Review by Frank Plowright
The rather cumbersome title exemplifies the approach of writer Jean Van Hamme. As he did with The Francis Blake Affair he again represses his own action style to mimic the verbose presentation of Blake and Mortimer’s creator Edgar P. Jacobs. While valid and respectful, in places it’s also somewhat ponderous by modern standards.
Van Hamme’s plot, though, is cracking, touching all the right bases of mystery, adventure, thrills and exotic locations. An opening sequence sees Russian spy and agitator Olrik rescued from an American jail, meaning the head of the British secret services Francis Blake can’t accompany his friend Dr Philip Mortimer on holiday. Mortimer instead accepts an invitation to Greece, where a recent landslide has revealed treasures with immense historical importance. The thirty pieces of silver of the title will be a clue for the more historically aware. From there Van Hamme cleverly works in another previously seen character and further ties his plot into Nazi plans for world domination.
The art is first rate throughout. René Sterne was a writer and artist best known for his Adler series about a colonial adventurer. A self-professed perfectionist, his illustrative intention was to subordinate his own style in order to mimic Jacobs as accurately as possible, and over the first two thirds of the book he succeeds. You’d have to be an expert to differentiate on the basis of style alone. Sterne supplies the glorious period detail and in Mortimer’s case the duplication is spot on. Oddly, as noted by André Julliard when illustrating his Blake and Mortimer books, Blake is harder to capture consistently.
Sadly, Sterne died at the age of 54 before completing the book. The final third is illustrated by his partner Chantal De Spiegeleer, also with a series of books to her name, and also working in the ligne claire style. She takes over with story page 30, and while faithful to Jacobs, the style is very marginally looser.
At its heart, The Curse of the 30 Pieces of Silver is propelled by a quest, and that’s not completed in this album. The final pages have Mortimer in a fine old pickle, and Van Hamme’s completed his task of ensuring we’ll want to head for the concluding book.