Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Mystery of Mary Rogers

No foray into the spooky and horrific genres of graphic novels would be complete without including Rick Geary's work. He has been making comics for decades now, winning major awards for his efforts, and telling all kinds of historical tales in graphic novel formats (just check out these reviews and see).

This book, The Mystery of Mary Rogers is an entry in his A Treasury of Victorian Murder series. It tells the tale of a beautiful, flirtatious cigar store clerk and her unfortunate demise in New York City in July of 1841. The news of her death was slow to circulate in the days and weeks after her body was found in the Hudson River, but it soon became a public sensation with innuendo about scorned lovers and a potential abortion. The crime was never solved, and the story found some eternal attention due to its being the basis for Edgar Allan Poe's second murder mystery (he invented them, you know) "The Mystery of Mary Rogêt."
Where this book really shines is in its depictions of the life and times of the 1840s. Seeing how information was communicated, how there was really no centrally organized police force, how gangs formed links with the local government, and how limited their crime solving methods were compared to today's was truly fascinating. It was as if this book was depicting an episode of Law & Order: 1841 (dun dun). The amount of research and detail put into this book make it come that much alive, well establishing the historical context and conditions of the tale. He also includes the many possible solutions to this crime, including some miserable post-scripts from the major players in the story.
And speaking of details, these elaborate and well structured plot and settings are only enhanced by Geary's typical excellent, cartoonish yet realistic artwork. His black and white illustrations capture the time period, setting an ominous tone that is tinged with a wry, dark sense of humor. His characters are very lively, the action scenes intense, and all the proceedings seem meticulously and historically accurate. I would not say that this is his most riveting or engaging book, because it somehow feels a bit less substantial or personally involved as some of his other narratives. But, despite this misgiving, I still say that it is a rewarding reading experience.

Almost all of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Publishers Weekly praised it and commented that "Geary comes up with his own twist on the mystery and manages to capture the spirit of a booming and boisterous New York City in the 1840s." Kirkus Reviews summed up, "Distinguished by a keen sense of period detail and sharp pacing: Geary serves his subject with dignity and grace." A counter opinion came from a reviewer at Metapsychology who felt that this book was too clean and antiseptic, writing, "This is a story told on the surface, a show and tell, leaving it mysterious not only whodunnit, but also why anyone does anything."

The Mystery of Mary Rogers was published by NBM, who has a preview available here (scroll down, it's there).

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