06 October 2009

Book of the Week (32): "Salem Brownstone: All Along the Watchtowers" by John Harris Dunning and Nikhil Singh

There are good graphic novels, and there are great ones. As soon as I finished this one, I re-read it. Several times. Alan Moore, who doesn’t usually write reviews, called it “wonderfully imaginative and stylish”. Originally published in instalments in the award winning anthology Sturgeon, Salem Brownstone will surprise and delight in equal measure. But what is it? Supernatural Thriller? Gothic Noir? Gritty Romance? John Harris Dunning and Nikhil Singh’s witty narrative contains elements of all of these.

Salem never really knew his father, but is all too happy to pocket the keys to the family mansion when his father dies an untimely death. He is looking forward to drinking away the inheritance. But along with the keys come a part in a crucial battle with beings beyond this world, intent on destroying it. A good thing that Dr Kinoshita’s Circus of Unearthly Delights is parked across the way, and the gorgeous (and frighteningly flexible) Cassandra is on hand to help, although she seems to know more than she lets on. Who is one-eyed Lola Q? What has happened to Lorelei, the singer who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances? What do the terrifying Shadow Boys want with his father’s scrying ball? Each answer only seems to raise even larger questions.

We journey with the witty, wisecracking Salem into a darkly gothic otherworld where nothing and no-one is what they seem, as he discovers just how much he mattered to his father, and decides that just maybe he should matter to himself. The beautiful drawings of Nikhil Singh recall Dorian Grey channelling Aubrey Beardsley, and reward repeated reading with compelling details; every character is sharply drawn and suggestive, and the narrative and drawing style move between several different worlds with fluid ease. As the stakes mount ever higher, and everything seems to be falling apart, I was willing Salem and his newfound associates on. The ending is delightful and unexpected, leaving open the possibility that there is more to come. I certainly hope so.

Recommended by Ariel Kahn

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