Karmela Krimm: Ramadan Blues is a hidden gem amongst European graphic novels, a fun, breezy private eye story set in sunny, corrupt Marseilles with a heroine so casually likable you wonder how nobody had done this before.
Karmela Krimm was once half of a semi-legendary pair of hotshot cops nicknamed the Bazooka Sisters; she took the rap for a case that went wrong so that her partner could still have a career. Now she makes ends meet as a private eye with her former partner's teenage daughter Manon as her eager apprentice, much to her and her partner's chagrin. Her former partner has also become a disappointment, harbouring layers of guilt, and resentment for her that are expressed as continuous threats.
When the widow of a gangster-cum-businessman hires her to look into his murder, Karmela is given a partner, a bodyguard named Tadj, who's also a devout Muslim. Karmela is snarky and mildly chaotic. Tadj is a devoted husband and father who can handle himself in a fight and has a dry sense of humour. The two of them don't become lovers, but develop a bond of professional respect with Manon in tow as the case has them tangling with a drug gang from the slums and corrupt businessmen who might have ordered the hit. They also have to work around Tadj having to observe Ramadan.
Lewis Trondheim is one of the most prolific and diverse French comics creators out there. He tackles different genres and styles and makes it look easy. Marseilles is notorious in France and across Europe as a glamourous coastal city where big business, politics, and organized crime are closely linked, and Trondheim and artist Franck Biancarelli add to that tradition of Marseilles crime stories. They avoid the temptation to make the story dark and grim, acknowledging the racism, drugs, and corruption, and the heroine is refreshingly free of self-pity. She doesn't drink too much or sleep with random men in the tropes that too many male writers use to make a heroine "edgy." Karmela is sardonic, a chronic wise-cracker, and very French. The story quietly celebrates the diversity of French society, specifically Marseilles' unique cultural crossover between France and Italy attitudes, and carries a quiet anti-racist undertone. The story's social commentary is laid smoothly and quietly like butter on toast without hammering its point.
Biancarelli and Trondheim have a trilogy of Karmela Krimm graphic novels planned, and if the next ones are this good, they'll be well worth checking out. Europe Comics is possibly the most underrated publisher of European comics in English right now.
Karmela Krimm: Ramadan Blues is only available in English as an ebook on Amazon Kindle and ComiXology.