Friday, March 19, 2010

Book Review: Whiteout

Greg Rucka & Steve Lieber
Fiction, Graphic Novel

US Marshall Carrie Stetko is stationed at the bottom of the world: McMurdo Base in Antarctica. It’s a place where she can escape her troubled past and feel at peace. That is, until a dead body is found on the ice, part of a group that has gone missing. With the clock ticking—most of McMurdo’s staff are due to rotate back to the US in two weeks—Stetko begins her investigation. Then more people are murdered, and Stetko herself is attacked and seriously injured in an attempt to strand her out on the ice. Fortunately, she finds an apparent ally in the form of Lily Sharpe, a mysterious British woman from a UK research base. Can the two women discover the secret behind the murders before their time runs out?

Today, Greg Rucka is a big name in the world of superhero comics. Before that, he wrote (and still writes) critically-acclaimed suspense novels. Whiteout marked his first venture into the comics medium, but you’d never know it. Rucka’s writing is confident and assured, creating a compelling story and characters the reader truly cares about. It’s a strong, solid mystery story, with an investigation that proceeds logically from point to point. As a reader, the revelations surprised me, but I never felt like they were coming from left field.

The Antarctic setting adds an additional layer of exotic mystery and danger. I’ve lived in cold, snowy climates, but Rucka truly gets across the harshness of the landscape, where there are much greater risks than just getting a case of the sniffles. He’s not afraid to hurt his heroes in order to raise the suspense stakes, and this results in a story where you’re not sure if anyone is safe.

The story is ably illustrated by Steve Lieber. In his afterword, Lieber talks about how he feels that he found his artistic voice with this book, and it shows. This setting could easily have led to a sparse, bland look with simple white backgrounds. Instead, Lieber keeps things lively and detailed, thoroughly creating an environment that looks and feels alive. His characters are distinct individuals, and his expressive art tells the story every bit as much as Rucka’s script.

With its strong female leads, unique setting, gripping suspense, and beautiful art, Whiteout completely won me over the first time I read it. Last year, it was turned into a movie starring Kate Beckinsale, which I haven’t seen. I’ve heard it’s not a particularly good movie, which is a shame, because it’s based on a particularly good book.

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