Grandville, Bete Noire: Luscious art creates good escapist fun

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fantasy and science fiction book reviewsfantasy and science fiction book reviewsGrandville, Bete Noire by Bryan Talbot

Grandville, Bete Noire, Bryan Talbot’s third steam-punk themed graphic novel, has the same lavish detail and striking use of color as the first two. English Badger D.I. Archie LeBrock is back, as rough-and-tumble as ever, and in this book we spend a bit more time with Quayle or “Q,” a brilliant inventor adept at stealth weapons, like a smoking pipe that is really a bomb. It’s a nice wink in the direction of Ian Fleming.

The plot is slimmer and more predictable than the first two, and a large part of the story is taken up with the exploration of LeBrock’s relationship with the beautiful prostitute Billie, who he met in Grandville, Mon Amor. We find out a bit more about Billie, especially, in one hilarious and naughty frame, what her particular work “specialty” is. Archie’s backstory is fleshed out, with some well-planted clues about future books.

grandvillebette noirWhat makes this book fun is the volume of in-jokes about art and artists, especially French artists. The murder victim is Gustave Corbeau (a crow), and the person who stands to benefit from his death is a gopher sculptor named Auguste Rodent. There are lots of comments about watercolors and oils, and representational art versus abstracts. The murder weapon that kills Corbeau is steampunk-ingenious, and the humor and puns keep coming through the book. (The villain’s cunning plan is to destroy representational art and replace it with meaningless abstractions – and that’s not a spoiler.)

As always, the images are wildly imaginative. There is a thrilling motorcycle chase on pages 76-77, that takes place under the admiring gaze of a gang of French street-apache meerkats.

I enjoyed the other two Grandville books more, but Bryan Talbot’s visual imagination is a treasure. Talbot’s world holds together, provides a fun escapist story and gives us eye candy galore.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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  1. Gangs of French meerkats sounds really cool to me.

  2. They were cool.

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