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by Rebecca Silverman,

Lost Lad London

GN 1

Lost Lad London GN 1
Al Adley is working his way through graduate school, unwilling to ask his adoptive parents to pay for it, and living with another young man in a rented apartment. He's on the tube one day when the mayor of London is killed, stabbed inside a train car in a crime no one can make sense of. Al isn't even aware that he was in such close proximity to the murder until a police detective named Ellis comes to his door…and all of a sudden the bloody knife Al found planted in his pocket takes on a horrible new meaning. Ellis has been burned by a past case gone wrong, and he knows that if the good people of London learn that a brown man found a knife that may well be the murder weapon, Al is likely to be railroaded through the system. So instead he offers Al a deal: the two of them will work together to figure out who might want to frame Al for a murder he doesn't believe he committed.

It isn't always easy to perfectly capture the tone, place, and time being written about, regardless of what culture the author is writing about or is from. Lost Lad London therefore stands out on more than one level, and it wins the unofficial prize for “manga series most deserving of a live-action British TV series.” Instead of reading like a mystery created by someone who watched a couple of episodes of Law & Order UK or maybe read a British Golden Age mystery novel once, the story is full of little London details that ground it, and Eleanor Ruth Summers' translation with its British spellings and slang is definitely at least partly responsible for that. But real effort has been made to make this feel like a story that's taking place in modern-day England rather than some fairy tale version of it, and when that's combined with a compelling mystery that takes into account a few of the realities we don't always see acknowledged in manga, it's not hard to see why this won an award.

Part of what makes this striking is its tacit understanding of what it means not to be white in a majority white country. Both of the protagonists are people of color – Al is South Asian, adopted by white parents, and Ellis is Black. When Ellis initially finds Al and realizes that someone is trying to frame him for the murder of the (white) mayor of London, he immediately understands that if he tells anyone else about it Al will be promptly hanged in the court of public opinion for the crime of having darker skin and foreign features. Since Ellis is still emotionally recovering from a previous case where a wrongful conviction (or at least pressure from the police) led to a suicide, he's unwilling to let Al do what would normally be considered “the right thing,” because he doesn't see how Al telling the rest of the police that he found a bloody knife slipped into his coat pocket is going to end in anything good for the graduate student. He thus determines to become Al's ally and for the two of them to see if they can find the killer themselves.

If this sounds like kind of a bad idea, well, maybe it is. But creator Shima Shinya (whose Star Wars manga The Edge of Balance was released by Viz prior to Yen Press' release of Lost Lad London) is a good enough writer that it's easy for us to question the inadvisability of Ellis' plan…even as more and more details pile up to suggest that the whole endeavor is headed for disaster. The mere fact that Ellis is recovering from what appears to be both a broken leg and a broken arm is an issue, but when you factor in that we don't know precisely how he broke them to begin with (or at least the leg; his ”I fell” might work as an explanation for the later arm break), it starts to look like maybe Ellis isn't exactly trustworthy either. Within this first volume we already see one pretty major betrayal of Al, so the idea that Ellis may be acting in his own best interest or because of a past trauma rather than because he worries about Al is something that we have to consider. And of course there's also some question for the veteran mystery reader as to whether or not Al is being entirely honest as well – especially when we start to get information about how Al and the mayor might have been connected.

Part of what's so enjoyable about this is taking every piece of information we're presented with and turning it to see if it fits in multiple places. How much do Al's parents know about his biological family? Does the fact that he takes money to help other people with their homework make him scheming, as one character seems to suggest? And is there a racism component to everything or is it just a red herring? At this stage of the story all of those questions still have multiple answers, making for a solid mystery that only grows more interesting as the volume goes on. It's enhanced by the gritty, blocky art style that's heavy on the greys and blacks, which adds a noir sensibility to the story's unfolding. Faces are deceptively expressionless – unless you're really looking at the details, it's hard to notice when Al's lip quirks upward in a slight sneer or the crease of Ellis' forehead. Even if this doesn't turn out to be a fair play mystery (a mystery wherein the reader is given all the necessary clues to solve the crime) it does a remarkable job of feeling like one, and that's an element that should appeal to mystery fans.

Lost Lad London is a bit hard to review because of the risk of giving too much away in my enthusiasm for the story. It's an excellent start to a mystery that appears to be complete in three volumes, full of hints and clues for eager readers to try to figure out, and it's tonally on track when compared to series like (the original) Broadchurch or May Day – a creeping sense that there's more going on just below the surface, if only we could find our way down. If you're a mystery reader or an indie manga fan (which this also shares a sensibility with), I'd highly recommend picking this up.

Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-

+ Solid start to an engaging fair play mystery that uses its tone and its art very well to pull the reader in.
A couple of plot points currently feel out of place or unnecessary, art won't work for everyone.

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Shima Shinya
Licensed by: Yen Press

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