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Trading Up: Harker: The Book of Solomon

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Whether you’re a fan of Life on Mars, Morse or Columbo you’ll find a wryly knowing nod and a wink to your pop cultural sleuth of choice in this loving salute to generations of TV ‘tecs.

The investigation of a horribly brutal, ritualistic murder outside a London church is assigned to the pessimistic DCI Harker and his sidekick DS Critchley. When the key to solving the case appears to be a notorious black magic tome, the two detectives find themselves entangled in the double lives of a group of Satanic cultists. The secrets they uncover will lead them to the British Museum, a London long lost to time, and eventually to the truth behind the mysterious Book of Solomon itself…

Collected from the Ariel Press miniseries and published in August by Titan Books, Harker: The Book of Solomon is a self-styled homage to television’s long history of police detective shows and is the creation of writer Roger Gibson and artist Vince Danks. Its protagonist is DCI Harker: an unrepentantly cynical copper of the old school variety. If you’re expecting some kind of simplistic Gene Hunt-style caricature from that description, however, you’ll be disappointed… because Harker is more a celebration of that style of unreconstructed Sweeney-esque male lead than a facile parody. The main character may be a throwback in terms of attitude – not to mention his complete lack of ease with the modern world – but there’s a greater depth to this creation in terms of characterisation, personality traits and individualistic quirks than any overt lampooning of the genre could afford.

Partnering Harker is DS Critchley who fills that requisite role in these affairs of being the somewhat more socially competent, technologically knowledgeable and culturally aware contrast to his unfashionable superior. Specialists in the field of multiple homicides, this eccentric team embody the chalk and cheese premise inherent in all the most engaging crime-solving duos from Conan Doyle’s Holmes and Watson onwards. Wisely, writer Roger Gibson doesn’t encumber either mainstay with the baggage of involved personal lives but focuses entirely on the case at hand and their own slightly oddball personas to push the story forward. It’s a savvy storytelling move that strips the plot of The Book of Solomon of any unnecessary soap opera-style distractions and allows it to emphasise its genre-specific roots.

             

A selection of covers from the original Ariel Press miniseries

If you’re a Londoner yourself, then the photorealism of Vince Danks’s visuals will have a familiarity and authenticity that will effortlessly pull you into the story. His intricate and busy panels intimately capture the bustle and atmosphere of the locale and are full of nuanced little details that bear closer examination; a 5-page scene in the Museum Tavern across from the British Museum is particularly good evidence of how he brings the very heart of London life into the narrative.

And that sense of a recognisable and accurate depiction of the U.K.’s capital city is a vital one because in Harker: The Book of Solomon London comes across to the reader as just as important a character in its own right as Harker and Critchley are. Think Starman’s Opal City and you’ll gain an understanding of just how important London’s secret passages and hidden corners are to this book as they were to James Robinson’s opus. Having said that, although Gibson’s scripts are apparently meticulously researched, he’s still not afraid to occasionally compromise the restrictions of reality for the dynamism of a splendidly good action set piece, as a late scene in the British Museum memorably proves!

Ostensibly an occult murder mystery Harker: The Book of Solomon is also a strong introduction to this detective double act that ably sets the scene for a planned series of graphic novels. It’s not the most complex of murder mysteries but I doubt that’s what it ever set out to be. Rather, this is strong escapist fun designed to commemorate some of the creators’ favourite cop show conventions and allow Gibson to revel in a smorgasbord of cult televisual references. Whether you’re a fan of Life on Mars, Morse or Columbo you’ll find a wryly knowing nod and a wink to your pop cultural sleuth of choice in this lovingly crafted salute to generations of TV ‘tecs.

Harker: The Book of Solomon is available on August 17 from Titan Books priced £14.99 in the UK and $19.95 in the UK. For more on the world of Harker check out the official blog here.

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