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Murder Mysteries
Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell
Dark Horse hardcover $13.95
Titan hardcover £10.99

review by Amy Harlib

Two of the brightest luminaries in their creative fields - Neil Gaiman (award-winning writer of numerous works of fantastic fiction) and P. Craig Russell (artist extraordinaire renowned for his sequential narrative style and shimmering, intricate effects) - team up to render a readily available graphic novel adaptation of one of Gaiman's short stories, Murder Mysteries. The tale concerns the matter of who investigates a murder in heaven, a job that falls to Raguel, the angel of vengeance. Gaiman's and Russell's creative efforts to spin their yarn combine synergistically in a way that can best be described as heavenly, pardon my pun.

Rich in subtle allusions to classic literature, an homage of sorts to the elaborate Christian mythos celebrated in the works of Milton, Coleridge and Dante, not to mention Blake, but perfectly enjoyable on its own terms without referring to time-honoured texts, the skilfully structured Murder Mysteries will thrill 'angelologists' in particular and everyone else in general who appreciates superb, powerfully moving storytelling and art.

The tale comes structured with two seemingly unconnected plot threads, one being a narrative set in contemporary Los Angeles (that name being no coincidence), with an unnamed thirtysomething British visitor recounting his depressing failure, despite erotically trying, to reconnect with an old flame, a lovely divorcee oddly called Tink, short for Tinkerbell Richmond, who has a five-year-old daughter. Feeling lonely and empty after the disappointing rendezvous, the Englishman returns to the place where he is staying where, on a nearby park bench, he meets an elderly-looking gentleman who, in return for cigarettes, relates the second major story strand.

The bulk of the book, this consists of a fantastical Biblical yet noir-ish yarn set in a glittering celestial realm where elaborate hierarchies of wondrously winged, androgynously beautiful, nude-in-appearance but without genitals, angels assist in the Creation of the Universe according to Divine Plans.

Raguel, the angel of vengeance, gets called upon to discover who among them had deliberately killed Carasel, the angel ironically in charge of the phenomenon of 'death'. Raguel's inquiries lead him across the gorgeous heavenly environs where, among innumerable hosts, he encounters notable and intriguing entities: Carasel's partner (in every sense of the word) Seraquel, the angel of love; Phanuel the #1 angel and more than he seems; Zephkial, the divine messenger; and Azazel, 2nd in command to Lucifer, the loveliest and most luminous and the only angel who walks in the Outer Darkness.

The surprising resolution comes after fascinating twists in the tale, revealing startling and provocative connections between the dual developing storylines, leaving the reader touched and profoundly pondering deeper meanings concerning the nature of identity, the soul and perception of the layers of reality. Gaiman's and Russell's entwined talents have produced a stunning work of dazzling beauty, mythic resonance and emotional richness, satisfying and meaningful no matter what the belief system of the audience.

Gaiman's prose and Russell's art merge in that thrilling way that happens in the best graphic narratives - each enhances the other to make the whole more than the sum of its parts. The gripping prose and the delicate gorgeousness of the detailed visuals serve to make Murder Mysteries a splendidly successful graphic adaptation of vividly written words - the illustrations skilfully contrasting the muted tones of the earthly locations with the exquisite, refulgent arrays of the lofty realms of the higher powers, thus expertly conveying the intent of the tale.

Russell's renderings of mortals and celestials, nothing short of awesome, gives human beings and their settings distinctive character no less than the glorious perfection of the winged wonders in their fabulous domain. Murder Mysteries, hugely entertaining while contemplating the mystery of existence, embodies a match of creative collaborators made in heaven - not to be missed!
Murder Mysteries

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