You Have Killed Me
Jamie S. Rich (Love the Way You Love) and Joelle Jones (Token) team up again for an old-fashioned private eye yarn in You Have Killed Me. It’s something of a change of pace, since their previous book together was the romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, one of my best books of 2006.
A woman from Tony’s past has just come back into his life. Her sister, his ex-fiancee, is missing, and she needs the detective’s help, in spite of whatever hard feelings he might still have. The sister disappeared, a few days before her wedding, from a bathroom with only one entrance and a witness watching the door in a locked-room mystery.
It’s very difficult to do this kind of project well. The genre, a film noir-style hard-boiled detective story, is so well-known that most people think of parodies before they think of classic originals. It’s easy to succumb to “nudge nudge” “this is just like that better story” smarmy wisecracking or too-faithful slavishness. The former, by making fun based in immaturity, makes you feel like an idiot for wanting something with honest inspiration; the latter makes you ask “what’s the point? I’ll get one of the originals.” This story avoids both those traps.
By contrasting Tony’s background — he came from the same privileged society world that his clients do — with his choice to strike out on his own, Rich gives him sympathy (who hasn’t dreamed of crossing over to how the other half live?) and mystery of his own. The woman who hires him says she wants the benefit of how well he knows the missing sister, but when he does give advice based on her character, she ignores it, offering more money to get what she wants.
Jones’ graceful-yet-strong lines are well-suited for the curvy femme fatale, but then I could say the same thing about the genre and her strong use of black and shadow. Her curling smoke drifts I can get lost in, and I adored the page of the detective smoking in the bathtub. She does impressively detailed work with settings and backgrounds, suitable to the period. The dialogue is snappy, conveying plenty of information in just the right tone.
The theme of roast almonds is spooky, giving me shivers from the beginning. It’s not spelled out, but the mystery fan will know from the start it’s the scent of poison, providing overtones of coming death. It’s also unusual for a comic to consider the sense of smell, which sets the story apart.
Note that because this is a noir, it’s about someone who’s never going to come out on top, even though you may wish otherwise for him. No one comes off well by the end, really. Tony wanders through a world of bars and seedy losers and the track and conflicts with the law and jazz musicians, all motivated by money, narrating as he goes. He’s the last honest man, asking questions and annoying people until the truth eventually comes out, several beatings later. It’s not that he has great observation or detective skills; he’s just more persistent, even in the face of his own pain (both physical and mental).
You Have Killed Me is The Thin Man without the liquor-fueled humor, The Big Sleep with an understandable plot. (An online preview copy was provided by the publisher.)