Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Karmela Krimm, Book 1: Ramadan Blues by Franck Biancarelli and Lewis Trondheim

I appreciate creators who get bored easily. I may not always love every last random avenue they go down - who likes everything? - but I love that impulse, and I strongly believe creators who go really different from project to project are the best, most exciting ones.

So Lewis Trondheim is low-key my favorite French comics-maker, because he's gone off in so many different directions. Light adventure comics with anthropomorphic animals? See McConey. Fantasy adventure, on a widely sliding scale from ultra-bleak to entirely silly? See Dungeon. Slice-of-life vignettes about his own life? See Little Nothings. Goofy comics for kids? See Monster Christmas. Artsy slapstick about the inevitability of death? See Mr. O.

Most of that is from the subset of comics that Trondheim draws himself; he also writes for other artists. Dungeon is probably the best-known of those; it's a long series he co-writes with Joann Sfar, with usually different artists on each volume or sub-series.

Sometime recently - and I have no idea if "recently" means five years or ten or even more, since I'm getting books at the other end of an unreliable translation pipeline - Trondheim has been writing more and drawing less. And he's also been doing crime stories set in the modern world in a realistic, dramatic style: quite different from everything else. I've already seen Maggy Garrison, which collects three albums about the title character, a young British woman who gets caught up in criminal activities but comes out well, which he wrote for the art of Stephane Oiry.

And he seems to have a new series in Karmela Krimm, drawn by the credited-first Franck Biancarelli. The first book is Ramadan Blues, which came out in French and English in late 2020; a second book is coming along, at least in French, in early 2022.

Karmela is a private investigator in Marseilles; she was a detective but left the force as the fall woman for an investigation that got messy. She did that to protect her partner. She's not so sure any of it was a good idea now, a couple of years later. This is, again, in a realistic style, so Karmela is tough and resourceful, but also smart enough to know when she's getting into too much danger to handle herself.

This story takes place during Ramadan, as the title implies. That's important in quirky ways, but not any ways you'll expect. Karmela, whatever her personal religious beliefs are, is not fasting. She doesn't seem to be particularly observant at whatever religion she might be. She definitely has Muslim family members; we can assume she was brought up in the faith. (We might be wrong, but we'd be reasonable to assume it.)

She's hired by Florence Perrini, widow of Rene, who was both a major local mobster and president of the popular soccer team. Florence has inherited the team and has a complicated relationship with the mob. Also, Rene was clearly murdered, and the police seem most interested in Florence for it. She says she had nothing to do with it, and seems sincere. She wants Karmela to investigate.

That's potentially dangerous: if Florence didn't kill Rene, one of his gang contacts or rivals certainly did. Karmela only agrees after getting her fee raised several times and getting an assistant: Tadj, Florence's personal bodyguard, a tall shaved-head Black man. Tadj is observing Ramadan, and is more than the hired muscle he appears to be.

At the same time, Manon, the tween daughter of Karmela's old partner on the police force, is spending time with Karmela on a work-study. Karmela intends to keep Manon away from the dangerous Perrini case, but...she is not as successful as she would like.

Karmela investigates the case, with the aid of Tadj and (more than she wants) Manon. Ramadan Blues is conventional enough that we learn all of the truth by the end, and enough of a series that we know Karmela will be back for more cases.

Karmela Krimm is smart, character-driven crime fiction, set in a real, lived-in world. I could see it as a classy TV series, or a movie equally well - but, instead, it's comics, so the eye can linger over page composition and re-read dialogue to try to untangle the mystery. Since I like comics better than TV or movies, that counts as win for my team.

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