We hear so much about comics being turned into films that it comes as a bit of a surprise to see things working the other way round. In fact, The Black Diamond Detective Agency is a film that has yet to be made, but Eddie Campbell has turned C. Gaby Mitchell’s script into his own Victorian-era American adventure.
The story revolves around John Hardin, a farmer who finds himself framed for a bizarre train robbery. The train is blown to smithereens with dynamite and a safe is removed by the robbers, but no-one seems to know what was in it. John Hardin, who happens to be riding past at the time of the explosion, helps carry injured victims to the local doctor. But evidence soon implicates him as the instigator of the crime – perhaps he wasn’t just passing after all, perhaps he was there to witness his own handy-work. Escaping local law enforcement, it’s a race against time to see if he can clear his name, though nothing in this book is quite as it first seems.
The plot is a thrilling ride of high adventure and intrigue. Campbell’s visuals add a fug of water-coloured Victoriana to the proceedings, helping us keep in mind that this was a dirty, muddy, smoky, industrial period. The technological developments of the Industrial Revolution are key to the story, from the steam train and explosives to the hand-held revolvers the characters use to defend themselves. Like the Sheriffs of the old west, the investigators are government sponsored and lead by good men, but seemingly autonomous and certainly controversial in their methods.
It’s a cracking read. Campbell’s artistic style can seem roughly hewn at times, which won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but he’s a master of story pacing and atmosphere building. And this book has such an authentic feel and wealth of atmosphere that it’ll be difficult for any future filmed version to compete.