COMICS: John Reviews “Bookhunter” by Jason Shiga

Bookhunter by Jason Shiga

Bookhunter by Jason Shiga

While I have enjoyed reading and reviewing this series of books that feature bad-ass librarians, I have unfortunately run out of them.  It may be just as well, though, as Jason Shiga’s Bookhunter provides a thrilling and explosive finale.  Perhaps the most critically acclaimed (and least commercially successful) of the three, Bookhunter combines the action and cliches of 1970s action movies with a clever variation on the locked-room mystery, all against a bad-ass secret agent librarian background.

It’s likely that Jason Shiga and Edgar Wright watched similar movies as young men, because Bookhunter borrows many of the same cop-action cliches as Hot Fuzz (and with just as much of a loving attitude toward them.) It’s 1973, and the staff of the Oakland Public Library are a crack team of veteran book-police officers. They’re not above using unorthodox methods to get results.  Agent Bay, our hero, is a legend on the force not only for his tenacity and ability to remain calm in the face of danger, but also for his incredible powers of deduction.  As such, he’s the man the Oakland Public Library call when the staff discover that its priceless Inconabula, supposedly the Bible that the crew of the Amistad gave to John Quincy Adams, has been stolen and replaced with a counterfeit!  It’s up to Agent Bay and his crack team of investigators, library technicians and field agents to discover how the Inconabula was stolen and recover it before the Library of Congress comes to collect the OPL’s copy.  In the pursuit of justice, they’ll use all the techniques of both 1970s cops and 1970s librarians to catch the thief (or is it … thieves?)

One of the joys of Bookhunter is how incredibly authentic Shiga makes it seem.  The technology is kept strictly to what was available in 1972, on both the criminal and police/library sides.  Phones have rotary dials, traces take several minutes, modems are archaic and expensive, and the books use a punch card system for tracking circulation.  It’s incredibly immersive, and it really makes one wonder how crimes were ever solved before the advent of computer technology.  You just don’t hear phrases like “let’s load the record drum” anymore.

an interior splash page from Bookhunter

an interior splash page from Bookhunter

Based on the fantastic cover, you would expect Bookhunter to employ a very simplistic, cartoony (almost Fisher Price-esque) visual style, and on the surface that is certainly the case.  However, Shiga manages to pack quite a bit of artistic flair into each panel, especially backgrounds, which take on a life of their own.  The action is surprisingly kinetic for such a visually low-key book, and the use of sound effects is kept to a minimum so that the ones that remain are played for maximum effectiveness.  It’s also worth mentioning that the entire book is given a grey-brown/sepia-tone color palette, possibly to help the reader feel as though they are viewing something from decades gone by (or a giant flashback scene.)

It’s tough to review a book that has a strong plot twist without giving anything away, but I will say that I enjoyed the twist and the resulting action sequences, which were rife with callbacks to devices and scenes from the beginning of the story.  Those techniques helped make Hot Fuzz stand out among the other parody films, and they make Bookhunter stand out among its peers as well.

In terms of the three books compared against one another, their strengths and weaknesses are as follows:

Read or Die: Fast-paced anime action with little to no cerebral activity required (other than learning to follow panels going the opposite direction.)  Books are props, but mostly as ammunition or McGuffins.

Rex Libris: The thinking-man’s comic, burdened by an abundance of text that makes casual reading difficult.  Undaunted readers will find an exciting and highly clever tale amidst the undulating seas of text.

Bookhunter: A charming police drama/mystery that is clever both in premise and in execution, without sacrificing visceral enjoyment.  More than just a “popcorn” book, but you don’t have to have taken a GRE to understand it either.

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One Response

  1. […] entry is fully written in it’s author’s blog. Read all about this here. This entry was posted on Friday, January 23rd, 2009 and is filed under Uncategorized. You can […]

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