uthor and artist, Paul Madonna has become something of a cult figure in San Francisco’s Italian-American neighborhood of North Beach. His latest effort, “The Commissions,” has been flying off the shelves of Telegraph Hill Bookstore, which was where we purchased our copy.
This latest edition of the “Emit Hopper Mystery Series” does not focus on one small corner of the City alone. Rather, it is a sprawling Joycean work that examines even the obscure outer reaches of our metropolitan network, extending as far south as the Bay Area backwaters and as far north as Stinson Beach.
This is a cold case about the murder of Hopper’s bosom buddy, private detective Ronnie Gilbert. Though the killer was acquitted, the investigation is renewed when phantoms from the past emerge.
The city of San Francisco figures as a major character in the plot, with scores of architectural sketches illustrating the narrative. Anyone who has lived here, or spent an extended visit, will recognize the threads keeping the story together.
There are even a few brief sojourns to Amsterdam when the plot needs advancing. It is here that Hopper first realizes that living beneath sea level can lead to crippling despair and suicidal impulses.
Of all fiction’s classic detectives, Hopper is a rarity, possibly even belonging to a species as of yet unknown.
Emit Hopper is a painter waiting to be discovered. He was something of rock star in his youth, then a celebrated novelist and museum artist, and, finally, a laundromat innovator exploring the role of accidental detective.
While working on a set of commission drawings in the 1990s, Hopper is wrongly arrested. A young woman from his bohemian rock-and-roll past appears and, along with a renegade San Francisco detective, lures the washed-up artist into a blackmail scheme involving spooky surveillance rooms dating back to the CIA’s Cold War-era.
The most intriguing character is Francesca, a thirty five-year-old woman of Chinese descent, fluent in both the language of Italy and its cookery. Her account of dark dealings might just be the red herring which turns “murderer to martyr.”
In the afterword, Madonna notes that taking on commissions has been a large part of his own professional life.
“Invitations to draw have taken me all over the world and introduced me to countless people I would never have otherwise met,” he says.
As a consequence, this award-winning illustrator and writer has found a unique blend of drawing and storytelling that has been heralded as an “all new art form.”