Bookhunter, by Shiga, reviewed. In a word: Awesome. This guy should make a series out of this.
Tags: oneminutecritic fvrl books graphic novels shiga bookhunter
Added: 4 years ago
["The One Minute Critic" appears on screen, then cut to a young male librarian holding up a book while speaking directly to the camera]
CRASH SOLO: In "Bookhunter" by Shiga, Special Agent Bay of the Library Police is hired to track down the thief of a valuable manuscript.
[he looks at the book]
CRASH SOLO: And he does so engaging all the means that you would normally associate with, say, the NSA or the CIA ... but he's the Library Police.
[he looks at the book again]
CRASH SOLO: On top of that, it takes place during the Seventies, so there's all kinds of great computer and phone technology of that period that they employ to track down their thief.
[he looks at the book again]
CRASH SOLO: Shiga obviously has a lot of knowledge of the technology of the period, which makes it all the more interesting. He also has a lot of knowledge of real library procedures, and book-binding and book-building procedures.
[he looks at the book again]
CRASH SOLO: All of which fills these pages with a level of authenticity that just makes it ten times more enjoyable to read.
[he looks at the book again]
CRASH SOLO: On top of that, Special Agent Bay is not your nicey-nice sort of cop. He ...
CRASH SOLO: He does some great stuff in this book. Um, and I highly recommend it. You can read it in twenty minutes, but you'll go back to it again, I guarantee it.
["That is all" appears on screen]
The year is 1973. A priceless book has been stolen from the Oakland Public Library. A crack team of Bookhunters (aka. library police) have less than three days to recover the stolen item. It's a race against the clock as our heroes use every tool in their arsenal of library equipment to find the book and the mastermind who stole it.
While this story is based on an actual case, it has been highly fictionalized. I took some liberties with architecture as well. For example, the library of this comic does not in fact exist. It is a hybrid of Oakland Main and the old Berkeley Central library.
Bookhunter is a comicbook by Jason Shiga.
In 1973, a priceless book is stolen from the Oakland Public Library. Three agents from the Library Police are called in to investigate: Agent Bay (detective), Agent Walker (document analyst), and Agent Finch (fingerprint expert).
Their investigation manages to hit all the usual Police Action Film tropes: foot chases, Perp Sweating, swarming the suspect's apartment with the SWAT team, and so on. The fact that it's the Library Police doing all this is played so straight that the entire thing ends up as a Stealth Parody of the genre.
Provides examples of:
* Batman Cold Open: The first chapter, in which Agent Bay leads a SWAT team to retrieve books from "freelance censor" Jacob Leland.
* Blown Across the Room: Bay exploits the ridiculous recoil from a shotgun to propel himself across a room, very quickly, to get behind Leland and shoot him in the back.
* Building Swing: While chasing Kettle Stitch, Bay gets from one rooftop to another by shooting down a power line and using it to swing across the gap.
* Chekhov's Gun: Bay observes the library during open hours. Many of the items he observes in this scene wind up being used as weapons in the final scene.
* Climbing Climax: When the library police swarm Kettle Stitch's apartment, she flees via the window fire escape. Bay follows them up, and a rooftop confrontation ensues.
* Colliding Criminal Conspiracies: (Major spoiler!) The real reason why Kettle Stitch never tried to fence the book after stealing it - because someone else had stolen the real book before her. The copy she stole was just a replica left behind by the first thief.
* Cop Show
* Cowboy Cop: Agent Bay takes the over-the-top approach to problem-solving that you would expect from a Cowboy Cop - but, oddly enough, he doesn't get any grief from his partners or superiors for these shenanigans.
* The Cracker: It's the 70's, so the criminal hacks into a reel-to-reel computer over the phone line.
* Establishing Character Moment: The opening chapter informs the reader just how much books are Serious Business in this world, and just how far Agent Bay will go to get his perp.
* Exactly What I Aimed At: Bay throws a library book at the thief and apparently misses - but the book triggers the library's alarm system, preventing the thief's escape.
