Harker: The Book of Solomon collects the six issue Harker series. It’s an atmospheric mystery thriller that’s distinctly British (from an American perspective at least). Harker is an eccentric DCI (Detective Chief Inspector, for ignorant Yanks like me) cast in the mold of Sherlock Holmes, assisted by the Watsonesque DS (Detective Sergeant) Critchely. Here’s the official description from Titan Books and Ariel Press:
When a series of gruesome cult killings take place near the British Museum, DCI Harker and his assistant DS Critchley are called to London to solve the case. Middle class satanists, dusty old bookshops, a labyrinth under the museum, a frantic car chase and wry, cutting humour all combine in this love letter to classic British detective television series. Written by newcomer Roger Gibson and illustrated by the adept Vince Danks, Harker takes police investigation to a true heart of darkness.
The description mentions that the Satanists are middle-class, but they’re not the only ones. From my American viewpoint, the entire book is extremely middle-class, as well as British. Everyone’s wishing for a cup of tea and Harker has a thing for cheese and pickles. The British-ness isn’t a bad thing, but I feel it’s worth mentioning. What is a bad thing is the middle-class part. While Roger Gibson perfectly captures the stodgy, boring, ho-hum lifestyle of the characters, that tone infects the whole book. I never really felt for the characters because everyone takes everything in stride. The Satanic cults, the murders, the orgies, no one reacts strongly to any of it. That means that I never felt any real suspense or got truly invested in the characters, even when Harker goes into the final confrontation with the killer. And speaking of the confrontation, Harker never had a Holmes-style (lol) epiphany. He does lots of talking (detecting out loud), but doesn’t actually contribute much, and just blunders into the killer at the end. However, that verbal detecting –as well as all the other dialogue- is excellently written. It’s clever and amusing, once again in a very British way, and they make Batman references, which I always enjoy.
The final flaw with the writing may not be a writing flaw at all. In approximately the middle of the book, Harker and Critchley suddenly start talking about two murders, when I, for the life of me, can only find one up that point (and you would think another murder would be hard to miss.) Is this a typo? Are –gasp!– pages missing? It doesn’t appear so, but I’m not sure. Obviously, a missing murder in a mystery book is a serious problem (although a missing murder sounds like a great idea for a mystery of my own) but it honestly doesn’t affect the flow of the book, other than making me stop to check if I’ve missed something.
While the story and writing have their flaws, the art by Vince Danks is superb. His characters’ figures and faces are so realistic and so consistent that I think they must have been heavily referenced from photos of real people acting out the parts. (The backgrounds were definitely based on photos, as most of them are extremely detailed and depict real locations.) That’s not an accusation. I really don’t care how artists achieve the look of their work.
Even more impressive are Danks’ “tones,” as the credits call them. He uses an absolute minimum number of shades of gray (nowhere near fifty) and very few gradations. Many panels – and a few whole pages – have no shades at all, with only solid blacks and whites. The result is a striking, iconic look that brings out the facial expressions and detail of the backgrounds. It gives the book a stark intensity that completely belies the prosaic quality of the story.
Having read Harker: The Book of Solomon, would I read a sequel? Definitely. Would I want to pay for that sequel? …Probably not, unless Gibson and Danks could convince me that the reading would be more fulfilling than this one. Still, in terms of visuals, Solomon is one of the strongest books I’ve seen this year, and those who read comics mostly for the art would do well to pick it up.