It's 1996. Men are going missing in Hobtown, NS. The sixth and most recent is a Van Dyked Dr. Benton Quest lookalike, Max Finch of Finch Aviation. On the case is his son, Sam Finch, teen engineer, licensed motorcyclist, and truant.
Assisting Sam in the search for his father is the Teenage Detective Club, a registered after school program which counts a pipe smoker, two jock brothers, and a maybe clairvoyant among its members. Though the club has has previously handled The Case of the Tire Fire, The Mayor's Old Watch, and The Egg-Thief Mystery, this new case, The Case of the Missing Men -- involving hobos, kidnapping, murder, treasure, and, maybe, a "mini man" that's "fat like a baby but hairy" with "like cartoon pants" -- might be their first real case.
Kris Bertin and Alexander Forbes's first collaboration is a cuddle puddle of references to classic youth sleuths and these two childhood best friends' own weirdo, sui generis sensibilities. Much of the charm in The Case of the Missing Men comes from the mingling of the genre savviness with the inelegant peculiarities of the small east coast town -- Hobtown's population is anywhere from 2000 to 2006. The innocuous handsomeness of the book's teen heroes stands in stark contrast to the ghastly ungainliness of nearly everyone else in town. These grotesque denizens -- greasy, corpulent, slack-mouthed, but always recognizably real -- lurk through stately landscapes, haunt detailed architecture, all penned and inked in a way that brings to mind the studied and strange worlds of Tony Millionaire. The tone itself is a back and forth between plucky earnestness and gruesome cruelty. For all of that juxtaposition, though, Missing Men feels all of a piece, harmonized by a stalwart reality, a honed sense of humour, and a great mystery.
There's a fulness of vision that makes The Case of the Missing Men so readable and rereadable. There are perfect images in here that will stick with you like scars. The book truly feels like the work of best friends, art made for each other, art made to both amuse and challenge. Yet the work is so refined, articulate, and accessible that you feel part of the exchange, in on the joke, welcome in, just as outsider Sam is brought into the fold of the famous Teenage Detective Club.