There will be some of you out there who are unfamiliar with the work of Jason Starr, author of The Chill, the new graphic novel from Vertigo Crime. Starr has written a number of noir novels set primarily in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Each and all of them—from Cold Caller to Fake I.D. to The Follower to Panic Attack and every other novel he’s written—are unforgettable, books that you will keep handy to read over and over again. All feature edgy characters caught in bad situations that they have little or no hope of getting out of; in other words, they are people you know, people to whom you are related, people you see when you look in the mirror. Starr is new to the graphic novel world, and publication of The Chill raises a question: How does he make the transition? The answer: brilliantly.
The Chill is an original work for Starr, as opposed to an adaptation of one of his already published novels. Vertigo Crime’s format is perfect, not only for the book but for the author: hard-bound, digest size, with black-and white artwork, signaling a bit of a change of direction for Starr’s work. While The Chill contains all of the unpredictable elements that make Starr’s previous work such a dark joy to read, it is built upon a supernatural plot line that intersects all too closely with the real world. A killer is loose on the streets of Manhattan, isolating and murdering young men, then leaving them in what appears to be a ritualistic position. The circumstances that precede each murder are practically identical, and puzzling. In each case, the victim is last seen in the company of a woman, but none of the witnesses at each scene, including the companions of the victim, can agree upon what she looks like. Further, surveillance cameras at the individual scenes in each case show the victim to be leaving with an elderly woman. This, by the way, is beautifully illustrated by Mick Bertilorenzi, whose skillful pencils masterfully interpret Starr’s story, showing the reader what the words do not. The vignette that leads to the initial murder—a group of drunken Jersey boys in the big city for a night on the town—will send chills down your spine and up a few places, as well. The NYPD has no clue at all as to what is going on. Their sole lead is Martin Cleary, a drunken, belligerent ex-Boston cop who insists that the slayings are being carried out by a father/daughter team who are hundreds of years old and who are carrying out an ancient Irish curse. He sounds half mad, and he is; the reader also knows, of course, that he is right. The fact that his presentation is offputting enough in its own right doesn’t help his case. Cleary also has a vendetta of his own against the woman in question and her very abusive father. Naturally, there is a showdown, a violent one with a climax that you might expect and an ending that you won’t.
The Chill is one hell of a ride, one of those stories that you’ll think of at closing time when that woman who has been giving you come-hither glances across the bar for the previous hour suddenly doesn’t look so bad after all. What Starr does here is incorporate dark Irish legend into the tapestry of the Manhattan social scene, and convincingly so. I mean, when you pick up a stranger, you really have no idea at all who, or what, you’re bringing home, do you? The Chill will make you think twice about entering into that next transitory liaison. And while we’re distributing accolades for The Chill, let’s not forget to mention Bertilorenzi’s work once again. While Starr’s narrative could stand on its own, Bertilorenzi’s art tells its own story. When, near the beginning of The Chill, Mike and his buds are entering the chaos known as the Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel, Bertilorenzi’s subtle attention to detail will make you smell the automobile exhaust rising off of the page and feel the interminable, claustrophobic wait that precedes your entrance. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by John Hogan on January 12, 2010