|Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes|
by Matt Kindt
First Second, 2013
Detective Gould of the Red Wheelbarrow Police Department is one of the most extraordinary minds working for any police department in the nation, an investigator of near supernatural power in catching criminals of all stripes. Part of it is the almost monomaniacal devotion to apprehending criminals, part of it is the almost Orwellian network of electronic and human surveillance he has set up across the city. There are newsclippings throughout the book that paint a picture of Red Wheelbarrow as a town that is increasingly rife with crime on the one hand, but with a nearly 100% capture and conviction rate on the other thanks almost solely to Gould's superdetective skills.
The setting of the book is so deliciously undefined. Red Wheelbarrow is a small big city somewhere in the northern United States, and it takes place 10 (20? 40?) years ago (or, perhaps, tomorrow). Kindt's enigmatic watercolor infused art sets the mood. In every way that time and place are a malleable anytime and anyplace, his vividly realized characters each have a unique identity and purpose. Kindt seems to be the master of the slightly broken human, every minor and major character (except for, at first, Gould and his wife) a sharply realized picture of someone who has lost too much or can't find themselves. These characters carry the story (though it comes to pass, they don't drive it).
The crimes presented, that Gould easily and quickly solves, are distinguished by their disparate and wide-ranging nature. Murder, art theft, pickpocketing, vandalism, fur smuggling, a "smut rung." The perpetrators are all complex and fully realized people with complex motivations for their complex crimes. One man steals a Picasso and cuts it up. He founds a business centered on buying famous works of art and cutting them up into massive jigsaws, selling the pieces to art lovers who cannot afford to own the masters but can certainly afford to own a piece. There is the woman who steals chairs... school chairs, restaurant stools, benches. She makes connections to the pieces based on who has used them in the past. Part of it is a weird OCD, part of it is motivated by a deep trauma. And then there is mysterious Tess, who's "secret heart" may be the driving force of the story. She doesn't do anything illegal, but she may be the most criminally minded of all of them. Character after character comes into view, each with a unique crime, each apparently unconnected to the other. But as the story moves forward, we see that there are connections between the characters, that there is a mysterious force at work that is weaving a complicated, intricate web through their lives and their actions, years of planning and manipulation and weaving to catch Gould, the world's greatest detective, in a crime so transcendent, so complicated that even his mind cannot grasp the the full picture.
Red Handed is an intricate thriller, deeply invested in the lives of the criminals (if you can call them that) and those that would stop them. The questions are hard and the answers are harder. It is a deep mystery achieved by one of the medium's modern masters. Matt Kindt continues to cement his place as one of mainstream comics great original voices, his art continually astonishing. You'll want to read this twice, just to find the connections and the hidden superstructure, only to find that there are even greater mysteries beyond answer.