Stumptown vol. 4: The Case of a Cup of Joe

Greg Rucka’s consistently entertaining, consistently overpriced shaggy-dog P.I. reaches its fourth volume.  This time around, Dexedrine Parios’ life takes a turn for the absurd but not ridiculous.  She’s hired by Mr. Weeks, a rich coffee enthusiast and maker, to deliver the first pound of his inaugural batch of Wild Thai Civet coffee to him after it’s flown into town.  Why Dex?  Because she has a rep for being able to get the job done and Mr. Weeks doesn’t want to attract too much attention to his coffee.  This pound of coffee has a street value of $25K after all.  Of course, since this is Dex we’re talking about the complications soon start to pile up.  Whether it’s the oddly quiet and formal henchman of Mr. Weeks’ main rival who offers to pay Dex in gold for a sample of this coffee, or members of the Barista Mafia who want in on the action themselves, or the arrival of Fuji, Dex’s ne’er-do-well sister, in town, this simple job of being a coffee delivery person may wind up being more trouble than she asked for.


Some might think that all this fuss over coffee makes for a story that’s too ridiculous to take seriously, but Rucka and artist Justin Greenwood make it work.  The absurdity is tackled head-on in the opening scenes as Mr. Weeks explains why all this is important to him and Dex acts as the reader’s stand-in to put his desires in perspective.  Her reaction upon finding out how Wild Thai Civet coffee is made is priceless and a high point of the volume.  While this all keeps threatening to tip over into farce, it never quite does because everyone in the story — even the Barista Mafia — is operating from well-grounded and established desires.  Pun intended.  The fact that this story, and series, is set in Portland also helps with the suspension of disbelief in this regard too.


We also get some more insight into Dex’s history and family life through her sister.  Fuji may be family, but it was refreshing to see our protagonist call her sister out on all the crap she pulls here.  Particularly in regards to Ansel as we find out exactly why Dex is her brother’s keeper.  The volume is rounded out with a mostly silent surveillance story that has a neat twist at the end.  It’s a great showcase for Greenwood’s storytelling skills as he effectively conveys the necessary information clearly and with a sense of fun too.  While it’s impressive that his loose style works as well as it does on a sci-fi series like “The Fuse,” “Stumptown” is a more natural fit for his talents.  Though this series is still horrifically overpriced at $30 for each hardcover volume, it still provides a quality read for those willing to take the plunge (or patient enough to pick it up at a deep discount).

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