Some titles are meant to be taken literally; this is not one of them. Peter Pan is not a character in this story, and no one is searching for Peter Pan the person. Or for any fantastic element, actually.
But Peter Pan is also a metaphor – though usually a metaphor for a certain kind of man-child who refuses to grow up, which is not the case here – and that is much more relevant.
Cosey’s graphic novel In Search of Peter Pan is set in the remote Valais Alpine village of Ardolaz, in the late 1920s. The British writer Melvin Z. Woodworth – he’s of recent Serbian ancestry, which will be important to the plot – is vacationing there, hoping to find inspiration for his next work. He is of course late with that book, with letters from his agent and editor hounding him and threatening dire consequences if he fails to deliver. He is of course carrying a copy of J.M. Barrie’s works, and reading Peter and Wendy.
He is also chasing his dead older brother, Dragan, who left for the continent to become a famous composer, and apparently succeeded, since he sent home regular payment and stories about his triumphs in the continental capitals. He died, in a pointless accident, near Ardolaz a few years back.
Melvin mostly keeps to himself in this snowy valley: skiing and hiking around, reading and drinking quietly in the bar in the evening, wandering the town to look around and chat with a few of the more colorful locals. The reader realizes that he’s looking for inspiration for his next story pretty quickly, and that he’s also looking for traces of his brother, and perhaps the truth of Dragan’s life, somewhat more slowly.
But In Search of Peter Pan is mostly about what Melvin was not looking for, but finds anyway. There are rumors of a major counterfeiting ring, which ran for many years, shut down suddenly, and may have started again. There are ominous rumbles from the snowpack higher up the mountain, and talk in the village that they will all be evacuated ahead of an apocalyptic avalanche….sometime soon. There’s a gorgeous, mysterious young woman who he sees bathing naked in a high-mountain hot spring. Someone is playing the piano in the big old hotel, late at night, and slipping away before anyone else arrives.
All of that is related. All of that circles around the mysteries of Dragan, and of the local outlaw Baptistin, who Melvin aids on the spur of the moment at the beginning of the story and who is key to the counterfeiting ring.
There is an avalanche. There is an evacuation. Melvin does meet the mysterious naked woman – that’s what mysterious naked women are for in fictions by men, part of the rewards for figuring out mysteries and solving plots – and he does learn both what Baptistin has been doing and the true story of his brother’s life. There is a happy ending.
Melvin manages to square the circle of being both a very, very respectable man in a respectable classy occupation and also a master of derring-do criminality, getting all of the benefits and none of the detriments of both sides. I also could quibble that the ending may be slightly rushed, and a little too much of “and then Melvin got all of the good things in the world, all at once, because he’s the hero.”
In Search of Peter Pan is atmospheric and evocative: Cosey is good at both long stretches of dialogue and at entirely silent pages. This is a deeply enjoyable story with real depth to it, marred only slightly by some pretty blatant male wish-fulfillment.