DC Comics's adult imprint Vertigo recently launched a new crime line. I was fortunate enough to pick up the first two titles at the library recently and I barrelled through this one rather quickly. Getting star mystery novelist, Ian Rankin (author of the Rebus series) was quite a coup, the fact that he's writing a story featuring one of the stars of the Vertigo line, John Constantine is sure to be the icing on the cake. The only problem is that this isn't really a "crime" book at all, and only nominally a Constantine book.
Anyway, first things first. It's well done, and not having read any of Rankin's work up till now, it's obvious he has a nice ear for dialogue. The set-up is that John Constantine, paranormal/occult investigator is brought into a reality show, "Britain's Most Haunted". Apparently the contestants, who are locked in a "haunted" house are being, in fact, haunted. But it's not by the producers. Constantine decides that in order to diagnose the problem, he needs to enter the house.
It's around here that we hit the big twist of the story, one that it's really difficult to discuss the book without giving away, so if you want to skip the spoilers, scroll on down to where John's giving you the finger and read on.
It turns out that all of the "contestants" are really dead souls, pulled out of Limbo into a reality show being shown in Hell. The whole point of the show was to bring Constantine on board, the most requested contestant ever. It's here the story goes from being a detective story to straight up horror, and kind of loses the point as being marketed as being a crime story. But, it is quite good, so that's just an issue with the marketing.
My other issue with the book is that Constantine doesn't really feel like himself in this book. Sure, he's aloof ad a bit of a dick at times, but really, only at times. John Constantine is an asshole at all possible times, to everyone. This feels like the normal character on Prozac. I don't want to blame Rankin, maybe he (or editorial) felt they wanted to soften him up for wider consumption. But it just felt a little off for me.
The art by Werther Dell'edera is fine, nothing to write home about, but these books aren't meant to be artist's showcases anyway. HE does a fine job to set the mood and manages some touches that feel a bit like Guy Davis (B.P.R.D., Sandman Mystery Theater) in some of the later scenes.
A quick word on the format, it is damn nice. These small, 6" X 9" hardbacks have a very nice feel in the hand, reminiscent of the feel of Hardcase Crimes little paperbacks. Though they are small, they feel substantial. I may have to keep buy all of these just to see them all lined up on my shelf, much like how I like seeing all of my Hardcase books lined up. Yes, I realize that sounds a little anal/OCD, but the hell with it, one of the biggest charges I get out of collecting these things is seeing them all up on my book shelf. My preciouses....
Anyway, overall this is a good solid book, and I'm interested in reading more coming from the line, which is fortunate, because I have Brian Azzarello's book sitting right here, calling to me. Maybe if I get through this one quick enough I'll have something up about it mid-week, but I make no promises.