In the first Miss Don’t Touch Me, retiring flower Blanche carves a niche for herself in a high-class French brothel. By taking the role of a dominatrix virgin, more than willing to dish out beatings to wealthy French perverts looking to be punished, she exploits the sex business without the requirement to perform the traditional role of a prostitute. However, the main thrust of the book is a thrilling murder mystery – the brothel infiltration feels more like an ingenious plot device than a hook to hang the whole book on.
In this second volume, the action is slower and the story far more personal. Set mostly in and around the brothel and a handful of its clients, it explores issues of sex and sexuality; and love and its absence.
It’s a very different proposition to the first book. While they share the same setting, characters and sub-plots (such as Blanche continuing to fail to get along with any of the other girls), the over-arching story is less of a thriller and more of a tragedy.
While this makes for a deeper, more sophisticated read, it also leaves it less accessible. There’s an element of disappointment here too – the thrill of the chase in the previous book helped lift the darkness of the brothel environment, despite the constant reminders of its horrors. In this, the violence and slavery is almost toned down, but it spills further out into the real world of family life beyond. The book explores how the psychological power that our loved ones have over us, if abused, can almost be as cruel, ruthless and dark as the slavery of the brothel. It’s a bitter pill to swallow and there’s little let-up in the force with which Hubert’s story rams it home.
As previously, Kerascoet’s stylised art is a wonderful juxtaposition to the story. It adds to the jarring nature of the darkness and violence when it arrives, helping build tension and giving the characters an exaggerated expression that builds on the story.
Those who enjoyed the first book for its thriller element might find this harder going, but what it lacks in action it makes up for in literary merit. This volume is steeped in tragedy, and another fine example of how, despite often being seen as unsophisticated by the uninitiated, comics can risk producing artistic, sophisticated stories that the money-making machines of cinema and television rarely dare to touch.