Britten & Brulightly by Hannah Berry


Britten & Brulightly
This is another first for me: the first review I have done on a graphic novel. This one is British and was published in 2008.

We learn right away that our protagonist is very depressed. The lack of colour tells us this  as do the words “spiteful inevitability” attached to the words “the sun rose”. And then on the second page, we are told that our narrator has stopped bothering to look out the window because the sky would look “bruised and tender” anyway and you might not be able ” to see it through the weather.”

Then we learn that our man opened a private investigation agency ten years ago. His aim was to serve humanity and right wrongs.  But after all that time, he says “the only wrongs righted have been on my [his] tax returns.” His experience of humanity has not been much better: they have included “either jealous lovers seeking justification for their jealousy, or vengeful lovers seeking dirt on jealous lovers,” On top of that, he writes, most of them paid him to tell them what they already knew and those who didn’t would have figured it out eventually. “None of them liked what I had to say.”

He had become known in his field as “The Heartbreaker.”Britten 2

His name is Fernandez Britten and he is often thought to be a foreigner which he is not. He has a partner but his identity only becomes apparent gradually. The partner’s name is Stewart Brülightly and some readers will discover his identity sooner rather than later. I’m not bragging but the last name I suspected was a clue from the beginning. For those who have difficulty suspending belief, remember that we all talk to someone, sometimes a dead loved one, human or animal, sometimes ourselves, sometimes an enemy: the possibilities are endless.

Then Fernandez gets a note which he describes as “peppered with formal niceties”, “a command wrapped in silk and thrown through my window”, “a letter from someone who got what they wanted.” He called the sender,  Charlotte Maughton, and arranges to meet her at Benson’s at twelve. He asks how he will know her and she replies that she will know who he is. So he asks how she will know who he is and she tells him he is to wear a red flower. He wants to know if a hellebore will doHeliotrope for Britten and she asks if it is red. He says “reddish” and she replies, “Wear that.”  All very mysterious wouldn’t you say? And all drawn in the same dark shades. The only colours that appear are the green sweater  and orangish tie of Marvin Kelp, Britten’s office neighbour and a few brownish tones in Charlotte’s hair plus a light blue background on some pages about Gregory Murch and his daughter and a red sweater worn by a waiter.

Ferandez attaches the hellebore to his vest and sets out for Benson’s pointing out to the reader along the way which eating establishments are meant for things such as finding someone to solve a problem quickly, which are for arranging an alibi, which are for discrete discussions and which had waiters who would remember  or forget what they heard depending upon the size of the tip.

Charlotte MaughtonEnter Charlotte Maughton, whom Britten describes as “gliding past the troubled clientele” and looking like how he imagined “a swan might if it were on lithium.”

Britten explains that he is a “researcher”, a term he prefers to “private eye”. He asks what line of work Charlotte is in and her answer is that her father is in publishing and so she is not in any line of work. Britten gets right down to business. “You mentioned something in your message about….”

Charlotte fills in the blank: “Murder?” And so the stage is set. Charlotte believes her fiancé was murdered. And so Britten has a serious case and the real “joy” of this particular graphic novel begins in earnest. The mystery is like any other and the reader’s “joy” in the unravelling…uh, well joy is a pretty strong word in Britten’s world so I won’t go that far. But it is enjoyable to try and work alongside Britten and see if one can figure it out. If you haven’t tried a graphic novel and like mystery books, this might be a good place to try out such a novel. It will read quickly …only 100 pages…and you’ll be able to add a new genre to your reading experience.

Hannah Berry’s website states that she lives in Brighton with a cat, a tortoise and a beloved Frenchman. She teaches/tutors courses on graphic novels and is also a writer, illustrator, occasional lecturer and editorial gun-for-hire.

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