Wednesday, October 25, 2006

This and that on crime fiction, pt. 2: Blacksad, Malet/Tardi, Poe


Read the Spanish graphic novel Blacksad by Juan Canales and Juanjo Guardino last night. It's a very well-drawn noir piece set in the late early fifties New York and John Blacksad is a private eye in a trench coat. What sets him apart from some other trench-wearing PI's is that he's a cat. Other characters are also animals - there's a duo of a rhino and a bear working as bodyguards, a gorilla being a champion boxer, a Schaefer is a police lieutenant, and so forth.

Blacksad is very well drawn, as I said, and some of the animal characters are aptly described, but it left me a bit cold. The graphic novel has won some prizes, but for me it was just another sadly clichéd private eye yarn. Even the noir mood seems worn out. The plot wasn't much and the script writer did unnecessary tricks to hide the baddie - unnecessary because he hadn't been seen earlier. It's a series, maybe it'll get better.

While reading this, I was reminded of yet another great detective novel: Leo Malet and Jacques Tardi's 120 Rue de la Gare. I don't know if it's been translated in English (from a quick Google, I'd say not), but some of Malet's Nestor Burma novels are available in English. This one is a graphic novel by Tardi based on Malet's novel and having read two or three Malet's novels, I'd say that this is hugely better. Tardi's drawings bring depth and width to the plot (which isn't very easy to follow; it's about WWII time secrets) and his characters are warm, yet robust. Certainly one of the top 10 material, most certainly.*

***

On Poe: I got my hands on the finished product yesterday and could concentrate on it more fully. Just finished his first crime story, perhaps the most influential crime story in the annals of literature, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue". It's a gripping piece alright, but no one would get away with it anymore: "The murderer is a friggin' monkey? C'mon, get outa here!"

From the ones I've just read, "A Descent into the Maelstrom" is one of the most powerful. Poe's funnies are, as I said earlier, nothing to laugh about and I dropped one or two of them. Just looking at his picture is enough to guarantee me that this man is not funny. (Is he having a hangover in that picture, by the way? Look at those eye bags!)

* I was checking up on Malet on Abebooks and found this. For only 15-year old paperbacks, they sure come pricy. It also seems that some of Tardi's graphic novels based on Malet have been translated in English, but don't seem to be available. Check out this from Thrilling Detective.

4 comments:

Todd Mason said...

Orangutans, even when spelled Orang-utangs, are not monkeys.

Duane Spurlock said...

I have three of the translated Malets published by Pan, but not 12o...although apparently it, also, was translated and published by Pan (ISBN: 0330313223). It would be nice to see these reprinted by Hard Case Crime.

Juri said...

It's a paradox really - Tardi's rendering of the Malet novel is truly great, but Malet's original novel is to me only mediocre. Hard Case Crime prints better novels!

What are orangutans then? (But then again it's more true what I said: "The murderer is a friggin' monkey? What?! It isn't even a fuckin' monkey?! What the fuck was that creep Poe thinking about?!"

Todd Mason said...

Orangs, chimps, gorillas, siamangs, bonobos, gibbons, and humans are apes; macaques, babboons, mandrills, and alla that crowd, most with tails, are monkeys (though lemurs and bushbabies, among others, are also primates but not apes nor monkeys). To call an ape a monkey, though a popular sport among English-speakers, is a bit like calling a dog a bear, or a frog a tree. Some similarities, but not so much so that one should be forgiven.

Now, gun-monkeys are a different matter, as are grease monkeys...and barbary apes are, indeed, monkeys...but what fun is a language like English without utter confusion?