by Rich Tommaso
The Cavalier Hotel in Big Spring, Texas is home to men and women from all walks of society: a retired train conductor, a widowed schoolteacher, and men working for the oil companies. Not everyone is on the up-and-up, so owner Frank Hill hires a private eye to keep watch over his guests. When a con man from Chicago comes to town and holes up in the hotel, he seems to be just another colorful character passing through Big Spring. But when another hotel guest is found murdered in his room, Mr. Thompson is suddenly the number one suspect…
This graphic novel is meant to be the beginning of a series based on the life of Sam Hill, son of the owner of the Cavalier Hotel. Sam isn’t particularly prominent in this story, dwarfed by the outsized personalities of his father, the detective Nick Ford, and grifter Ross Thompson. According to the author, the story is based on the life of Jim Thompson, a pulp crime writer most active in the 1940s and 50s. Events in the story mirror Thompson’s life – at least, his life as it is recorded in his Wikipedia entry. (I don’t have any personal knowledge of Jim Thompson or his works.) I hope that there will be more of Sam in future volumes, as I really don’t get much sense of his personality here.
By far, the art is the graphic novel’s greatest strength. The story is told in monochrome, with black line drawings shaded with mustard yellow. The yellow brings warmth to the pages that would otherwise be lacking, and helps artificially age the comic so that it feels like an old story pulled from some old pulp novel. His style also has an old-fashioned quality that reminds me of old newspaper cartoon strips – indeed, Ross Thompson strongly resembles a grown-up Sluggo Smith. It really helps root the story into the early 20th century.
What hurts the story is that it rapidly becomes bogged down in exposition. The book opens with a description of Sam’s birth (and his father’s daring heroics in capturing a gang of bank robbers) but this never ties into the main plot – if one could honestly say that there’s a main plot, which I don’t think there is. There are many plot threads, but they never quite weave into a cohesive, contained narrative. As an introduction to life in a small town, the book succeeds. There’s plenty of local color and quirky characters. But none of them are developed, and most are incidental to the murder case. If we knew more about Sam’s life and how these characters impacted his later career, his teenage years might be interesting to the reader. But as Tommaso himself admits in an author’s note on the novel’s cover, this period isn’t the most exciting in Sam’s life. It’s a difficult place to begin a hero’s journey, and the resulting graphic novel isn’t quite strong enough to stand on its own.
2.5 out of 5 stars
To read more about The Cavalier Mr. Thompson, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.
Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Vacation: Spring Break in Ashland
2011: Off to Ashland for a few days!
2010: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith
2009: Vacation in Yosemite