Over the previous two books of what’s becoming a three act tragedy, Ed Brubaker has laid out what’s been happening for readers, while keeping protagonist Charlie Parish in the dark, and it’s now just a matter of the chickens coming home to roost and the pieces falling where they may.

Before that, though, there’s the matter of Charlie’s past, and that of fellow screenwriter Gil Mason to be dealt with. Charlie returned home from his patriotic World War II duty physically intact, but no longer able to write. A friendship turned sour, drink made matters far worse, and as Act Two ended Gil’s misguided path to redemption has endangered both his life and Charlie’s. It becomes worse.

One character has self-destructive issues that have prompted numerous poor choices over the earlier volumes, and if any reader were to bet on the next corpse seen in The Fade Out, there’d only be one sensible choice. However, a great aspect of any of Brubaker’s crime stories is their defying predictability, or if the general path is predictable then the circumstances won’t be. Brubaker’s put together a finely tuned plot, and with his track record it’s certain he isn’t going to mess things up in the finale, and Sean Phillips has been the epitome of artistic precision over the previous two volumes and that’s sustained until the end. Whether Brubaker or Phillips is responsible is uncertain, but a particularly nice visual metaphor for Charlie’s fracturing life is his continuing to wear his damaged spectacles.

Act Three was released shortly after the serialised comics concluded, but the most satisfying method of absorbing this first rate noir thriller is now via the complete twelve chapter story in the single volume. It’s satisfying from start to finish and you’ll want to revisit it.