Green Manor I: Assassins and Gentlemen
Writer: Fabien Vehlmann
Artist: Denis Brodart
Green Manor is like the meta version of Encyclopedia Brown: It’s a collection of mystery stories that are more brainy than bloody, but unlike Donald J. Sobol’s venerable series, these stories rely more on divergent thinking than knowing obscure facts. Each of the six brief stories in this 56-page comic has a twist, and even the framing tale is delightfully ambiguous.
The stories are set in a gentleman’s club, Green Manor, where the members, mostly portly gentlemen with luxurious sideburns, spend their evenings discussing the perfect murder and knocking each other off in supposedly foolproof ways. As you might guess from that description, this book is a bit on the wordy side—several of the stories are told almost entirely in voice-over—but there is enough action in the art to keep things from getting bogged down.
The stories themselves are more howdunit than whodunit: The murderer generally announces himself early on, but the real puzzle is how did he make it happen? (Pronouns deliberate: All the main characters are male, with women featuring mainly as victims.) Every story has a clever twist, and some will delight even seasoned mystery readers.
The framing tale adds another twist: Supposedly the stories are being told to a psychiatrist by a patient who used to work at Green Manor, but the ending strongly suggests that Green Manor is all inside the patient’s head, which puts a different spin on all the stories. (Maybe the patient was a cartoonist?)
Brodart’s drawings are like good book illustrations from an earlier era, full of detail: Cut-glass decanters, roaring fires, and plenty of spooky portraits. He sketches backgrounds and figures with a brisk pen-and-ink technique that is casual and easy to read and at the same time quite precise. His characters all have individual personalities and his energetic line keeps the book from bogging down despite all the text. He also does a nice job of setting the scene, going beyond period detail to lighting and atmosphere that really do suggest murky evenings and gaslit clubrooms. The whole book has a bit of a muddy cast, which suits the era perfectly and heightens the sense of mystery.
Despite the subject matter, Green Manor is murder lite; all the killings are offstage, and there is little gore, although a skeleton does turn up in one story. In another, a woman is wrongly accused of cheating on her husband. All in all, this book is quite suitable for most kids and an excellent choice for those who enjoy minute mysteries and brain-teasers. At the same time, the art and sophisticated storytelling make it a true all ages book, something grownups can enjoy at their own level.
This book was originally published in French as Green Manors 1: Assassins et Gentlemen, and is ably translated by Elaine Kemp. I’m not generally a fan of BDs, but reading this makes me wonder if I haven’t been missing something all along. The publisher, Cinebook, is a British company that has been publishing French and Belgian comics for a few years but made their U.S. debut at this year’s BEA; they have a nice catalog with a few surprises and are worth keeping an eye on.
(This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher.)