Book Review: Black Sails, Disco Inferno

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Black Sails, Disco Inferno (Open Books), Andrez Bergen’s novelization of his fifteen part noir comic series Trista & Holt, is a roman noir of the first order: a brisk, tour de force in hard-boiled prose that sacrifices none of the cinematic grandeur of the original with its vivid description and terse dialogue.

Black Sails, Disco Inferno (like its predecessor Trista & Holt) takes place in an unnamed metropolis of the 1970’s where two dueling mob bosses, Isidore “Anguish” Holt and Marcella “Queenie” Cornwall are constantly at war. Drivers, lieutenants and yes, even blood kin get caught in the crossfire as does beautiful, tough-as-nails Trista Rivalen, Marcella’s niece, and Issy Holt, handsome playboy scion of the Holt empire. Complicating matters is the love that develops between Trista and Issy, a romance that begins at the funeral of Holt wheelman Lou Holden (who it turns out has a longer history with Anguish Holt than we realize at this point) and ends somewhere one would never expect, and in a completely different part of the world.

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Trista’s and Issy’s relationship develops with some twists and revelations not seen in the comic version that gives their romance a bit more depth. We get to know these characters from the inside as they discover things about each other that strengthen each one’s appreciation and admiration for the other. Warning signs occur sooner here regarding Issy’s best-friend-with-benefits Brangien, whose jealousy and resentment of Trista is worse than she dare let Issy realize. Brangien’s carefree party-girl lifestyle masks the feelings she has for Issy and her terrifying willingness to do anything to win him for herself, something Issy doesn’t realize until late in the game when the stakes are sky high.

An integral parallel relationship brought into sharper focus with further detail and background this time out is the story-within-a-story of Trista and Governal, her mentor, father figure and sometimes crush—one that she grows into and never quite grows out of. In the comic Trista’s childhood chapters are written by Renee Asher Pickup and Bergen uses that part of the story in the novel as well with Governal instructing Trista in all the intricacies that life as Marcella’s confidante will entail, lovingly and firmly and with a disquieting sense of guilt behind it all. Paradoxically Governal is Trista’s steadiest influence as he schools her for life in a violent industry and is the only person left who really seems to care about Trista until Issy comes along.

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When she’s away from Governal one night young Trista witnesses a violent act that rattles her to the core and that causes her to face what happened to her real father years ago. This cruel realization represents a turning point for Trista wherein she leaves childhood behind following a lesson in revenge instigated by Governal. A new adult Trista returns, prepared to face whatever it is her future holds in this dark urban world and within the vast confines of Tintagel, a gothic apartment building that Marcella Cornwall has claimed as her palace. Trista’s eighteenth birthday party there and her debut as Marcella’s protégé is a spectacle, a “coming out”  that showcases Trista’s mastery of nerves and her new role in life,  one to which she’s now resigned, her training complete.

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There’s violence aplenty in this gangster/ romance but with the exception of the harrowing scene witnessed by Trista and the revelations about her father’s murder, it’s usually delivered with a Chandlerian note of dark humor. As much as I adore the innovative, retro-inspired eye-candy of the comic version, I was most pleasantly surprised by the vivid richness of the novelization.

If you’re already familiar with the comic version, be aware that the ending of this version is quite different. Is it a “better” ending? I was satisfied with the original bittersweet version because given the events leading up to it, I didn’t really see how else it could end, or at least I didn’t want to think about a more fatalistic/ finality for these characters. Having said that, I think this is an excellent ending. Yes, on the one hand it does have a dimension of tragedy a shade darker than the original, but also an added dimension of hope: true to character, story and genre, and to a greater measure the forces of darkness get what they deserve.

If you’re a fan of noir, anywhere from The Big Sleep to Breaking Bad, you really should check out Black Sails, Disco Inferno. Whether you’ve ever experienced the comic upon which it’s based or not, you’re in for a treat. Pour yourself a drink, turn down the lights, put on some disco and dive in.

Writing/ Story: Andrez Bergen with Renee Asher Pickup Cover Art: Frantz Kantor
Overall Rating: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Andrez Bergen provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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