Neil Gaiman is many things: comics scribe, cult figure, pop icon, screenwriter, novelist, but first and foremost, he’s a storyteller. I try not to even use the term “writer” with Neil Gaiman. Writers get lost in their own prose, steal from others, follow trends, and churn out plotless novels calling them art. Neil Gaiman doesn’t get lost in the literary mileu of conservatives, liberals, feminists, or misogynists. He tells stories. Good ones at that. Murder Mysteries is among his best.
I thought I had already read all of the highlights of Neil Gaiman’s ouevre. I’ve read the entirety of The Sandman epic, plus Neverwhere and some of his earlier work with Vertigo, but it turns out, there’s still so much quality stuff left to read by him. Murder Mysteries is one I’d never heard of until stumbling onto it at a library. Imagine, browsing around listlessly and having a book catch your eye, a book you’ve never heard of… sounds like a scenario right out of The Sandman.
Murder Mysteries is a graphic novel adaptation of a story by the same name that appeared in his prose collection titled Smoke and Mirrors. The artist P. Craig Russell (who worked with Neil Gaiman also on the phenomal book Sandman: The Dream Hunters) took it upon himself apparently to transfer Neil’s story into a short graphic novel format. This was a good idea on P. Craig Russell’s part, as the story works better as a graphic novel than as a short story, in large part due to Russell’s imaginative world-building.
The story begins in an interesting way. A quiet, loner type goes to visit his ex-girlfriend, and in the process, finds love with his ex’s roommate. This is all covered in a few short pages. The main thrust of the story occurs when he leaves inauspiciously enough to take a walk outside when he’s approached by a downtrodden man who asks for a cigarette and for a light. For all the evil cigarettes engender, they at least bring smokers together. That’s what happens with the protagonist and the stranger. While smoking together, the stranger begins to tell him a strange story that begins where so many stories end: the afterlife.
The stranger, it turns out, was formerly a resident of the angelic plane, himself a spirit of high ranking in the holy hierarchy. The time is shortly before the dawn of time. The angels are busy putting the final touches on the universe, when something unexpected happens: an angel dies. What could cause an angel to die? This is where the murder mystery of the title comes in. He then has to find out what caused the angel to die, and what motive could the killer have. As strange as the premise is, Neil Gaiman manages to conform the story into a perfectly thrilling Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler style potboiler, except this isn’t the world of Humphrey Bogart in Angels With Dirty Faces. These are angels with dirty hands.
Murder Mysteries is fairly short, so I won’t give anything more away, except to say that it all ties together in a surprising and fascinating way. The ending, and how it related to the two men on the bench, was so provocative I realized I have to read more of Neil Gaiman’s work.
P. Craig Russell’s artwork is enchanting and unique. I think he and Charles Vess are the best artists around for fantasy comics. To see a few examples of P. Craig Russell’s art on the Comic Art Community site, click here.
Unfortunately, Murder Mysteries is out of print, but you can purchase old copies on Amazon for under $20 and you can always check your local comic book store.
Here’s a tip: the whole book is merely 64 pages long, and I’d recommend you try to read it all in one sitting. I read it in small doses over a few days and didn’t understand the ending at first until I went back and reread the beginning. To get the most out of it, read it quickly the first time through. I’m sure this one can be enjoyed a second and third time too.
——-If you’re looking for a novel to read, check out my book The Madness of Art: Short Stories. It features 8 stories by me, each one written in a different genre, and all are connected by the theme of art. It’s available on Amazon.
If you liked Murder Mysteries, check out Creatures of the Night, also by Neil Gaiman.