Review by Frank Plowright
Catherine Allingham has been told a brain tumour means that at most she only has six months left to live. Worse still, it has her hallucinating, seeing a giant ghoul and other strange people. She’s very well known as an investigator with incredible insight resulting in astonishing deductions, a career that’s spread to books and made her wealthy. However, no matter how astute her rationalisations are, not being able to trust her own sight is a major handicap, so we see her hire Brian Doyle, a doorman at the club where she rapidly solves a murder faked to resemble suicide. She’s impressed with his observation skills, and he accompanies her for much of what follows as her priority becomes investigating what happens after death.
A crime story with a considerable side dish of the supernatural is on Mark Waid’s menu as he provides an abrasive genius at first very much like Sherlock Holmes, but he gradually distances her from that via the supernatural. Of course, that was a topic of great interest to Holmes’ creator Arthur Conan Doyle. Waid’s always been good at wrong-footing readers, and that skill accelerates into overdrive for The Unknown, particularly in the second of the two stories collected in this Omnibus.
Both are drawn by Dutch artist Minck Oosterveer who takes a little time to settle into the feature. His storytelling skills are immediately apparent, as his is facility for creating visually memorable characters, but a few have flat faces early on, and although nuanced in some respects, emotional response isn’t his strength. The supernatural elements are well sold, and a sequence set on a train is so well laid out and the motion so well transmitted that any doubts about Oosterveer disappear, and his pages are solid for the remainder.
Waid filters in odd experiences as he lays out assorted theories about the afterlife. He doesn’t supply explanations, so bear in mind the series title, but every other aspect of the plot is locked in tight. Every little query that occurs, especially in the second story, is answered, and answered credibly. The only downside is that a final tale had been intended to complete Catherine’s experiences, but it was never published, presumably in the wake of Oosterveer’s tragic early death. The two stories that did see print, in paperback as The Unknown and The Devil Made Flesh, provide more than enough thrills, twists and entertainment to be worth your while anyway.