Louise Brooks: Detective

Louise Brooks: Detective

Rick Geary, the artist behind the acclaimed Twentieth Century Murder true-crime graphic novel series, takes a side step into fiction with a strong historical flavor in Louise Brooks: Detective.

In real life, the distinctive actress, who starred in Pandora’s Box and popularized the severe dark bob hairdo, returned home to Wichita, Kansas, to run a dance studio in 1940. Her Hollywood career was over, for a combination of reasons, including her dislike of the industry. And the country had changed a lot, from her first screen portrayals of flappers to economic struggles and the coming war.

Louise Brooks

Even without knowledge of Brooks’ career or never having seen one of her movies, the reader can sympathize with the story of someone returning to a place called “home” that is actually uncomfortable. She doesn’t fit in, but she has to lick her wounds and recover, a situation understandable and sympathetic. That Geary layers it with a twisty murder mystery makes it all the more potent. (And it turns out that Geary and Brooks are related!)

His crime stories are most disturbing when set in the heartland, a place where people are supposedly solid and moral. Brooks’ prickly personality puts her at odds with her surroundings, an essential role for the detective. As a type, the investigator brings order to a society that he doesn’t fit into, working outside the cultural boundaries, which makes Brooks a good match for the role. And Geary’s love of detail makes the events feel plausible, although many key characters are fictional. Brooks’ traits are authentic, taken from her biographical writing.

Louise Brooks: Detective

Much of the book is setup, establishing Brooks’ life before she stumbles into a murder. She’s gone to meet an old acquaintance, a playwright who retired to a small town near Wichita. Coincidentally, her only friend has been taken by her boyfriend on a date nearby. There’s a kidnapping and a hit-and-run in a mysterious red convertible and of course, the death. Brooks accidentally disrupts the scheme, which draws her into figuring out what really happened.

Not much space is spent on deduction — once Brooks begins her investigation, events progress quickly. And the crucial clue is unknown to the reader until she later reveals it when confronting the killer. It’s an oddly paced story, and slim at 80 pages, but an entertaining one. There are hints of Geary’s interest in doing more with the character in future, and I’d like to see that.

There’s a short preview at the publisher’s website. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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