We first came across DCI Harker and his right hand man DS Critchley back in 2012 when Titan Books published the first graphic novel featuring the peripatetic detectives, The Book of Solomon. Time Bomb Comics picked up the second story, The Black Hound, republishing it in two volumes, the first of which came out last year. Some recap of Part One is necessary before we look at the latest book.
Harker and his team, which also includes home office pathologist, Jenny Griffin, are a special unit, tasked with investigating unusual murders. He is a somewhat morose and cynical man, though dryly funny, who has decamped to a hotel in Whitby to escape his job. The hotel is hosting a murder mystery weekend with the puzzle written by the famous crime writer Agatha Fletcher. During the opening night, as the gusts assemble to hear their favourite author’s introduction, the lights go off, and when they return, Fletcher is dead, having been stabbed.
Harker, a witness to the murder, calls it in and to his dismay is ordered to stay to oversee the local investigation. He brings in Critchley to run interference with the Yorkshire force and tries his best not to get involved. Likely suspects include Fletcher’s put-upon assistant Jasmine, quarrelling hotel staff, and an over-eager fan/stalker. But any hopes Harker has of enjoying his break evaporate when the corpse of the hotel chef turns up in the harbour.
Part Two begins with Harker’s team taking over the case and beginning the job of eliminating suspects through interview. Critchley and Harker quickly formulate different hypotheses. The interplay between the characters is one enjoyable aspect of the books; Harker is older than Critchley and Griffin, who are of an age. There is a kind of exasperated resignation towards their boss’s foibles, while Harker, a variation on the archetypal lone wolf detective, displays a kind of parental pride in their efforts.
The books display Gibson and Danks’ familiarity with crime fiction tropes and a willingness to have fun with them. The whole story has the feel of a cosy country house mystery, and there are nods to Agatha Christie and, with the finale taking place on the Yorkshire moors, to The Hound of the Baskervilles. The illustrations are classically life-like, and the colouring suitably gothic. The book feels respectful of the classics which have obviously inspired it, but with a refreshing modern spin. There’s even space for a running joke about how goths love Whitby, and the ubiquity of The Cult’s She Sells Sanctuary.
Harker has a very different feel from the current trend towards hardboiled and noir graphic novels like Brubaker and Phillips’ Reckless books. Great though they are, sometimes you want a more light-hearted, less deferential approach, and this is what Harker provides.
Time Bomb Comics
CFL Rating: 4 Stars