by Bryan Talbot
Bryan Talbot's Grandville stories are always a delight, and the third in the series, Bête Noir, is no exception.
These large graphic albums could have easily gone off the rails, buried under the weight of Tablot's central concept, but instead, these books are very well realized, gripping and beautiful adventure stories.
In the world of Grandville, Paris is the most important city in the world. It has recently shaken off Napoleonic control, and is moving towards democracy. England has been independent of French control for only about twenty years. Talking animals are the ruling class, while humans (not so affectionately called 'doughfaces') make up a servant underclass, although they are beginning to advocate for their rights. Oh, Talbot has embraced 'steampunk' ideals in designing this world.
Into this mix, we get the machinations of Baron Krapaud, an immensely rich toad, who would like very much to see democracy not gain a foothold in Paris. He has a plan involving discrediting representational fine arts in favour of the abstract, and in placing automaton soldiers throughout the city to do his bidding. I know that those two things don't really go together, but Talbot makes it all make sense, rather wonderfully.
Inspector LeBrock, our usual hero, gets involved when a French detective comes to him for help in solving a closed-door mystery, the murder of an artist set to design an important mural. LeBrock and his associate, Roderick, make their way to Grandville, and waste little time in getting involved in the intrigue.
Talbot pays homage to James Bond films in this volume, as well as to the Wind in the Willows, through his choice of villain. I enjoyed the depth of thought put into this book, as well as Talbot's always amazing artwork. For such a short book, Talbot packs in a lot of information, and character development, by way of finally giving us a closer look at LeBrock's past, as he and the high-class prostitute Billie. Talbot sets up the next volume (presumably) by letting us know that his greatest enemy is about to be released from prison.
I cannot recommend this book, and this series in general, enough. It is a very solid read.