The first installment in the Stumptown graphic novel series is a pretty straightforward detective story. A hard-living private investigator struggling to make ends meet. A missing girl that our PI must find to erase her gambling debts. A cop who hates our PI — and another who helps her. A cast of criminals of varying levels of competence.
The book was released as four graphic novels in a mini-series, and I read it as one complete volume on Kindle Unlimited. I did buy print copies of the first four Stumptown releases (which are gathered into volume 1), but they’re in near mint condition, so the only time they’re coming out of the plastic is to get autographs from Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth.
I do not recommend reading a graphic novel on Kindle Unlimited. The only option I had was reading on the Kindle app for Mac, and this app wouldn’t let me zoom in. Some of the text was so small that it was unreadable to my aging eyes. The good news is that I was able to check volumes 2-4 out of the local library in print, so I should have a much easier time reading the other installments in this series.
The Stumptown Story
We open with Dex, our main character, getting beaten and shot by a couple guys. Then we flashback to the events that led up to that scene. I’m not really a fan of flashbacks because they tend to be overused, especially in genre shows. They can be effective when used sparingly, but now they just make me roll my eyes.
Dex’s story opens at the craps table, where she craps out … again. Sue-Lynne, the head of the American Indian casino Dex frequents, invites her into her office to discuss her outstanding debt of nearly $18,000. Dex can either pay that right now or take a case at no charge. Dex agrees to find Sue-Lynne’s missing granddaughter Charlotte.
The investigation leads her to a businessman on the Oregon coast who many believe to be the local head of MS-13, his daughter and son, and some mildly inept henchmen. The henchmen are the ones who shoot our protagonist and leave her for dead.
Dex uses her investigative skills and her gut to see through the lies people are telling her and to find and save Charlotte.
In the background is Dex’s brother who has an intellectual disability. In the midst of all her chaos, she lovingly helps him get ready for work and ensures that he has a caretaker when she can’t be home.
Overall, I enjoyed the mystery and Dex’s character. It’s been a long time since I read a graphic novel, so I had forgotten how spare they must be. Even with that, Dex seems like a fully realized person. There was enough subtext to build a life for her. And enough character reveals in the text to know that Dex is bisexual and doesn’t seem to have any angst about her sexuality.
Rucka created a real human with real motivations and real flaws. (I didn’t know much about his work when I interviewed him for Pacific Northwest Writers, but I was thrilled to find out later that he is really adept at writing women. None of his characters I’ve seen so far has breasted boobily at all.)
I mentioned previously that I’m really excited to see Stumptown on TV — and after reading the first of the books, I’m even more excited. I can’t wait to see how they bring Dex’s world to life.
One fun note: This volume contained one of the funny lines from the Stumptown trailer, “Good thing I’m wearing my second-best bra.”
I also enjoyed seeing Portland sites mentioned by someone who lives here and knows how locals say things. I remember one episode of Grimm where they used the actual name of the Saturday Market Rosalee and Monroe attended, rather than what we all call it. No “what the hell is that?” moments in this book.