Thursday, 11 October 2012

Books: Murder Mysteries


Murder Mysteries
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by P. Craig Russell

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

Going from that title I assumed that this was going to be a some kind of detective story starring a private eye with a dirty tenchcoat and a furrowed brow ("...and just one more thing.") - but no. But least - not in the way that you would think. Because altho the bare bones of the story that sits in the middle of this book is as familiar and old as - well - a murder mystery - except wearing a costume that most people would find a little bit - unlikely.

But - hey - if you wanted to sum up Neil Gaiman's writing style - a lot of the time he deals with pretty well-worn concepts and ideas (dysfunctional families and stuff like that) only twisted up and made new by virtue of being pinned to mythical beings from dusty legends and faraway lands (so - a dysfunctional family - only it turns out that they embody powerful forces or aspects of the universe that have existed since the dawn of time (so - yeah - it's not exactly Shameless [1])).

But yeah Murder Mysteries: a comic based on a short story by Neil Gaiman [2] (and also - according to the credits in the book it's also been transformed into - a radio play (!?) Ooh - along with this and Signal to Noise - it seems that Mr Gaiman has a little sideline building up as a radio-play-maker - would love to be able to hear it - but (alas) - I can't them on youtube [3] and my curiosity (unfortunately) doesn't extend so far as to actually wanting to actually pay money). But - sorry - the comic. Well - once again - it's been adapted by the always lovely P Craig Russell who (along with this and Sandman: The Dream Hunters and Coraline seems to be fighting Neil Gaiman's retirement from comics by adapting every children's book and short story he can get his hands on... hey: more power to him I guess - I'm not gonna be a killjoy and gently suggest that maybe he should let it go and more on to pastures new - when the result is a chance to read more books like this... But whatever).

So - yeah - I haven't actually read the little (I assume little - maybe it's a 100 page monster? I dunno) prose story that this is based on (in fact the only Neil Gaiman short story that I have read is A Study in Emerald which is a pretty cool Sherlock Holmes / Lovecraft type thing that was recommended to me by Jan from the Comic Forum - so - thanks Jan!) - this comic left me satisfied enough that I didn't have the urge: which I'd probably say is the best thing that any adaptation that can do [4]. Typically for a Neil Gaiman story (yeah? Or is it just me?) Murder Mysteries is written in a very personable first person - almost as if he were leaning other your shoulder and reading it to you as you go along (and I guess this is why I'm not really that surprised that Gaiman has gone off to make radio plays - seeing how quite a lot of the stuff that he tends to do is very concerned with the human voice and different types of speech patterns and stuff like that (I would love to give a few examples to back this up - but at the moment they all escape me: still - if you've read the stuff he's wrote - I'm sure you can think of your own [5] - like - nine times out of ten - his stories feel like they belong written down and more like they should be spoken aloud: "Sure. Tell me a story.") - with (as is his wont) lots of little brief digressions (I like it!) and little offhand thoughts thrown in to help you along ("Every seven years each cell in a body dies and is replaced." / "Memory is the great deceiver" /"People named Tinkerbell name their daughters Susan." [6])

The art is excellent - and whether it's shadows cast by overhead freeways or the wavy lines around a person's head as they get a - well - a blowjob (I'm sorry if there's any children reading this - normally I would never be so crude - but didn't quite know how else to phrase it ("oral relief"? God no)) I mean yeah - come on - P. Craig Russell always knows exactly what he's doing... (he has been around forever [7] after all - which I guess is what gives him the freedom to do whatever the hell he wants - I mean hey - yeah - you wanna adapt three different Neil Gaiman things? Go right ahead...).

I will admit that I was a little bit trepidatious when I first started - because - hey - due to the subject matter of - you know - celestial beings and stuff  - I thought that maybe it was a mistake to read something that seemed designed to leave so much to your imagination (there's one point especially where it talks about bodies that seem to glow from the inside that - sorry dude - P. Craig Russell just isn't able (and - well - doesn't really seem to try and capture in the artwork) - that left me thinking how much better it would have been if it was left unseen in say a book (or even a radio play!) but then (and this was good) there was a line about halfway through that spoke about the story having been put in a "form you can understand." and that actually - (this was implied - but what the hell): the whole story was - if you somehow got a chance to deal with it 'direct' somehow beyond actual human comprehension. And - well - I dunno - there's something about ideas which lie beyond our (puny human) ability to understand that always makes me a little bit - erm - tingly (that means I like it basically) - so that's a good: but it also made me feel better that it had almost made an acknowledgement that the artwork of the comic was just a peception of how things happened rather than - the real deal (is this all a little bit too vague and metaphysical for you? Sorry: ex-philosophy student and all that...). So. Yeah.

And also - I guess I should acknowledge that if you wanted (and if you're like me - there'sa small surge of pleasure that comes from this - yeah yeah yeah) you can read the whole thing as a Sandman prequel - not in any direct way - and it doesn't tie in with Dream or any of his brothers and sisters - but there is one character who all Sandman readers will recognise - whose driving motivations are made - a little bit more clear.

So far I've done a pretty good job of not expressly giving away what the story is about and so - to try and stay in that area and not tell you too much for those who haven't had a chance to read it yet - I will stay vague by just saying that I also enjoyed the way that the language hadn't quite developed: "There has been a... wrong thing." / "The inner fluid." / "So that's green is it?" and (I don't know why - but I really got a kick out of the description of their duties ("Advising, correcting, suggesting, forbidding.") and - last but not least - it's very hard not to fall in love (just a tiny bit) with a story where a character points at the Universe and asks "what's it for?"

[1] And just in case there's one person out there that doesn't know what I'm referring to - it's called The Sandman - and you should totally be reading it already.

[2] If you wanna: the original story (with no pictures) can be found in Gaiman's collection Smoke and Mirrors and in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (St. Martin's, 1993)

[3] Oops - actually tell a lie: here they are! (Narrated by Michael Emerson?! (Better known as - Mr Ben Linus from Lost) Squeeeeeeee! Gonna need to make time to listen to this all methinks: and if you're very lucky - I will report back later to let you know how it went).

[4] Check out my tribulations with The Dark Tower comics for my own little case study for when comic book adaptations go wrong (and there's a great title for a TV show right there if anyone's interested).

[5] Here we go: Matthew the Raven - if you can read The Sandman and not hear his voice in your head when you read it (I guess it's somewhere in-between Joe Pesci and Martin Freeman (and how's that for a hellish mash-up?) then I just don't know what's wrong with you.

[6] Which sometimes have a habit of not actually been so disconnected from the story after all.

[7] Well - ok - 1972.

Links: Biting Dog Press Neil Gaiman Interview, The 52 Review Review.

Further reading: The Sandman: The Dream Hunters, Coraline, The Sandman, Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book Stories, Lucifer, Violent Cases, Neil Gaiman's Midnight Days, StardustSignal to Noise.

Profiles: Neil Gaiman.

All comments welcome.

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