Friday, February 05, 2010

The Bronx Kill

The Bronx Kill is my first experience with a graphic novel and, frankly, I had no idea it was presented in that format when I ordered it. However, despite the surprise (I was unfamiliar with the Vertigo Crime imprint) about the book’s format, I found it to be an interesting reading experience and do not regret my mistake. After all, most boys of my generation honed their reading skills on the comic books of the day, and The Bronx Kill is pretty much a dark comic book for adults, a nostalgic reminder of those hundreds of comics I read as a kid.

Martin Keane, an insecure novelist, is battling the sophomore jinx. His second novel has been universally trashed by the critics and he is taking it personally. Even Erin, his wife, finally admits that she found the book to be slow and that while reading it she kept wishing he would just “get to the point.” Keane men, since the time of Martin’s great-grandfather have been cops, and Martin’s decision to be a writer instead of a cop has already ruined his relationship with his father. The last thing he needs now is to fail at the job by which he defines his whole world.

Martin, knowing that his third book has to be something completely different from his last, decides that his family’s tragic history has the makings of a good historical thriller. What he learns while researching his family history in Ireland for four months convinces him that he is right. But when his wife disappears one night after reading a few pages of the new manuscript, Martin finds himself eerily reliving the details of his own family history – and the pages of his new novel.

I suspect that most readers of The Bronx Kill will figure out where the book is heading long before Martin solves the mystery of his wife’s disappearance but that is not a big problem. The book’s strong suit is the dark, other worldly, mood it creates, a combination of the noir fiction of the 1940s and the best pulp fiction of earlier decades. James Romberger contributes much of that mood through his black and white illustrations, especially those set in the Bronx Kill area, a nasty, isolated patch of the inner city key to Keane family history.

Overall, The Bronx Kill succeeds in telling its complicated story with a minimum of words, but graphic novels leave little space for character development, and I found this to be a hard-to-overcome handicap. As I said earlier, since this is my first graphic novel, I am unable to compare The Bronx Kill to other novels of its type. However, I can say that, because of reading this one, I am more likely to pick up other graphic novels in the future – and that surprises me.

Rated at: 3.0

(review copy provided by publisher)

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