He is there at the death of Christopher Marlowe (and, indeed, kills him).

He is there at the death of Jack “the Hat" McVitie, a criminal from London in the 1950s.

He is there when Jack the Ripper is at large.

He is there during the recession of the 1980s.

He is Norton, the prisoner of London, and I was directed to him, and the book he first appeared in, Slow Chocolate Autopsy by Iain Sinclair and illustrated by Dave McKean, through Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (where, in his second appearance, he guides some of the league to a secret railway platform in King’s Cross from where they travel to a magical school to confront the Antichrist—who has a scar on his forehead and is the protégé of a man called Riddle).

Slow Chocolate Autopsy is about Norton, who is trapped in London space, but not in time—which gives Sinclair and McKean an opportunity to explore London, through time, and through incidents (the full name of the book is Slow Chocolate Autopsy: Incidents From the Notorious Career of Norton, Prisoner of London).

I’ve had the book for a few weeks now (it was published in 1997 and has never been reissued, making it a minor rarity) and read it thrice, but I still have no idea how Norton got trapped in London or who he is. Sinclair’s prose is austere, if not abrupt—he is not one for explaining things and seems happy to allow readers to figure it out for themselves, and if they get it wrong, all the better. Of the 12 chapters in Slow Chocolate Autopsy, three are comic strips—or a mix of old photographs, maps and drawings, a montage of allusions. McKean uses a similar style in the title pages of each chapter. Sometimes, you know exactly what he is trying to convey. At other times, the message is like a memory you almost have before it slips out of your grasp.

This is fiction and graphic novelization at its best—intriguing, challenging, trippy.

Just as it should be.

R. Sukumar is editor, Mint.

Also Read | Sukumar’s previous Lounge columns