Britten and Brulightly
Review: Hannah Berry's debut mystery, Britten and Brulightly, is an exquisitely drawn, well-crafted noir thriller written as a graphic novel.
Fernandez Britten is a private investigator whose specialty is tracking down cheating spouses and exposing their secret lives. "I had made something of a name for myself in the field," he says. "That name was 'The Heartbreaker'." But he's tiring of the depressing work, so he and his partner, Stewart Brulightly (a teabag), decide to accept more challenging assignments, in particular murder cases. And he prefers the term "private researcher" to describe his work; it has less connotations.
His latest case is the fiancé of a man who killed himself. But she thinks it was murder, or at least he was coerced to do the deed. "He would never have used a pencil to write his final words. He was better than that. I bought him a perfectly good fountain pen for Christmas." Britten's investigation … err, research … suggests she may be right. But it also suggests she may not want to know the truth either.
Britten and Brulightly is quirky, clever, and gorgeous to look at. The images have a subtle wash of color to them and are filled with wonderful details. For such a short novel, the story is satisfyingly rich in plotting and the characters have surprising depth. Stewart (the teabag) is something of an anomaly. It isn't clear whether he's Britten's alter ego, his conscience, or just a figment of Britten's imagination. He provides, though, an interesting contrast to the somewhat sedate character of Britten, and often plays devil's advocate to his thought process.
About the only drawback to the book, and it's a significant one, is that the first-person narrative text is exceptionally hard to read. The block text used for the dialog is fine, but the odd cursive letters and low contrast between the text and the background make reading Britten's words a real challenge. It really detracts from the pleasure of reading what is otherwise a singular graphic novel.
Acknowledgment: Henry Holt provided a copy of Britten and Brulightly for this review.
Review Copyright © 2009 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
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Britten and Brulightly by Hannah Berry
Publisher: Metropolitan Books
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: March 2009
List Price: $20.00