5 out of 5
The Cavalier Mr. Thompson is a dash of several of writer / artist Rich Tommaso’s narrative proclivities, presented in perfect, bite-sized slices of story to serve the characters and overall tale. While the title of the collection concerns a Mr. Thompson – a man, it turns out, on the run with some ill-earned moneys – this is a ‘Sam Hill novel,’ one of Tommaso’s wandering protagonists, here in his early days – 1924 – working at the Cavalier Hotel under his father.
Rich loves figures like Hill, who stumble casually into drug and drink and love and misfortune with the wishy-washy randomness life allows, but ‘The Cavalier’ gives us something that’s often excised from other times we’ve followed such characters around: it shows us context. We start with Sam’s birth, and get a first-hand look at his fascinatingly unfocused father, who works every job (and oddjob) under the sun – from sheriff, to oil-driller, to factory owner, to hotel proprietor – giving Sam’s place, during the time of the story, as a willful student trying to also navigate the off hours of his hotel job and a fledgling romance with a girl working at the hotel, a real sense of life. It’s not just a snapshot; as we watch Sam guiding around the new hotel detective – Nick, father of the aforementioned girl – we get him, and we get his struggle to balance it all, which is presented with Tommaso’s delightfully casual presentation, in his clare ligne style artistry, which is then further given a ‘place’ in the wistful past by washing it in duotoned shades of yellows and grays. The kind of open-ended manner in which Rich tells his stories, sometimes to their detriment, is shaped up by separating the book into small, connected vignettes, which also cleverly tell of Mr. Thompson’s arrival in to town, and a murder mystery that ends up floating through the background and foreground of the book.
I can’t tell, at this point, if further Sam Hill work made it to print – I think Tommaso’s Recoil imprint might’ve had some low print runs at one point – but this is book is really the perfect distillation of a lot of Rich’s common-man / low-key crime fascinations, and while it stands perfectly on its own, I’d love to work where Mr. Hill could go from here.