Review by Frank Plowright
Miss Helen is another great outing for the impeccable Trent series. It opens with what ought to be an uncharacteristic moment of elation for the perennially reflective and melancholy late 19th century Mountie Trent as he finally marries his beloved Agnes. Yet it’s telling that even during the ceremony Leo only draws Trent with the most subtle of smiles for a single panel. Trent is not a man to whom enjoyment comes easily.
It turns out he’s right to be concerned, as Rodolphe supplies a continuity implant. After the successful conclusion to the case detailed in When the Lamps are Lit, Trent became infatuated with the mysterious Helen. She’s very free-thinking for the times, which turns out to be consistent with her anarchist views, and she’s extremely proactive in that cause. Unease about her methods is what eventually leads Trent to end the relationship, so seeing one of her allies turn up on his wedding day is hardly comforting. Nor are the strange wedding gifts that follow.
Leo’s impassive Trent is implanted in a carefully constructed late 1800s urban environment for most of Miss Helen. The streets, parks and interiors are all supplied with a neat precision, and when the story reaches the countryside Leo’s depiction of an old water mill surrounded by tress is a stunning piece of landscape illustration. Helen is the seductive darkness contrasting the blonde innocence of Agnes, and Leo brings this out over several pictures, not least the cover, accentuating a piercingly seductive gaze. Whether by intention or design, the change of title from the French Miss to the English Miss Helen, makes it a layered reflection on the actual story depending on which interpretation of the word ‘miss’ the reader chooses to apply.
Rodolphe’s plot is a standard Western adventure, but elevated by Trent’s morose personality, the subtleties of the storytelling and the rich art. Sadly, this always compelling series concludes with Little Trent.