Miss Don’t Touch Me
Created by: Hubert, Kerascoët
Published by: NBM
ISBN: 1561635448 (Amazon)
Probably better than any other culture-group, the French have over and again adapted the conventions of noir cinema to their own works. This is fitting, after all, as film noir was a critical designation invented by the French to describe a certain mode of crime thriller. Made popular in the ‘40s in the US, noir is generally counted to span the era of 1941 to 1958—from The Maltese Falcon to Touch of Evil, as it were. Yet though film noir in its traditional, classic sense dies off in 1958 with Orson Welles’ tale of good cop/bad cop in a Tex-Mex border town, its influence would be felt for decades after—and not merely in the form of homage (to borrow another French term).
While the American neo-noir scene has had some notable entrants over the years, it’s the French who seem to have really taken the noir ball and run with it. While being outside the era and culture specific to True Noir, these French thrillers exhibit a delicious sort of indebtedness to the mode, rolling themselves out in such a way that they capitalize on several of the key elements of noir while forging new directions and destinies. From Rififi to Le Samourai to The Beat My Heart Skipped, the French have spent decades extrapolating the noir ideal—and not just in film either. Some of the best crime comics I’ve seen have been French and show strong sense of their noir roots. And Miss Don’t Touch Me is just one more of those.
Set around the turn of the 20th century, Miss Don’t Touch Me concerns two sisters (one a flirt and the other a prude), suburban dance parties, a serial killer, a brothel, and the dish best served cold. When cold, reserved Blanche becomes accidental witness to the Butcher of the Dances (the mass media is every bit as fanciful a century ago in France as it is in America today), Agatha falls victim to the killer who hopes to cover his tracks. Blanche is destroyed emotionally but this devastation prepares her for the journey of detection and subterfuge for which she’ll have to be steeled if she wants her revenge. Circumstances lead her into the employ of a brothel where her prudishness and refusal to be touched by a man lead her to become the shop’s special dominatrix. Dressed as an English maid, she whips, beats, and savages every single one of her clients, earning herself the title Miss Don’t-Touch-Me. Yet as she gets nearer to identifying the killer, she comes closer to falling into the killer’s path. It’s a treacherous road and one will wonder whether her violent loathing of men will be enough when she comes face to face with the man who killed her sister.
While Miss Don’t Touch Me‘s story travels the necessary paces for every thriller—mystery, betrayal, reversals, and the big showdown—the true glory of the book is its art. I’d not yet run into Kerascoët’s work but from this point forward, I’ll be vigilant when I hear news of a book he’s worked on. His characters are cartooned, with all the exaggerations of character that one might expect to see in New Yorker cartoons but with a degree of polish that makes them sing. Blanche herself is perfectly rendered and Kerascoët ably bounces her between rage and sorrow and fear and comfort and grim determination.
For writer Hubert’s part, Blanche is crafted into a character far more interesting than the standard cardboard protagonist that usually populates the revenge thriller. She’s plucky, certainly, but inexperienced to the utmost. She embarks upon her quest for justice steeped in naivete and, to the author’s credit, never does transform into an able, capable investigator. Despite her righteous cause, she’s rash and easily leads herself astray. That she has any further contact with the Butcher after her original, accidental encounter is counted more to the ledger of blind luck and to wiser friends than it is to her powers of deduction. By the end, we find that Blanche’s one true gift is her unyielding determination; whether this gift will also be her saving grace is only answered as the reader pursues her story to its finale.
The book is stereotypically (fairly or otherwise) French in its laissez-faire depiction of sexuality, which will almost certainly be off-putting to some readers. Hubert & Kerascoët walk a fine balance between depicting the attitude that sex is just sex and showing that sex has built-in consequences. While highlighting the tension between the two perspectives is not their object in this work, they still dally with the conflict—and this dalliance goes a long way toward turning Miss Don’t Touch Me into more than just a common revenge thriller. The book may be a suitable jumping-off point for any number of discussions of the importance of sex to society and how cultural mores address some of our primal instincts.
In any case, Miss Don’t Touch Me is a fun work, a thriller that travels potentially awkward paths in almost natural ways. It’s guileless in its forthright desire to entertain and hits many of the formulaic notes without seeming obvious about it. While writing this review, I discovered that there is a second volume to the work and I am anxious to see how things turn out, since a number of threads seemed only murkily resolved.
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I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.
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