On the one hand, Murder Mysteries seems like a rather mundane title for a story like this. It makes it sound very run of the mill and doesn’t even begin to encompass the world in which this story takes place—a world outside of time, space, and humanity. At the same time, though, I can’t think of a more apt title it could have.
The story is one by the incomparable Neil Gaiman, adapted into comic form by P. Craig Russell. Wikipedia says that it’s similar in a number of ways to Gaiman’s Sandman comics, but having never read them myself, I couldn’t say. We open in a rather mundane world—that of Los Angeles. A young man has been stuck there for several days, unable to get a flight back to his home in London due to weather conditions there. While waiting in limbo in this strange city, where he knows nothing and no one, a man borrows a cigarette from him, and then tells him a story.
Through this story within a story, we’re taken to a world before the universe was formed and a bright, celestial city filled with angels. Thus, the mystery begins, with all the classic elements of any good murder mystery. There’s been a crime: an angel has been murdered. So, Lucifer (not yet fallen) brings in a detective: Raguel, the Vengeance of the Lord. Raguel is to find out who is responsible and dole out God’s justice. Raguel investigates, questions suspects, and even gathers them together at the climax for a “parlor scene,” wherein he explains how he solved the case and unmasks which one is the killer.
The story is perfectly crafted, weaving both the story and the world in a way that captures the imagination. Like any good murder mystery, there are plot twists, some of them jaw-dropping, but all of them fitting perfectly with the clues that went before it. It’s a truly satisfying mystery, which is a very difficult thing to pull off.
The art is amazing, too. It has to be, really. Unless the art stands out, what’s the point of buying a comic adaptation of an already published short story? But, even if you have read the story before, or heard the radio play adaptation, the comic is worth buying for the accompanying artwork.
P. Craig Russell creates two different cityscapes. The main one, obviously, is the celestial city, filled with light from within, and a strange and beautiful architecture, very different from the designs we’re used to. He also portrays the OTHER City of Angels, Los Angeles, and its own unique network of lights, from buildings and traffic, which, in its own way, is also very beautiful.
As a native of L.A., I’ve always thought the city had a unique beauty, and it’s one that gets largely ignored in fiction, or smugly dismissed. But, it would appear that both Mr. Gaiman and Mr. Russell agree with me. Kudos to both of them in their juxtaposition of Los Angeles and Heaven for not implying that the one is the opposite of the other. A number of other authors and creators have gone that route, and it always annoys me.
If you love Neil Gaiman, Murder Mysteries is a must-read. The story is great, and the artwork complements it very well. If you don’t love Neil Gaiman, you should probably read it anyway, because there’s a good chance you will after reading this story.