As a huge fan of noir fiction, I was delighted to receive the nuanced, pitch-perfect Britten and Brulightly, a graphic novel by Hannah Berry. What every great noir needs is the right atmosphere, and the sepia tones of Berry's creation set that mood perfectly. The subtle shifts in those tones, from gray to brown to green work well with panels that contain an amazing amount of texture and detail, without ever seeming crowded.
The second thing every great noir needs is a compelling detective, and in the person of Fernandez Britten, a serious and somewhat troubled Ecuadoran private eye, Berry has this next piece of the puzzle in place. The brooding Britten is known as the "Heartbreaker" for bringing clients bad news. Throw in the mysterious and witty Stewart Brulightly as a partner, and you've got the perfect context for the third thing every noir needs: an interesting and twisty crime to solve. In this case, it's the death of Berni Kudos, ruled a suicide--but not by his fiancee. Of course, Kudos is connected to the rich and powerful because a private eye noir in the tradition of Ramond Chandler isn't complete without Our Hero having to rummage through the garbage and secrets of People Who Matter.
In the hands of a less imaginative storyteller, these elements would descend into parody or just plain imitation. But Berry's great at keeping the story moving--not just the surface story, but the story of Britten, the layered art matched by the layered narrative. Sure, there are punch-outs, put-downs, and reversals, but the real joy of watching Britten and Brulightly play out comes from the great details, which always separate the great from the good. Berry's approach to portraying rain, obscuring and sometimes highlighting faces or buildings, is wonderful in and of itself. The scenes between Kudos' sharp-tongued fiancee and Britten have a rare crispness.
There's one last element a great noir needs: emotional complication tied to some sense of the world being both broken and yet enduring. Britten's reaction to the case, the difficult decision he faces, brings us to that point--and proves that Berry is a major, major new talent. Highly recommended.