Review by Win Wiacek
This second Clifton album dates from 1972, the earliest of the Clifton stories translated to date. The Gentleman Detective is embroiled in not one but two uncanny incidences, beginning with eponymous epic ‘The Laughing Thief’ wherein the still retired, but much-missed lawman rather forcefully inserts himself into a current case baffling Scotland Yard.
London is wracked by devilishly clever crimes executed with infallible precision by a crack crew of blaggers, but the profits of each caper seem far below what such expert criminals should be bothering with. Moreover, each perfectly executed heist is preceded by a telephone warning from a braying braggart with the most annoying and distinctive laugh imaginable.
These felons are incredibly bold and arrogant. Even after Clifton intervenes in the second robbery, the scoundrels easily outwit him, leaving the dapper sleuth unconscious with dozens of other peculiarly proud and strangely supportive victims.
Moreover, although police higher-ups welcome Clifton’s help, officer-in-charge Lieutenant Hardfeeling doesn’t want the show-stealer around and does all he can to impede the Colonel’s investigations, despite protests from senior colleagues and the bobbies on the beat.
Nevertheless, persistence is its own reward, and when Clifton finally deduces the true reasons for the publicity-seeking crime-spree, the resultant confrontation is spectacularly satisfying and hilariously rewarding.
Being British and an ex-spy, Clifton has hung on to the odd gadget or two, such as an amazingly tricked out umbrella which plays a major part in second tale ‘The Mystery of the Running Voice’. A suspenseful spooky yarn, it begins when the unhappy pensioner meets old comrade Donald McDonald Muckyduck, who appears to have worn out every vestige of verve and is on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Close consultation reveals that the former Police Inspector is being haunted by a robber ghost that has already claimed six victims. However, upon viewing crime scene photos Clifton gains an inkling into how the trick is performed and temporarily moves to sedate and sedentary village Flatfish-on-Apron, setting himself up as bait for a diabolical genius with a penchant for clever gimmicks.
Although not cover-credited, the first story is written by Franco-Belgian comics legend Greg (Michel Regnier), the last of his three albums reviving the series in France after a nine year hiatus from 1960. Bob De Groot supplies the second and writes all other translated Clifton to Vol. 8, most with polished cartooning fromTurk (Philippe Liégeois).
Visually spoofing Swinging Sixties London and staidly stuffy English manners with wicked effect, these gentle thrillers are big on laughs but also pack loads of consequence-free action into their eclectic mix. The darker 7 Days to Die is next.