East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

A mix-tape of the ’70s: Normandy Gold

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I went through one of my usual bouts of insomnia, last night, compounded by my pollen allergy giving me the first troubles of the season, and so I did a bit of reading. The first book I picked from the Hard Case Crime Humble Bundle I mentioned yesterday is the graphic novel Normandy Gold, written by Alison Gaylin and Megan Abbott, with art by Steve Scott. The reason for my choice, I liked the cover. So sue me.

The plot (without spoilers): after a very hard start, runaway girl Normandy Girl (she was to be called Victory, then her dad died in the D-Day) has pulled herself together and is working as a sheriff in Oregon. When her half-sister dies in Washington DC, Normandy starts her own personal investigation, opening up a plot that mixes corruption, blackmail and espionage. But Normandy is out for vengeance anyway.

Explicitly inspired by ’70s movies, Normandy Gold walks the fine line between noir political thriller and sleazy exploitation – Normandy’s investigation brings her in contact with escorts catering for the Washington elites, into a world of drugs and kinky sex, corrupt cops and even more corrupt politicians, with Watergate-style illegal surveillance in the background.
Nobody’s clean in this universe, and the predator-prey dynamic seems to be the only rationale.
Clearly an adult title, the comic features nudity and other explicit situations, but for all its focusing on the sordid, and despite featuring a sexy avenger with a nihilistic outlook and preference for cutting implements, it manages to keep on track and deliver a hard-hitting story while flirting with grindhouse and exploitation.

The period feel is very strong and the plot mixes elements from a variety of sources – from Three Days of the Condor to Taxy Driver, from Pretty Baby to the Dirty Harry movies, plus a lot of B movies about vengeful hookers and other films in the so-called “revenge porn” subgenre.
Maybe not exactly classy, but true to the period.

The artwork uses a number of easily recognizable faces for its cast: that’s Mark Ruffalo as the only honest cop Normandy will meet, and her sister is Olivia Hussey, but there’s bit parts for Robert Redford and Sam Elliot, too, and Lee Grant.

The film buff in me appreciated this last choice a lot, as it reinforces the impression of this being a movie from some parallel dimension.

Normandy Gold is not exactly a light read: the nihilism of the main character and the portrait of a world that is thoroughly rotten certainly fit the noir style of the story, but can at times get a little depressing. But all in all, this remains a good story especially if you like those old movies that form the core of the setting’s mythos.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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