Green Manor: very English fun loving criminals
by Fabien Vehlmann and Denis Bodart
I read both Cinebook volumes of Green Manor in a couple of sittings. And in many ways, I wish I’d only had Volume 1 to read, because then I’d be writing a glowing little review about how good the book was instead of having to write about how a limited idea can suffer greatly from over-exposure. But never mind, on we go.
The concept of Green Manor is simple; a deft framing device has a madman spinning tales of his time as a domestic at Green Manor; a very select and distinguished English gentlemen’s club in Queen Victoria’s England. Every tale focuses on a different member of Green Manor and the many dastardly and downright murderous events that they take part in. The enjoyment of Green Manor comes from the clever, interesting and very often ridiculously funny ways these murderous tales are told.
(And so it goes… That’s the basic setup for every single Green Manor tale; some gentleman or other puts forward an idea, spins a story or comes up with a proposition. It works surprisingly well – up to a point.)
Take the very first little tale: Doctor Byron is on his last legs and has proposed a simple discussion for the members of the club; “Do you believe that there can be a murder without a victim and without a murderer?”. Each of the pompous club members then takes it upon themselves to beat the next in retelling some story or other to try and prove the old man’s contention. He sits and listens to it all before admitting to the assembled toffs:
“There exists, however a case of a murder without murderer or victim… do you know the Venenum Atterminatum Attemperatum?”
“The poison of the Borgias..”
“Which was sure to kill and on a date chosen by the poisoner, sometimes years after its ingestion.”
“There was no known antidote.”
“The recipe for this poison is completely lost”
“It is not lost for everybody. Because I poured some of this poison into your glasses last week.”
The perfect crime. No murderer or victim. Yet.
And that rather sets the tone for the series. A tale is told in the plush surroundings of the Green Manor, of assassination, murder, poisoning, intrigue, blackmail, treachery and other such very un-gentlemanly matters. And along the way, Vehlmann and Bodart take great delight in lampooning the highly developed morals and class structures of the Victorian era.
Certainly over the course of Volume 1, with just 6 tales, each one is sufficiently original and entertaining to make the whole volume a worthy read. It’s unfortunate that Volume 2, the longer of the pair, containing as it does volume 2 and volume 3 of the original series, some 10 tales in all, rather loses the originality and much of the interest that I had on reading Volume 1. Perhaps if I’d read them a year apart I may have developed a different opinion, but as a single read, the second volume is far inferior to the first, purely through familiarity with the concept that verges on boredom by the end.
And that’s a shame because I really did enjoy Volume 1, relishing every new twist and turn of the plot, every delightfully perverse way the rogues of Green Manor would turn their murderous eyes onto some new crime. The art throughout the volumes is perfect for the tone of the book. Bodart’s style is very simple, not overly cartoonish, but still stylised enough to convey some of the over the top expressions and emotions needed in a book so full of evil deeds and gentlemanly rogues. There are many scenes within where I’m reminded of the great Steve Parkhouse, but I’m sure there will be many more European artists to compare Bodarts’s style with (and I’ll leave that for those of you with a better knowledge of Euro art than I).
So Green Manor Volume 1 is a quite brilliantly distracting read. In turns original, inventive and funny with a continually challenging set of stories that are accompanied by some particularly nice cartooning. It’s a shame Volume 2 is merely repeating the work of Volume 1 and the law of diminishing returns makes this a completely un-necessary read. So buy Volume 1 by all means, but avoid Volume 2. Everything you need to read is there, as the cads and bounders of The Green Manor club welcome you in for a night of very aristocratic wrong-doing.