Written by Jamie S. Rich
Art by Joëlle Jones
192 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press
It doesn’t take a detective to know that author Jamie S. Rich writes movie reviews for all different sorts of publications, but even without that piece of information I think it’s safe to say that Rich is a fan of movies. Reading his and Joëlle Jones’s new collaboration You Have Killed Me (their first full-length book together being 12 Reasons Why I Love Her) makes me feel like I’m actually watching an old crime noir film. Fortunately, it’s not one that I’ve seen before.
Antony Mercer is a private investigator, one that seems to be trying to cut all ties to his past in the process. Unfortunately, sometimes the past won’t stop coming back, like in the case of his old girlfriend Julie Roman. Julie’s now engaged, but there’s just one problem. Namely, she vanished into thin air from a room with only one exit, and her sister Jennie is now frantic in trying to find what happened to Julie. With a deadbeat fiancé who may have only been in the relationship to cover gambling debts, and private music lessons from a local jazz player whose nickname is "Killer," there’s no shortage of suspects for Mercer to hunt down. The more Mercer digs, though, the deeper he’s pushing himself into the mystery. And with this case, it’s certainly not going to end prettily.
I hesitate to call You Have Killed Me a mystery because Rich isn’t setting it up as a story where the reader is gathering clues to solve the puzzle first. Rich’s script for You Have Killed Me is a classic noir story in almost every sense of the word. The untrustworthy gambler, the secret relationship on the side, the clandestine trip to the casino, the local police leaning hard on Mercer, it’s all there. One of the very first lessons you learn as a reader is that none of the characters in this book are to be trusted; Rich has made sure that every last one of them have their own secrets waiting to be unearthed, and all of them are doing their best to keep them hidden. More importantly, I appreciated that Rich doesn’t put everything out on the table in an obvious manner. There are enough references to Mercer’s past, for example, that readers can connect the dots and figure out a lot of his history. There’s no huge expository dump, though, no long inner monologue about how things used to be so much easier, and I really appreciated that. Instead we get the information that we need to know and the narrative moves along from there.
I do have to say, though, that the one thing I didn’t like about You Have Killed Me is in many ways a testament to Rich nailing the noir style. Stories that have the protagonist always on the bottom of the heap, and generally not being believed by everyone they talk to, really set off all sorts of nerves for me. It’s frustrating because they just keep getting kicked to the curb, and that’s definitely a fair portion of You Have Killed Me. Ultimately, it’s really a compliment to Rich for hitting that part of noir fiction so well; by the time Mercer gets hassled by the police again, you can see it coming and just start cringing in anticipation. In that same sort of noir fiction mold, I do have to say that I found myself unmoved by most of the characters in You Have Killed Me; they’re less people and more obstacles for Mercer to try and maneuver by as best as possible. It’s an impressive aping of another style, and both the highs and lows from that type of story are firmly implanted in this book.
Jones’s art continues to grow by leaps and bounds. As much as I enjoyed her art in 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, she’s become more accomplished since then. Her usage of graytones in You Have Killed Me provide just the right shady, seedy look to characters and situations in a way that stark black and white might not have handled. It’s a nice texture to each of the pages, and I can almost hear the filmstrip crackling in the background. Her action sequences are good here, too; a scene with Mercer hurling a water pitcher across the room has the object splash across the panel, composed almost perfectly so that you can imagine the spin and arc of the pitcher as well as the water spraying out of it. Her characters have clean, open expressions here as well; Mercer’s smile can melt a cold heart, and those smoldering eyes of Jennie’s speak volumes.
You Have Killed Me continues the success rate of Rich and Jones’s collaborations; this is a perfect example of how to use a familiar style in a different medium. It’s funny, because at the end of You Have Killed Me my first thought was, "I wonder if Rich and Jones are going to create more books with these characters?" I suspect the answer is no, but would certainly be happy to see more down the line. The thing is, they don’t need to. You Have Killed Me stands on its own as a strong and satisfying book, one that doesn’t need anything else to prop it up. It’s definitely a book to be proud of.