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Alpha: The Exchange

Posted: Wednesday, January 21, 2009
By: Penny Kenny

Pacal Renard
Youri Jigounov
Cinebook
“The Exchange” & “The Bogdanov Family”

In Cologne, a personal assistant is kidnapped and forced to reveal his employer’s meeting schedule. In Paris, a beautiful, young Muscovite named Assia Donkova flirts with painter Julian Morgan. In Saint-Germain-En-Laye, deadly gunfire erupts as rival gangsters fight over the contents of a silver gym bag. How do all these pieces fit together? And what are Assia and Julian’s roles in this?

I’m not ashamed to admit I was lost for the first ten pages or so of this double volume of Alpha, but I never once considered giving up on the book. Pacal Renard and Youri Jigounov’s story of corruption, betrayal, and love is compelling reading--even when you’re confused as to what’s going on. It draws you in and won’t let you go. It’s a complicated thriller in the best sense of both words. You have to use your brain to keep track of the plot twists and the characters’ motivations.

Renard effortlessly juggles the political and human elements of the story. In between scenes explaining the connections linking the Russian government and the Mob, you get moments detailing the growing attraction between the very-married Assia and Julian.

Julian is an interesting character. The hero of the piece, he really doesn’t come to the forefront of the story until eight pages in (considering each page has an average of ten panels, quite a bit of plot and characters has been accumulated by that point). He has to work to stand out. Fortunately he’s charming, intelligent, a bit of a romantic, and loyal--though there’s some question as to where that loyalty will lead him.

As ominous as the plot might sound, the script is not without humor. The scene in which a Russian CIA informant tries to seduce Julian is amusing and sexy, and it gives readers important information about both characters.

One of the strengths of this volume is how every element has a place in the plot and ties into another piece of the puzzle. There are no unnecessary bits in the story. There is, however, one glaring coincidence that moves the plot forward--but since it works so well, I’m inclined to forgive the authors for introducing it.

Given that this is a thriller, there’s shooting, blood, and sex. As always, though, Cinebook tones it down from the original version. Even in this expurgated version, Youri Jigounav does a superb job on the action scenes. For instance, with a minimum of panels, he conveys the speed and excitement of a car and motorcycle chase. Yet his quiet moments are beautiful too. The successive expressions on Assia and Julian’s faces as she seduces him convey their thoughts without words.

The amount of detail Jigounav puts into a panel is incredible! The angel at the museum and the relief work on the front of the building are just two examples of the care taken to get it right. You can compare the drawings with the originals via good old Google and they match almost perfectly. He doesn’t take shortcuts to establish background realism. The outfit Julian wears when he first meets Assia--which consists of a patterned vest, checked scarf, and striped vest and pants--also shows off Jigounav’s love of fine line work.

One minor quibble I have with the art is that two of the male characters have the same general build and coloring. It takes more than a quick glance to differentiate between them. Overall, however, there’s a nice variety of body types on display.

If you, or someone you know, enjoy the Bourne series, James Bond, or other books and movies of that ilk, then run, do not walk, to pick up a copy of Alpha Volume One (aka The Exchange).



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