Readers of The Lost Art

The Black Diamond Detective Agency

March 4th, 2009

Black Diamond 


Writer: C. Gaby Mitchell.

Artist: Eddie Campbell

Reviewer: Jean 

‘The Black Diamond Detective Agency’ opens with a full-page portrait of
a man, cropped just at the shoulders, in close-up against a blank
background. It is the same composition as the cover picture of
Campbell’s ‘The Fate of the Artist’, and the face does bear a certain
resemblance to Campbell. Is this significant? Who knows.

The man is known as John Hardin, though this is not his real name. John
Wesley Hardin (Wikipedia ref: John Hardin) – not Harding, as in
the Dylan album – was a notorious outlaw in the American west. Does this
tell us something about our John Hardin, or is it pure coincidence?

I had to work hard to follow the story of ‘The Black Diamond Detective
Agency’, and I’d like to believe that that’s deliberate, that it’s a
complex and demanding piece of narrative, full of allusions and
narrative shifts. Then again, it’s a book which opens with a prologue in
which the lead character looks at, and through, an empty picture frame,
then is shown in cutaway through a window frame, before the announcement
“Chapter 1: The Frame” No, really? You don’t say!

What kind of book is it? The opening feels like a Western, the rural
setting, the tormented couple, the train and the great explosion (“the
train was bang on time” – not a bad joke, but one which goes against the
mood being created here); but the scene shifts to Chicago, and detecive
work among the big city gangs. That seems clever, a subtle way of
playing with our expectations – except for the final reveal, which comes
from a different sort of story altogether, so again, maybe this isn’t

And so on. When the poor likeness on the wanted poster is identified by
the label ‘the crap portrait’, is this a commentary on the recurring
issue of recognition, or just a clumsy piece of superfluous information?
Is the shoot-out at the station a brilliant depiction of a chaotic
outburst of violence, or is it just confused?

‘The Black Diamond Detective Agency’ is an elegant-looking piece of
work, with its muted tones of grey, brown and sepia and its shocking
outbursts of red, with its cover which pastiches a 19th century
handbill: “Orphans! Mayhem!”. But I suspect that there is less to it
than meets the eye.

Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: First Second (4 Jun 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1596431423

(First published 07/11/2007.)

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