The cheapness of life. A review of Noche Roja

The mutilated bodies of murdered young women are turning up in the Mexican desert. The authorities aren’t interested and there is no official investigation and no suspects. Former private investigator and full time drunk, Jack Cohen, is offered a huge sum of money to find out who is responsible. Pursued by demons from his past that haunt his dreams, Jack travels south of the border and enters a web of corruption, greed and money where crime and politics go hand in hand.

Noche Roja is a self contained story published under the Vertigo Crime label, which started in 2008. Since then it has published a number of graphic novels by well known comic creators and authors such as Brian Azzarello and Ian Rankin. All of these are one and done stories that require no prior knowledge of the characters. If you are a fan of crime and noir then it is definitely worth keeping track of this new and thriving imprint.

Noche Roja is an adult noir thriller where every character is a different shade of grey. The story is full of sinister criminals, bent cops, dirty politicians and people who are happy to inform on their neighbours for a bit of cash. Jack Cohen has experience of dealing with this type of situation and yet he willingly walks back into this pit of vipers. He claims to be there for the money, but there’s more going on with him. He’s haunted by nightmares of a tragedy from his past that took place in Mexico. This trip south is almost an excuse to kill two birds with one stone, to solve the murder case and bury the demons from his past.

The murdered girls were all former factory workers, and because people are desperate for jobs and money, they dare not complain too loudly about their employment conditions or the girls. The families of some of the victims have left the area and those that remain are broken and desperate people with nothing to lose. As soon as Jack starts asking questions he attracts the wrong kind of attention and is offered a chance to walk away. He persists with his investigation and soon enough old friends and enemies start crawling out of the woodwork. The number of players in the city is small and it’s fairly clear the local crime boss is involved somehow, but he’s untouchable and Jack is just one man with no authority or resources. All he has is his dogged determination and soon enough the polite offers of walking away with his life and limbs intact change into something else.

Due to all of the complications with the local workers, the crime syndicate and political maneuverings, this is by no means a simple case. Jack can’t just find who is responsible and march them into the police station. Those in power at all levels are protected and no one wants to upset the status quo because they’re all getting something from it. Without spoiling it, there comes a point where Jack must decide what is more important to him—finding those responsible or being able to breathe.

The writer, Simon Oliver, does an excellent job of creating a tense and sometimes uncomfortable thriller which has a lot of unexpected twists. Jason Latour’s moody artwork is very in keeping with the atmosphere of the setting and characters, many of whom are grimy and seedy individuals. The story is about many things including power, corruption and greed, but it also highlights how cheap life is treated by some people and the power of consumerism.

This graphic novel pulls no punches and is very loyal to the genre where no one is really who they appear to be and the ending is always painful and unpredictable.

Stephen Aryan is a lifelong fan of comics, science fiction and fantasy. He co-hosts the Comic Book Outsiders podcast and writes fantasy and comic book reviews at Walker of Worlds.


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