Review: 99 Days

The Vertigo Crime graphic novel tackles the dark story of an LA cop forced to deal with his tragic past as a child in Rwanda.

Andy Hunsakerby Andy Hunsaker

99 Days

Matteo Casali's black and white graphic crime novel 99 Days tells the story of LAPD detective Antoine Davis.  He gets crap from fellow cops at work who call him Quota Boy, but he's one of the fastest rising stars in his precinct, which is why he and his partner Valeria Torres get assigned the case of an unusual murder that needs to be solved right away, given the volatile gang members connected to the victim.  Trouble starts to arise, however, when Davis sees the crime scene and sees the deep, wide gash wounds on the corpse and immediately recognizes that the murder weapon had to be a machete.  That knowledge stems from his childhood in Rwanda during the genocidal horrors – a past he'd tried desperately to put behind him.  A past that won't stay buried anymore.

99 Days has its good points and bad.  The concept is solid, the subject matter is certainly ripe for exploration, and Kristian Donaldson's impressive artwork is heavy on the film noir influence and supremely unsettling imagery.  The trouble comes in that it plays out like a standard police procedural, which I suppose is to be expected from a Vertigo Crime book, and it wouldn't be quite as tedious in that format if the dialog wasn't generally so clunky.  To be fair, it's near impossible to represent how a Blood or a Crip would say "know what I'm saying?" in text form without causing confusion (as it would have to be written "noam sayne?" or some such), but 'knowhutI'msayin'' kept taking me right out of it.  Too often, the dialog felt like 'this is the next thing that needs to be said to move the plot forward' as opposed to real, flowing conversation from real characters.  For the most part, the actual policework feels like a standard episode of Law & Order.

Casali makes an attempt to get some rising tension going in a weird sort of Watchmen style by having the Machete Murderer's actions set off gang warfare that continues to escalate into full-scale rioting throughout the course of the story while a faceless rabble-rousing radio personality named Jack Mack stokes the flames of xenophobia, but something about it doesn't entirely ring true – or maybe I just don't want to accept how much talk radio appears to influence people's moods and mindsets.  But none of that is the focus of the story, it's just supposed to underscore Antoine Davis' slow descent into the chaos of his past life as a Hutu child soldier back in Rwanda, forced to commit unspeakable acts of horror.  When Casali gets into that aspect of his protagonist, that's when the book starts to shine.  Well… 'shine' isn't the right word for a story this dark, but it's when it gets engrossing on its way to a brutal gut-punch of a finish.

The relationships Antoine has – with his adoptive parents and with his partner – seem to be very superficial and hollow, and I especially don't buy his attempts to seduce Torres.  It's a whole scene that feels forced… but it's possible that's the whole point.  As much as Davis tries to build a new and entirely different world to exist within, it's only the bloody savagery of his past life that ever feels like reality.  Once you've walked in those shoes, everything else is just a charade.  If so, though, it probably shouldn't have left me wondering about it.

99 Days is certainly worth a read, though, especially if you're into the procedural shows.  I probably would've liked it better if Antoine Davis' partner was Lenny Briscoe instead.