is one of the primary strengths of the book, delivering bold, impeccable lines and a flat and stark colour palette that suits the story perfectly. It is strongly implied that Oxel suffers from acromegaly, a growth hormone disorder. Case’s design attempts to ride the line between grotesque and appealing, and it definitely errs on the more palatable end of that spectrum. Case’s art is gorgeous; it couldn’t have been better suited for a noir book.

The main driver in Oxel’s investigation is the suicide of two teenagers, one right after the other. For some extra noir-style emotional complications, an ex-girlfriend is the mother of one of the boys. I wanted to like the grieving ex and her angry friend (the other mother), but Oxel is clearly the character that the book serves, and the women of the story aren’t much more than his character motivations.

I’m not entirely satisfied with the ending. I think I expected a deeper look into the psychological stress and the horror of depression (whether situational-guilt-induced or not) and felt the ending to be a handwavey, easy way out, with the closure coming too quickly and neatly for my tastes. It is a slowly paced book, with the conclusion feeling a bit rushed. Still, the book is a gorgeous piece of work, and a fine character study of a noir detective. —SYK

Making Wolf

Tade Thompson

Rosarium Publishing, September 2015

Sun-drenched settings make for great noir, and Tade Thompson’s Making Wolf, set in the West Africa, is no exception. Weston Kogi, an expat who has made a new life for himself in London since escaping a revolution fifteen years before, returns home to attend the funeral of the aunt who facilitated his getaway. At the funeral, he reconnects with his ex-girlfriend, Nana, who seems interested in rekindling the old spark, and Churchill, and an old school acquaintance, who drugs and kidnaps Kogi to obtain his help. At the party, made the mistake of bragging that he’s become a London homicide detective instead of copping to the truth—he’s a supermarket security guard—and because of that, he finds himself suddenly thrust into the middle of a mystery. Pa Busi, a peace-minded political leader, has been recently murdered, but none of the revolutionary factions want to admit responsibility for it. As Kogi investigates the crime he finds himself in the pay of just about everyone he’s investigating, and goes just about everywhere, from the nicest part of the city to the poorest markets, from malarial jungles to pristine beaches. Brilliantly rendered throughout, shockingly violent at times, and utterly entrancing, Making Wolf is not to be missed for any fan of detective, crime, or noir fiction. —MT

About the Author

The Editors

Jeremiah Tolbert is a web designer, writer, and photographer living in Tonganoxie, Kansas.

Nick Mamatas is a writer and editor living in Berkeley, California.

Seth Cadin is an East Bay artist and editor who also sometimes trades stories for money.

Molly Tanzer writes and edits in Boulder, Colorado.

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