10 January 2011

Murder Mysteries

Originally published in January 2005, in 2 parts.
Book 49 in my first 52 books challenge.


Story: Neil Gaiman
Artwork: P. Craig Russell
Year published: 2002
Pages: Not numbered
Genre: Graphic novel
Where got: Public library

Have I mentioned that Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors? The first book I read by him was Stardust, a fairy tale that reminded me of Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn. Earlier I had read Good Omens which he wrote in collaboration with Terry Pratchett, and loved it. It is, in fact, one of my perennial reads. Gaiman’s prose is very visual, and translates well into the graphic novel form (I would love to see American Gods made into a graphic novel). This appears to be a stand-alone short story.

The Story:
Three stories are told simultaneously: the framework story of the storyteller, telling the story of how he was once stuck in L.A. due to bad weather at his destination and met a (possibly) crazy old man who claimed to be and angel and told him the story within the story, of the first crime committed in Creation: the jealous murder of one angel by another. The title of the story, Murder Mysteries, comes from the fact that the angel telling the story was the one sent by the Creator to investigate the murder and punish the murderer. The punishment meted out, it is suggested, was the prelude to the fall of Lucifer.

Technique and plot:
Being a graphic novel, the story is mostly told in images, and so is a short read. Most of the time goes into looking at the artwork. The graphic form is, of course, exceptionally well suited to the fantasy genre, and the artist has done a good job of representing angels, although I wonder why they all have to look like handsome, muscular and nude (but genitalia-free) men. Possibly it has to do with auto-censorship and the fear that the books would be outlawed to sex shops should a naked female breast be seen. Or possibly it has to do with artistic tradition. We would, after centuries of being shown them in art, expect angels to look like beautiful men, nude or clothed.

Images of Heaven alternate with images of Los Angeles at night, one place being bright, shiny, new and intimidating and the other dark, worn, and boding.

The L.A. artwork is realistic, with muted colours, and the Heaven artwork is fantastical, a collusion of abstracts and unreal-looking buildings, plants and whatnots in riotous colours.

Some may find the story repulsive because of images of angels making love, and others may find sacrilege in it. God (here called “Lord” or “The Name”) is not exactly shown as the bearded and paternal old man one is used to from Sunday school…

Rating: A sad little murder story with a sting in the tail. 3 stars for the story, 3 stars for the artwork = 3 stars overall.

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