Book One of The Stone Man Mysteries, a supernatural locked-door mystery set in 1930s Edinburgh, is as dark and murky as Auld Reekie itself. Written by local author Adam Stemple and non-local Jane Yolen, and illustrated by Orion Zangara, it follows a church gargoyle named Silex, a demon who has been bound to earth with priestly magicks. Since, as he jokes, he “cannae play football,” he’s formed a detective agency. Of course, being stuck on the church tower, unable to move, Silex needs legmen—literally. Enter Father Harris, the priest who has been working with Silex for years, and Craig, a young runaway who had been contemplating jumping off the church tower until Silex spoke to him and recruited him for the agency.
In the mystery at hand, the earl of Stockbridge is found dead in a locked room. His throat has been slit, and a black knife is embedded in his chest. The whodunit solves itself in the usual way: more murders are discovered, connections are made, and the villain unmasked. If you’re a longtime BBC mystery enthusiast, those bits will likely be the least interesting. However, there are several twists along the way, including a very clever (if dark) one at the end that’s a game changer and worth the price of admission. Still, it’s the demons and demonology that make this graphic novel stand out, and the ending promises a deeper look into the world of demons in future installments.
Adam Stemple, who is based in Minneapolis and is probably best known for his stints in the Celtic-rock bands Boiled in Lead and Cats Laughing, sat down with me to talk about this graphic novel as well as Book Two: Sanctuary, due out April 2018, and the future third installment.“It was always planned as a trilogy,” Stemple told me. “And there’s demons aplenty, as well as fallen angels, hell hounds, long-dead criminals, medieval maidens, old gods, explosions, asylums, underground passages . . .” Like Book One, Sanctuary will be published by the Graphic Universe imprint of local publisher Lerner Books.
Though this is not the first foray into graphic novels for either Stemple or Yolen, there were challenges with this particular work. “The most common editorial comment we got back was ‘too wordy,’” said Stemple. “I had to learn to think visually, to let the pictures take over the narrative at times.” Those lessons seem to have been well incorporated.
But though the story itself is solid, Orion Zangara’s art style is, at points, difficult to parse. The feeling of the Scottish architecture and an overall sense of place comes through strongly, but people’s faces—a mainstay in most graphic novels, and doubly important in a murder mystery—are in many cases oddly misshapen and indistinct. In a way, the art is almost too detailed in its line work; it is possible that color would have helped the faces pop out from the backgrounds. However, the look is, at least, atmospheric and in that way suits this brutal noir mystery.
Your mileage may vary, but the promise of more demons and angels to come makes a compelling argument for the investment in this first volume. And for readers of this graphic novel interested in hearing more from its creators, Jane Yolen is scheduled to be one of the guests at Minicon on March 30 and April 1, 2018.