* Hollywood Police Driving Academy: We only ever see the library police driving when they're in a legitimate hurry to get somewhere - thus, they're driving fast enough to go airborn on every incline, and barely maintaining control of the car as they screech through turns.
* In-Series Nickname: After Agent Walker points out that the replica left behind by the thief has a kettle stitch binding the leaflets (rather than the common catch stitch), the library police refer to the thief as "Kettle Stitch".
* Improvised Weapon: You'd be surprised how many objects in a library can be weaponized (card catalog drawers, book carts, newspaper sticks...)
* Locked Room Mystery: As Bay himself points out, three concentric locked room mysteries: How did the perp enter the library without picking the lock on the only door? How did he retrieve the book from the safe without leaving any evidence that the safe had been cracked? And how did he leave the library with the book without triggering the anti-theft alarm?
* Metaphorgotten: Bay's motivational speech in the final chapter ... "It might seem to you that we're grasping at straws. But straws are all we've got left. There is one straw that is going to break this case wide open. Which is why I need each and every one of you to follow your own straw to the bitterest end."
* Obsolete Mentor: Bay suspects the book thief dressed up the bible as a regular circulating book (borrowing a circ card from a regular book), so they visit the cataloging department, where the Old Man In Charge laments changes to library policy ("I can tell right off the bat there's 12 cards missing here. I figure we got 12000 cards. That's roughly 84 unique checks. In a few years, we'd be done 10 minutes ago. In fact, almost everything you see here will be gone by then. Why, it wasn't but a year ago that patron records occupied a room almost half this size. Now, it's all been transferred onto seven magnetic reels.").
* Perp and Weapon: In the opening chapter, the perp threatens to immolate himself and his books when the cops come for him.
* Perp Sweating: Even when the police know that Leslie Stair can't be their thief ("Prints don't match. I say he's out." "Look at those pudgy fingers. He couldn't kettle stitch his way out of a wet paper sack."), they keep up the pressure on him, on the off-chance that he can tell them who the thief is ("But what would Kettle Stitch be doing with his card?" "Maybe they know each other.").
* Phone-Trace Race: In this case, Agents Bay and Finch are physically racing towards the pay phone, attempting to catch the perp in the act of phone hacking.
* The Profiler: Bay brings in "ALA's top profiler" to narrow down who Kettle Stitch may be ("The woman you'll be looking for is a Caucasian bookbinder, age 32-40. She lives by herself or possibly with a younger sister. She is shy, intelligent and may have a lisp or word repetition stutter. She was a childhood bedwetter. She's currently working in a field with minimal social contact. Watch or instrument repair, newspaper delivery, security and of course bookbinding. Whether she's currently binding or not, she was in the field for 12-17 years of her life.").
* Quip to Black: "Shhhhhhhh." "Read him his rights."
* Save the Villain: Subverted. Agent Bay saves the book, and lets the thief fall.
* Say My Name: This is all Bay can do when the thief evades capture. "Damn you, Kettle Stitch!"
* Shoot Out the Lock: Surprisingly, realistically portrayed.
* Soft Glass: Inconsistently used. Apparently glass is harmless if you intentionally jump through it, but dangerous if you're unintentionally flung through it.
* Splash Panel: A two-page spread to show off the size of the Oakland Public Library ("There's gotta be close to half a million books here." "850,000 actually.").
* Smoking Gun Control: Twice, Agent Bay thinks he's found a clear link to Kettle Stitch, first with a missing circulation card, then with the counterfeit library card. Both times, the evidence is inconclusive because Kettle Stitch is too good at covering their tracks.
* Super Window Jump: Useful for SWAT home invasions, or for getting onto the fire escape in a hurry.
* Stealth Parody
* Technology Marches On: The book police use microfilm readers to try and find the missing circulation card ("Remember, we're looking for card 483.4112J; Principles of Economics by Jones comma John.").
* To Know Him I Must Become Him: "To catch a thief, you must think like a thief. You must live, eat, and dress like a thief."
