Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes by Matt Kindt

RED HANDEDRed Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes by Matt Kindt is a fantastic, but demanding book to read. It is about police detective Gould who, like a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, seems capable of solving all cases. However, unlike Holmes, who never seems to be personally impacted by the cases he solves, Gould changes as a character. Gould not only changes his job from police detective to private detective by the end of the novel; he also undergoes a change in the way he views the world, particularly the world of crime. He now answers differently certain questions, questions that convey the primary thematic concerns of the Red Handed: What is the nature of criminal behavior, what is and should be consider lawful, and should we focus more on preventing crimes or punishing those who commit those crimes?

Kindt has Gould solve a series of murders, but the book is not simply a series of short stories: Each story is ultimately connected with every other case, and the biggest mystery that needs solving is the mystery of what is actually going on in this graphic novel as a whole. At first, the reader will feel it is a riddle with no answer. For some this technique of Kindt’s will be frustrating: He purposefully withholds information that will make you puzzle over certain pages. Large parts of the story will make perfect sense, but then in Red Handed you will encounter a black page or two with only dialogue between two characters (it seems like). Who are they? When does this conversation take place? Where are we? What is the primary focus of these conversations? And why are the pages black? We seem to be getting the subtext of a larger, more substantial topic. These black pages are scattered throughout the book and seem to be linked, but only at the end do we find out exactly how they work together. (All the previous questions will be answered with clear, unambiguous answers, by the way).

Personally, I generally do not enjoy it when writers play games like this with me, and the first few books I read by Kindt really put me off. However, I have reread those books as well as some more of his work, and I have come to love Kindt’s work. I think there is a payoff to the hard work. Yes, I did have to read Red Handed twice to get it all, but I wanted to read it twice. And since it is a graphic novel, it still takes less time to read it twice than it does to read a standard novel one time through.

There is a payoff for this intense reading because Kindt is delving into interesting themes that have to do with art, crime, law, and ethics, and our not knowing what is going on for part of the time is tied in with those themes. In other words, the gimmick is not just a gimmick; it is thematic, and that makes all the difference to me in judging a book. The artwork itself is fantastic as well: Kindt’s watercolors are unique and make his books really stand out in comparison to other comics. Red Handed is a five-star graphic novel that deserves much more attention than it has gotten so far. It is a true work of art that addresses the nature of art itself.


  • Brad Hawley

    BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia.