Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Grandville Force Majeure by Bryan Talbot

This was the fifth and last of the "Grandville" stories, detective stories set in a vaguely steampunk world with some (mostly set-dressing) alternate-historical elements and an entirely anthropomorphic-animal cast. (Yes, it was an odd combination, which creator Bryan Talbot hit upon for reasons of influences and visual ideas rather than logical worldbuilding - but how many creators actually start from "logical worldbuilding" in the first place?) It came out in 2017, and I somehow missed it at the time, after enjoying the first four books of the sequence over the previous decade: the original Grandville, Mon Amour, Bete Noir, and Noel.

"Grandville" is the in-universe nickname of Paris, which was more important in the previous books than in Grandville Force Majeure, which takes place entirely in London. (Talbot is British, and his cast has been primarily British - his villains have tended to be French, but I've already said he's British once, so now I'm repeating myself.) Our series hero, Detective-Inspector LeBrock (the badger on the cover) is investigating a French crimelord, Tiberius Koenig, who is expanding his operations into London and, predictably, being brutal and destructive as he does so.

Force Majeure presents itself as a thriller, with Koenig's plans specifically to destroy and kill LeBrock seemingly unknown to the detective, but it's actually a mystery, with a long "here's how it really happened" section at the end to tie up loose ends. So, in retrospect, it's not quite as thrilling as it seems at the time; that's a slightly deflating thing to do at the end of a longish book, especially one ending a series.

Otherwise, Force Majeure has the strengths of the series: a big, colorful, quirky world populated with lots of weird characters - some of them Easter eggs to readers who recognize where Talbot has appropriated them from - lots of violent action, a compelling tough-guy central character, and a relatively play-fair detective story. There's less of LeBrock's romance with his ex-whore girlfriend Billie this time, since she's a captive of the fiendish Koenig for a stretch in the middle. And Koenig's plans are much more street-level than the grand world-dominators of the previous books: he's personally attacking LeBrock, but otherwise is just a guy who wants to control drug dealing, prostitution, and other illegal activities in a new territory.

Talbot's afterword teased brand extensions to Grandville - a TTRPG in progress and a TV show optioned - but I don't think those appeared, which is (sadly) the common fate of brand extensions. We did get five books, though, and the beautiful thing about alternate histories is that they don't date - they will be just as odd and specific ten years later as they were when they were created.

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