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An orange-skinned man with carrotlike features, his dwarf friend, two university professors, and a movie star become embroiled in a murder mystery in Smalley’s (The Bare Bear, 2015, etc.) graphic novel.

Lanky circus performer Hugo the Carrot Boy doesn’t know his roots, having grown up on a farm with neglectful adoptive parents. But he does have an old photograph of geneticist Carter Millwheel, who’s currently at Lake Shore University in Chicago. Hugo has a plan involving the scientist that could result in substantial cash, so he heads to the college with his pal Balthazar, “the World’s Mightiest Dwarf.” At Lake Shore, professor Alix Fitzsimmons convinces her boyfriend, fellow professor Timothy Legend, to attend an upcoming protest rally that anti-technology activist Julian Potkin is spearheading. Alix was planning to cover the rally for a local newspaper, but she gets sidetracked by the arrival of famous actress Goldie Hart, who’s at the university on a film shoot. Goldie initially asks Alix for directions, but the two women quickly become friends. Meanwhile, Hugo disguises his distinctive carrot features on campus and retrieves research material from Millwheel’s lab; he subsequently blackmails the geneticist with information about a particular experiment. Before long, someone turns up dead, and amateur detectives Alix and Timothy investigate the handful of people who had motive and opportunity to commit murder. Despite some intermittent violence and sexual themes, Smalley’s graphic novel’s tone is one of lighthearted fun. Timothy is often appealingly facetious, and greedy Balthazar has a loyalty to Hugo that’s endearing. Over the course of the story, there are a few surprises involving connections between a few characters, and the murder mystery plotline is consistently engrossing. However, readers may find it bewildering that quick-witted Alix and Timothy must rely so heavily on the latter’s artificial-intelligence project—especially when a second murder points to an obvious suspect whom the two professors don’t seem to consider. Smalley’s bold, black-and-white illustrations are skillfully organized, rendering occasional directional arrows unnecessary.

An unorthodox but diverting whodunit featuring colorful characters.

Pub Date: July 6th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-07-835530-8
Page count: 103pp
Publisher: Self
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2019