Vertigo Crime's new mystery novella, Fogtown, starts out as a stereotypical noir—the detective is a hard-nosed PI named Frank Grissel ("Like the meat or the attitude? Gristle or Grizzle?" a woman asks him when he introduces himself), the story is set in ultra-foggy San Francisco in 1953, and all the women are either vixens, hookers, or gal Fridays. It's a hard book to get into just because it's so soaked in cliche at first, like something you've read a million times before.

But like some of the best mysteries, Fogtown is a means for the authors (Andersen Gabrych is an actor and comics writer, artist Brad Rader is a storyboard artist) to investigate a subculture of a specific place and time. Fogtown is a snapshot of gay San Francisco, just before the scene outed itself. Threading the mystery with in-the-closet men is a genius move; it provides motive, depth of character, and an entire secret society in which to hide. Rader's thick and sensual figure drawing is vaguely reminiscent of famous homoerotic artist Tom of Finland.

Talking too much about the secrets of Fogtown will ruin the book, so I'll just say this: It's a capable, well-told mystery that doesn't rely on gimmickry or hackneyed genre conventions. I'd like to see more from Gabrych and Rader about Fogtown-era San Francisco; this is one of the best comic book mysteries I've seen in a great long while.