* Treacherous Advisor: (Major spoiler!) Spencer, Chief Library Security Officer for Oakland Main, turns out to be the real book thief. Kettle Stitch had spent months creating a replica of the bible, bringing a second safe into the library, hacking into the computer mainframe to fake a library card under Leslie Stair's name ... only to end up with a fake that Chief Spencer had left months before the actual break in.
* You Have 48 Hours: The library police have three days to retrieve the stolen book ("One of 500 surviving U.S. incunabulas ... given to John Quincy Adams by a group of Mendi tribesmen in commemoration of his representation of them in the Amistad slave ship case"), because that's when it's scheduled to be returned to its original owners ("It's an English bible published in 1838 on loan from the Library of Congress").
Do you know what they do to book thieves up at Santa Rita?
-Special Agent Bay, in Bookhunter
A historic bible on loan from the Library of Congress has been surreptitiously swapped for a fake, and the library detectives at Oakland Public have only three days to find the original before the feds 'come to collect.' The mild-mannered public library world has previously collided with the denizens of hard-boiled crime fiction (a fabulous Bogart and Bacall trailer springs to mind), but this time it's personal. Shiga portrays microfilm readers and book demagnetizers in such loving detail that it is obvious he developed a deep affection for the public libraries of his native East Bay through years of experience. This is bibliophilic storytelling of the nerds, by the nerds, for the nerds. Yet nothing is sacred in the hilarious fantasy of breaking the rules in order to enforce them. If you enjoy any combination of procedural dramas, tough cops in a 1970s Bay Area milieu, old technologies, and librariana, you will want to spend some quality time with this graphic novel. And if you have ever daydreamed of kicking ass in a library, you will not want to miss the action-packed finale.
"Bookhunter" by Jason Shiga
Bookhunter is the graphic novel version of a 1970s cop movie. But like all good adaptations, it has a twist: the cop in question is a library detective, and he applies the full force of the law to track down the person stealing rare books from the Oakland Public Library. Criminal profiling, SWAT teams, car chases - this is librarianship like you've never seen it. Shiga is also the author of the mind-bending Meanwhile (a choose-your-own-adventure-style graphic novel), but I prefer the straightforward storytelling of Bookhunter. This is an entertaining read with lots of in-jokes for book lovers, and a great graphic novel.
06 MAR 1973 MAIN BRANCH LIBRARY 13:21 AM
DYNIX INTERNAL BULLETIN BOARD
SCREEN 2 OF 23
From: Chief Douglas Foster
To: Permanent Staff
Subject: CAXTON THIEF APPREHENDED
Date: Fri, 06 MAR 1973 13:21:53 -0700
The subject referred to as "Kettle Stitch" (see incident report OSP-73-21) has been apprehended and identified as one Susan Lovelace. In a surprising turn of events, the book recovered from her apartment was dated and found to be a replica. The original Caxton had been sold to Bolo's Used and Rare Books nine months previously by Herbert Spencer, Chief LSO for Oakland Main. A search of his house uncovered a bindery and forgery operation as well as two Swiss Incunabulas. It appears as if Spencer stole the Caxton immediately after it arrived from LOC and replaced it with said replica. Three months later, Susan Lovelace broke into the library and stole the replica, replacing it with a second replica. Spencer was convicted on 2 counts of conspiracy to commit forgery, 18 counts of forgery, 1 count of receiving stolen government property and 1 count of assault on a library marshal. He was sentenced to 10 years in state prison and a fine of $500,000. Susan Lovelace agreed to turn state's evidence and received 3 months probation.
In response to the theft, OPL Main is in the process of updating its security system. Special agents Walker and Finch are acting as technical consultants on the project.
"It has been a trying time for all of us at OPL," special agent Bay said in an internal award ceremony on Tuesday. "But in the end, justice has prevailed."
"Now is probably as good a time as any to reflect upon the importance of our chosen profession," he said. "In many respects the American Library has become the most basic First Amendment institution. We are guards, yet we guard no less that the sum of human knowledge. We are the library police."
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