With the oil fields of early 20th Century Texas as its backdrop, The Cavalier Mr Thompson is a beautifully crafted character drama. The bulk of the action surrounds the titular Mr Thompson: a grifter, riding the railroads and cheating at craps tables, as his debts start to catch up with him, and his resources of cunning and running are stretched to their limits.
However, the book isn’t really about him. It’s about another character, Sam Hill. Sam is a hard-working young man, employed as the caretaker of his father’s hotel. The same hotel that Mr Thompson is staying in. The hotel, and Sam’s freedom to roam it, gives the reader access to the wealth of interesting characters who live in and around it, from Sheriff to oil magnate.
The art is monochrome, but imbued with a yellow hue, which adds depth and character to the book. It’s occasionally used to brilliant effect, such as in a sequence where there’s a fight in the dark hotel lobby, and we see the action from the view of Sam, pointing the yellow light of his torch at the combatants. At other times, it’s used to give the reader the impression of parched desert, or just the sepia tone of an old photograph.
Rich Tommaso uses illustration alone to tell whole sections of the story. The occasional chase scenes, for example, are made more tense by the characters not wasting their breath hurling insults at one another. It gives the action a raw, edgy feel.
The story is wonderfully told. It has the feel of a classic movie, something from a bygone era, more interested in setting up interesting characters than rattling through a series of gut-wrenching action scenes. It’s not without its fights and chases, though, and the oil fields give the impression of a new frontier, complete with the usual cast of chancers, crooks and have-a-go heroes.
It’s a thoroughly enjoyable book, with a stunning backdrop and a deeply believable and interesting cast. If it’s a set up for a series, then it’s one that Grovel will be following with great interest.