Noir has to be among the most overused words on jackets of graphic novels. If even a tenth of the books described thus were truly noir, we’d all have been swimming (or drowning, since that seems more apt in the case of noir) in the stuff by now.

Silverfish: It’s a one-night thriller

Not that there aren’t true noir comics around.

Several of the Batman books, including Frank Miller’s Dark Knight series, are the very definition of noir. As are Ed Brubaker’s Sleeper books, the new Human Target books by Peter Milligan and Brian Azzarello’s 100 Bullets and Loveless books.

David Lapham has made a career authoring (and illustrating) noir comics.

Silverfish is his new graphic novel and it is different from most other books of the genre in that it deals with happenings in the course of one night. There is something about the medium that encourages writers to take an expansive view of things and it isn’t unusual for graphic novels to span decades, if not centuries.

Silverfish: It’s a one- night thriller

The number is called, the psychopath (and the fish) come to town the same night in search of the stepmother, and the story moves towards its denouement.

Silverfish has a fairly linear plot unlike some of Lapham’s other works such as Stray Bullets. Silverfish: It’s a one-night thriller

However, Lapham’s illustrations in black and white, and his liberal use of shadows, give the book a claustrophobic feel—everyone in the book is trapped. One of the sisters has asthma and is trapped by her own inability to breathe. The stepmother is trapped by her desire to escape (both her past and her poverty). And the psychopath is trapped, curiously enough, by the fish in his head (and the only way he can achieve release is by killing people).

The end (no spoilers here) is surprisingly soft for a noir novel, but Lapham may have just been trying to make up for the rest of the book which is very, very disturbing.

Much like dem fish.

Write to Sukumar at cultfiction@livemint.com

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