Review by Frank Plowright
There’s no questioning Val McDermid’s credentials as a first rate crime writer, and in person she always comes across as a humane individual using her fame and influence for positive causes. That’s the case for the Wellcome Foundation, a global charity at the forefront of bettering humanity by sponsoring health research and education. Resistance falls squarely into the latter category.
Once an investigative reporter, Zoe Beck now writes celebrity fluff pieces, but old instincts are reactivated when at the Solstice Festival many people suddenly become sick and some develop inexplicable blotches on their arms several days later. It becomes a lot worse, and the stench of cover-up begins to manifest.
McDermid’s an old hand at sucking an audience in to a story, and a sympathetic lead character and a mystery allied with tragedy does that easily enough, while McDermid has no problems adjusting her writing to the needs of a graphic novel. However, with McDermid on board, surely Wellcome could have involved an artist more talented than Kathyrn Briggs. This is her first graphic novel, and while drawing everything in shades of grey may be an editorial statement, it doesn’t make for an attractive first impression. Well applied colour would not only have brightened the project, but brought out the strengths of Briggs’ art. Her page designs are creative, she has a nice way with visual metaphors, and she knows how to break down a story. However, unless it’s a design element, background detail is non-existent, and she’s an artist who’s uncomfortable drawing people working on a story where drawing them well is a prerequisite.
Post 2020 it’s impossible not to see any story featuring a rapidly spreading illness that kills as anything other a response to Covid, but McDermid began work on Resistance long before. It predicts the real life failure of politicians to acknowledge the serious nature of Covid, and how the death statistics have been manipulated, although thankfully some of her worse extrapolations haven’t come to pass. Also in the firing line is the ethical redundancy of pharmaceutical companies prioritising drugs required regularly rather than researching those able to wipe out a disease. At the same time McDermid shows the human cost of Zoe’s investigations, highlighting the natural fear of the unknown. She’s not the only protagonist, as once a character’s been introduced as representing a viewpoint, the chances are that they’ll be seen again at some stage offering commentary.
Few officials come out of Resistance well, meaning it’s not intended as comfort reading, but to frighten and inform. It’s a stark, bleak, and uncompromising warning with the scientific truths explicitly laid out, but the art means it won’t reach as large an audience as it should.