Review: ‘The Lindbergh Child’ by Rick Geary
A Treasury of XXth Century Murder: The Lindbergh Child
By Rick Geary
NBM/ComicsLit, August 2008, $15.95
Rick Geary has been chronicling in comics form the crimes of past ages since “An Unsolved Murder,” one of his earliest stories. Most of those stories have been funneled into his “Treasury of Victorian Murder” series – first an album-sized book of short stories in 1987, later an additional seven slim books, each chronicling one famous murder of yore.
Those “Treasury of Victorian Murder” books have been coming, one every year or two, since 1995, but Geary’s varied his approach this year – the book is the same size, the format is very similar, but the story this time is part of the newly-named “Treasury of XXth Century Murder.” And the crime is one of the many claimants to the throne of “Crime of the Century” – after Fatty Arbuckle and Sacco & Vanzetti but before the Manson Murders – though it didn’t start out to be a murder (and some people, even now, doubt that the Lindbergh baby really died). So now Geary has an entire new century of murder to work through – the pre-WWII years alone could keep him busy for years. (Particularly if he expands his plan slightly to allow larger crime sprees – like Bonnie & Clyde and the various Prohibition-era gangsters.)
Geary tells The Lindbergh Child in his usual detailed, nearly deadpan style – though hints of the Geary wit sneak through, particularly in the faces of his characters – starting off with maps and plans of the important locations and swiftly moving on to set the scene and get into the kidnapping itself.
Charles Lindbergh was a national hero after his famous trans-Atlantic flight in 1927, and his fame had only slightly dimmed by 1932, when he, his wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh and their nearly two-year-old son Charles, Jr. were in the slow process of moving from her family’s estate into a new house of their own in Hopewell, New Jersey. And then on Tuesday, March 1st – a day when, according to their usual schedule, the family would have been staying with the Morrows in Englewood – Charles Jr. is put to sleep in his bed in the new house but abducted in the early evening. He’s discovered missing by his nursemaid, Betty Gow, at ten in the evening.
Quickly, a ransom note is found on the radiator cover and a handmade ladder outside the baby’s window. The case goes to the police immediately, and to the news (and thus to the whole world) within a day – the Lindbergh kidnapping was one of the first media frenzies of the newly ubiquitous news media, with radio and newspaper coverage on a more-than-daily basis.
Geary skillfully runs through the convoluted twists and turns of the case, introducing a dozen or more major characters and making them always, instantly recognizable (and utterly of their time, which is even more impressive). Several people step up to act as go-betweens with the kidnappers, a maid in Englewood has bizarrely unbelievable alibis for the time of the abduction, and a random note demands money in precise denominations to be placed in a custom-made box. The ransom is paid – by one of those many go-betweens, to the inevitable shadowy figure – but the boy isn’t released.
Weeks stretch into months, but, all that time – as we now know – Charles Jr. was already dead, his body left near a major road in the area and probably killed when his kidnapper dropped him from the ladder. Eventually, Bronx carpenter Bruno Richard Hauptmann is found passing the ransom money. Hauptmann is arrested, tried, and eventually found guilty and executed in the electric chair.
Geary prefers cases with contradictory or confusing evidence – or perhaps it’s just that any murder will have some pieces that don’t quite fit – and he works his way through the various pieces of evidence in the investigation and trial. He does have the knack of making fascinating even the question of the provenance of a single piece of that homemade ladder. He does come down, in the end, fairly sure that Hauptmann acted alone and did commit the kidnapping/murder, but he lays out all of the facts fairly and works through all of the implications carefully.
The Lindbergh Child is fully up to the high standards set up Geary’s previous books; it’s another excellent graphic novel about a horrible crime by the master of that very specific form.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
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