The author/illustrator of Jack the Ripper (1995) continues to focus on Victorian crime in this latest historical comic, part of a series on 19th-century murder, based on a true-life story so compelling it inspired a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. While Poe was intrigued by the philosophy of detection in the case, Geary’s apparent interest lies in its revelations about urban lowlife of mid–19th-century New York City. His thick-lined black-and-white narrative, with its loose, curvy edges and distinctive bulbous lettering, well suits this historical curiosity. Geary’s well-researched book recounts the mysterious death of Mary Rogers, a young single woman who lived with her mother near present-day City Hall. When her corpse washed up on the western side of the Hudson River, many journalists became fascinated by the possible reasons for her fate. Was she an innocent, brutally murdered by one of the boarders at her mother’s house? Was she killed by a jealous lover or by one of the many male admirers who patronized the tobacco store where she worked? Or was it a botched abortion? These questions captured the imagination of the contemporary public and press because, in Geary’s view, Mary’s story was a powerful cautionary tale of emerging city life, which the artist illuminates in many sidebar historical drawings. Unsolved in part because of the period’s inadequate forensic techniques, the story becomes “a testament to the unknown and unknowable,” and Geary’s visual airiness perfectly captures the mysteriousness at its core. This is certainly a far cry from his early work for National Lampoon and Heavy Metal.
Distinguished by a keen sense of period detail and sharp pacing: Geary serves his subject with dignity and grace.