Louise Brooks: Detective


By Rick Geary (NBM/Comics/Lit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-952-6 (HB)

Rick Geary is a unique talent not simply because of his style of drawing but especially because of his tale-telling methodology. He’s best known for crime examinations via his Treasury of Victorian Murder and Treasury of XXth Century Murder series but also worked for decades as an Underground cartoonist and freelance illustrator of strange stories, published in locales as varied as Heavy Metal, Epic Illustrated, Twisted Tales, National Lampoon, Bizarre Sex, RAW, High Times and elsewhere. He possesses a unique gift for sublimely understated storytelling: stringing together seemingly unconnected streams of narrative to compose moving, often melancholy and always beguiling yarns. He is an international treasure.

Geary has grown into a grand master and unique presence in both comics and true crime literature through those aforementioned forensic reconstructions. He has entertainingly analysed some of the most infamous murder mysteries since policing began, but here marvellously repurposes his eye for historical verity to concoct something new and truly fascinating.

A fixation with mercurial silent movie star Louise Brooks coincides with the recorded historical facts of her fall from global fame and subsequent disappearance into the American heartland. A little casual speculation, a few wry ruminations and this is the result…

In ‘Louise: An Introduction’, Geary précis’ how, for a brief flickering moment in 1927, dancer/actress Louise Brooks was the toast of global cinema: her face known from America to Zanzibar before she inexplicably declined to renew her Paramount Pictures contract, moved to Germany to star in erotic classic Pandora’s Box and began an inexorable decline into obscurity.

She returned to the US in 1930, but parts were hard to find. Returning to club dancing, she married twice and divorced both men by 1940 when, aged 33, she suddenly chucked everything and returned to the family home in Kansas…

Following a triptych of the author’s trademark maps (Central Wichita, the area south east of the city and rural Burden, Kansas in 1941-1942) the cartoon chapter-play begins with ‘Back to Wichita’ as Louise retreats to a fractious, unwelcoming Brooks household and desperately begins hunting for a job. Increasingly, however, she is drawn into the town’s only topic of conversation: the seemingly impossible “locked-room” murder of wealthy widow Edna Leach, which is like something out of a movie…

Louise strikes up an acquaintance with a mousy shop assistant at the music store, but ‘My Friend Helen’ only has two topics of conversation: her never-seen boyfriend Walden Pond and the grisly demise of Mrs. Leach…

After America enters World War II and her latest business venture fails, Louise sets upon a new career path as a writer. Such ‘A Pilgrimage’ is daunting so she seeks out a former New York playwright who has lately taken residence in nearby Burden.

Borrowing her brother’s car, she sets off one morning in June 1942, having first made plans to meet Helen and her elusive beau, but encounters ‘Unforeseen Difficulties’ and stumbles upon a deeply personal tragedy inadequately explained by ‘Helen’s Story’

Finding herself lost in the middle of an actual murder mystery where everything is painfully real and terrifying, the performer soon realises she even has doubts about ‘The Victim’ and reluctantly takes on the unlikely role of ‘Louise Brooks, Detective’

It’s a part she was born to play, but after nearly losing her own life putting together the disparate strands and winkling out the culprit, she says ‘Farewell, Wichita’ and heads back to New York with reinvigorated dreams and her future again filled with untapped potential…

Combining a superlative talent for laconic prose, incisive observation and meticulously detailed pictorial extrapolation with his fascination with the lethal propensities of humanity, Geary’s forensic eye has scoured police blotters, newspaper archives and history books to compile his irresistibly enthralling documentaries. Happily, all that expertise is soundly utilised for his first major fiction feature and once again he has proved bloody murder is always a black and white affair…

A superbly engaging crime conundrum available in doughty hardback and accessible digital formats, the only thing that could improve this book is a sequel…
© 2015 Rick Geary.