BILLED AS A "scientific-romance thriller," Bryan Talbot's enjoyable new graphic novel Grandville Bête Noir is the third installment in the ongoing adventures of Detective-Inspector LeBrock, a Scotland Yard detective who happens to be half badger. The series is set in an alternate reality in which an animal-headed ruling class presides over a steampunk version of Victorian England. (Humans exist, in the form of a subservient underclass known as "doughfaces.")
Bête Noire hinges on a murder in the Paris art world, and features such familiar(ish) historical figures as "August Rodent" and "Jackson Pollo" (a chicken!). There are also capitalist toads, clueless owls, and a nefarious plot to take over Paris—not to mention the gold-hearted prostitute who's stolen LeBrock's heart.
This oversized hardback weighs in at just under 100 pages, and while the book design and animal-headed characters evoke a children's book, the story itself is impressively dense, full of art history, Sherlock Holmes references, and odd historical synchronicities. The book is visually dense as well: This is a jumbled Paris of grubby artists' studios, lavish aristocratic dining rooms, and weird, animal-themed brothels. Plus, Talbot's endlessly varied panels pace the story intelligently: big, wordless action sequences fly by, while headier scenes demand the reader slow down and pay attention. The end, when it comes, feels a bit anticlimactic—it wraps up too hastily. Otherwise, though, Grandville Bête Noir is snappy, inventive, and tons of fun.