This may be Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s first graphic novel, but from the professional way he sets the scene over the opening few pages you’d imagine he’d been writing for years. The necessary information is that a biological attack on the USA has left women unable to conceive. This isn’t shown, nor just explained, but dropped into a conversation taking place in Nicaragua between the recently unemployed mother of a large family and adoption agents buying children for American couples. There are two primary ways of acquiring children, the first being the ethically ambivalent, but at least honest method used by brothers Jackie and Julian Carver. However, they’re barely making a living, and Jackie’s all for trying the easier method of abduction. Julian’s warnings against that are underlined when the daughter of the country’s major drug kingpin goes missing and a door to door search begins. Unfortunately, there’s something Jackie hasn’t told Julian…

Matthew Dow Smith is an old hand with plenty of experience bringing stories to life, and he’s on top form here with busy locations, largely reflecting the poverty of the characters, and he keeps the story moving at the intended pace. Julian could have been differently designed, as the distinctive marks on his face are unconvincing as a residue of his mother being pregnant when the tragedy struck the USA. Otherwise all is well with the art.

Any fan of crime stories featuring basically good people in dangerous situations well beyond their capacity to cope should have been hooked by the opening paragraph here. However, Johnson improves on an already intriguing plot by throwing in a second major complication, one that again shifts the moral highground, but which isn’t revealed immediately. In the meantime we see the horrifying results of an economy based on selling children, and the screw is turned ever tighter on a man whose options started as few and are expiring one by one.

A downside? Keeping some conversations in Spanish supplies an authenticity, but at the cost of readers who don’t know the language not picking up some small details. That’s far from a deal killer, though, as Johnson keeps the tension high and the pages turning fast until the end with the foreshadowing well slipped in and the moral compass constantly shifting. It’s bittersweet, tragic and attention-grabbing.