Friday, September 18, 2009

"Whiteout"-- a killer mystery with a fantastic lead (graphic novel review)

NOTE: In light of the release of the movie WHITEOUT, I wanted to share my review of the graphic novel, which I love and was inspired by when I started creating Sword of Dracula's Van Helsing Family, especially Ronnie.

Whiteout (1999)
$10.99 from Oni Press

Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Steve Lieber

The cold, US Marshal Carrie Stetko knows, does things to you. It makes your blood pump slower, slurs your speech, numbs your hands. On Antarctica, the bottom of the world, the cold can drop to 89 degrees below zero. Outside, your lungs can freeze. Outside at night, in a storm called a Whiteout, men die a foot from safety because they can’t see the door.

This is the world of Whiteout, a masterful detective novel in graphic novel format by Greg Rucka. The frozen wasteland is the milieu Rucka masterfully uses to frame his story of murder and cover-up. His heroine is Carrie Stetko, a Marshal in virtual exile after a problem she had four years earlier. The cold has changed Carrie as it changes everybody; she’s become cold and cynical in a place of Naval grunts, scientists, and sulking roughnecks, where the ratio of men to women is roughly 200 to one in the heavy season, 400 to one in the winter.

Whiteout works like the best-selling Kay Scarpetta novels Patricia Cornwell writes. The trick is to make the reader feel privileged to learn things few men get to see, and have the outsider become the victor, after many grueling tests. Writer Rucka plunges us into a world he knows inside and out, giving us details of how men talk and work in exotic places, and gives us a character both at home and alien to the landscape. Carrie Stetko is working hard to escape her past and find peace, a peace that is shattered, as these things go, by a murder on the ice.

The man whose face has been blown off lies in the snow in a place where a team of geologists was supposed to have a camp. Around him, deep holes have been drilled into the ground. The other geologists are nowhere to be found, and Carrie must search four bases on a 1600-mile continent to identify both killer and victim. Suddenly she finds that someone out there doesn’t want her to learn the truth, and anyone witness she locates seems to get killed before she can talk to them.

Enter Lily Sharpe, British Intelligence agent. Lily is keeping an eye on Carrie, and may know more than she lets on. Of course the two become allies, and soon it’s the both of them being beaten, frozen, threatened and grievously injured. Rucka lays it all out at a fast, authentic-feeling clip that keeps you guessing, and the Steve Lieber’s art is so cold and ominous you can almost se your breath freeze. The team is willing to put their characters through hell, and in Carrie’s case, it’s a Hell that may heal.

Take a note: this is how mysteries are supposed to work: a dangerous setting. An inscrutable murder. A sympathetic, wounded character. It’s a recipe for the best the genre can offer, and Rucka has made a fine, fine shot at the target.

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