Writer / Artist
Bookhunter review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Sparkplug - ‎ 978-0-9742715-6-9
  • Release date: 2007
  • UPC: 9780974271569
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no

It’s always a delight coming across a graphic novel where the central premise is eccentrically original, and that’s the case with Jason Shiga’s independently published Bookhunter. It seems Oakland public library system has a task force dedicated to tracking down books not returned on time, or worse still, stolen. We join them about to raid a home, methodically planned down to a layout of the apartment in which books impregnated with a traceable dye now reside.

We enter an alternate universe where the laughable premise of library crimes is treated utterly seriously. The enforcement officers drive about recklessly like the police in an emergency, talk in the same clipped jargon familiar from TV shows, and follow ludicrous procedures, yet adapt to circumstance. The case occupying most of the book is the 1973 theft of a priceless Caxton-printed Bible from its secure casing. Lead investigator Bay must apply all his forensic and observational skills to catch the wily thief.

Shiga’s cartooning looks as if it’s rapidly created, yet the panel and page compositions display considerable thought and the dedicated personalities shine through. Besides, there’ll come a point where you’ll really admire the amount of research Shiga has carried out to ensure the technical details have an accuracy. Or he made it all up, but most people will never know. Is it feasible to dismantle and reassemble a safe overnight?

Having conceived such a silly idea, Shiga follows it through, to the point where you’ll gradually become involved in the mystery. Each clue is smaller than the last, and many lead down a rabbit hole, one seemingly requiring every single one of the library’s 850,000 books to be taken off the shelf and checked. The story’s set in 1973 to maximise such complications, but it also permits a smile at what at the time are near infinite resources including the latest technology such as a computer occupying an entire room. Other funny scenes include Agent Bay riding on top of the Bookhunter bus, the profiler and a great finale as Shiga supplies the complete procedural police case with a great twist. What a gem!