September 2021 Books …

An equal 50/50 split between graphic novels and regular books this month. Here’s what I read in September, which flew by … I can’t believe it’s fall already.

The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell
I’ve read a number of Lisa Jewell books over the past two years or so and while I’ve enjoyed them all, some are better than others. Her latest, The Night She Disappeared, is one of the better ones, with a great story with wonderful characterizations (a Jewell hallmark) and a propulsive plotline. I’m not a huge fan of jumping around in time, which is something Jewell does a lot, along with alternating different characters’ points of view, until it all collides in the end, but it works here.

I sometimes tell friends that Jewell’s books are “urban paranoia:” the unknown stranger who becomes suddenly, shockingly known, the missing child, the answer to an unsolved disappearance. Whether it be set in my beloved London or a small English village, Jewell is always precise in her details and places, and I appreciate her sense of scene and how she describes her characters.

One thing I keep hoping for with Jewell is a recurring character for a series of books. I sincerely think Sophie, the author who writes detective novels and who is introduced in this latest novel, is a great candidate for that. Jewell is evidently revisiting The Family Upstairs in a sequel for her next book. Unfortunately, that was one of her lesser works in my opinion … too many characters and too much back and forth.

I still like I Found You (the novel in which I first found Lisa Jewell) and Then She Was Gone the best of Jewell’s books, but The Night She Disappeared is a definite candidate for a close #3 on my list.

The Devil’s Candy by Julie Salamon
I did a longer, separate post on this book which chronicles the making of the 1990 movie bomb The Bonfire of the Vanities. Click here to read it.

The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer by Dean Jobb
Long before there was a descriptive phrase such as “serial killer,” heinous villains were haunting the cities of the world. The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream describes one such killer, who may well be the very first global serial killer, having poisoned people (mainly women) in the U.S., Canada, and England. Dean Jobb does a fine … er, job here, but the book at times is a bit confusing (so many names!). The book also focuses on law and order in all three countries in the late 1800s and that’s a fascinating additional layer. I read this right after watching Lucy Worsley’s Victorian murder docu-series on BritBox, A Very British Murder, so I was very primed for something along these lines.

I love books like this which reminds me of the great work of Erik Larson (The Devil in the White City, The Splendid and the Vile): historical non-fiction that reads like a novel. Not everyone is as thorough—and great—a writer as Larson, though. Jobb comes close with a very attentive eye to detail and thorough research. Another one I like is Kate Winkler Dawson, who wrote Death in the Air, the story of the London smog that killed thousands in the 1950s, while—at the same time—John Reginald Christie, the “Beast of Rillington Place” was strangling women and burying them in his back yard.

Daredevil, Vol. 6: Doing Time by Chip Zdarsky, Marco Checchetto, and Mike Hawthorne
I’ve really been loving Zdarsky’s Daredevil run but this volume automatically gets a couple of demerits for having to shoehorn in another in an endless series of Marvel “events,” this one wrapped around a Venom-related character called “Knull.” (I mean, really … WTF, Marvel? Just tell good stories with good art, and stop trying to sell every title you publish to every person.) Volume 6 moves the Daredevil in prison story along and ups the ante on Elektra as substitute Daredevil, while Matt Murdock entertains himself in the hoosegow. Also, the art takes a tumble this time out. The Knull story introduces a 16-year-old girl named Alice who Elektra takes under her wing, but in subsequent issues, she’s drawn like she’s 10 years old (or younger). Unfortunately, the always-great Checchetto draws only the Elektra as DD pages and Mike Hawthorne draws the Murdock in jail pages, with a marked difference in style. It just makes me feel—like the Nick Spencer Amazing Spider-Man book does—that Marvel cares far more about who’s writing a book than it does who’s drawing it, a far, far cry from the 1990s when McFarlane, Lee, et al were selling books solely on their artwork, for better or worse.

Lugosi: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Dracula by Koren Shadmi
I love just about anything about Universal Monsters and I love graphic novels, so this OGN about Bela Lugosi, the original movie Dracula, is a match made in heaven for me. Shadmi tells the tragic story of Lugosi, which is one of vanity, hubris, and someone who was his own worst enemy. Lugosi died broke and a drug addict in the mid-1950s, a sad shadow of himself, reduced to working in schlocky director Ed Wood’s horrible films. When poor Bela died during filming of Wood’s magnum opus, Plan 9 from Outer Space, the director enlisted the help of his dentist (who was much taller and younger than Lugosi) to lurk around a graveyard set pretending to be the late actor as Dracula, with his cape draped over his arm, covering his face. Lugosi’s greatest role was in the 1931 Universal production of Dracula, a film by Tod Browning that is long on atmosphere but short everywhere else. This is still a fascinating tale, and Shami tell it gracefully and with respect. He also did The Twilight Man about Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling and the birth of television; both books are part of Humanoids’ “Life Drawn” series.

Batman by Tom King and Lee Weeks: The Deluxe Edition
This is a great collection of Batman stories by King and the amazing Lee Weeks, an artist who doesn’t get enough recognition in my opinion. He hasn’t produced a ton of Batman stories, but he certainly brings out the best in King, who is all over the place when it comes to comics writing. I love both the Mr. Freeze storyline (where Bruce Wayne has jury duty!) that’s reprinted here, and the classic, Eisner Award-winning Batman vs. Elmer Fudd, which makes the team-up you never knew you wanted into a mini noir classic, and brings all the WB cartoon characters—Bugs, Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, and more—into human form (plus brings back classic Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers creation Silver St. Cloud). I’ve loved some of Tom King’s Batman work, but some of the other stuff he’s done for DC, including Heroes in Crisis, Rorschach, Strange Adventures, and the absolutely awful Batman/Catwoman are 12-issue maxi-series that would be far better at 6-8 issues. However his Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow series is wonderful. Anyway, this is one spiffy deluxe edition which gives Lee Weeks some long overdue love.

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