Are you familiar with those classic British detective series on TV – Midsomer Murders, Poirot, Inspector Lynley etc? Of course you are. (And if you aren't, that doesn't really matter; it was more of a rhetorical question.)
The standard plot for one of these whodunits starts out with introducing the main protagonists or the problem the detective has to solve – or a very old event that sets the stage for what is to follow. If the latter case, it is usually not entirely clear exactly how this will affect the present-day crime riddle, but solving that riddle is often dependent on the detective realizing how those old events are connected to it.
We then have a crime, usually a murder, which gets the detective(s) involved in the case. While trying to understand that case, and perhaps feeling that he/she/they is/are getting a grip on it, another murder is committed, which makes it obvious that that is not the case at all. Digging deeper, the detective(s) a) encounter some red herring(s), b) find a crucial bit of evidence that is frequently not understood properly. Suddenly, perhaps from a comment by his/her partner, the detective realizes exactly what has happened and why, and who the guilty party is, and rushes to – in the very nick of time – stop the murderer from killing another victim.
This is a rather stereotypical way of structuring your plot, and the reason it is so stereotypical is of course that it works. People – readers and viewers of criminal fiction – love it, and faithfully follow well constructed series in the genre. It offers tension, the challenge of oneself making sense of the various bits of information revealed during the investigation, some "aha!" moments, and the satisfaction of seeing justice enacted. Who could complain? As long as it's well done, of course. Stereotypical plots enacted badly are just terrible, whether in book or film/TV format.
(As you may already have guessed, the plot of Blake & Mortimer – The Oath of the Five Lords conforms to this basic structure.)
Blake & Mortimer is a comics series created by writer-artist (and Hergé collaborator/assistant) Edgar P. Jacobs, combining elements from detective stories and science fiction. Several albums were published in Swedish when I was a kid – and I would dearly like to know where the hell the albums I bought then have gotten to, because I can't bloody well find them today.
From what I recall, though, the panels were usually a bit too text-heavy and the storytelling a bit too cumbersome for me to really appreciate it. Much later, however, something happened. First, in the nineties French publishing giant Dargaud decided to revive the series, with some top contemporary comics creators doing the honors as Jacobs passed away in 1987. Second, British Cinebook started translating all B&M albums, publishing them in English.
(Now, I can read French, but I do need to have a dictionary on hand, so it's easier for me to read the stories in English. Also, I can buy them cheaper and easier via my comics dealer. Thus, I'm thankful to Cinebook for making these and many other French/Belgian comics easily available as there are very little French-language comics published in Swedish these days. The notable exception, small-press publisher Albumförlaget, can only publish so much.)
Anyway, this particular story starts out in 1919, depicting how some MI5 spook with a grudge against Lawrence of Arabia has a manuscript stolen from the war hero. We are then transferred to the fifties, when a masked figure burglarizes a museum to steal a violin. Coincidentally, scientist Philip Mortimer – half of Blake & Mortimer – has been invited to that very museum to hold a seminar on science and archaeology. Meanwhile, his old friend Francis Blake, head of the MI5, hurries off to the funeral of an old Oxford chum. Turns out the old friend was murdered… And some other old friends from that Oxford circle are then murdered, one by one…
From there on, it's basic traditional British whodunit; following leads, some of them red herrings, and gradually discovering how the two cases are connected – and how they are connected to the scene depicted in the prologue. Both Sente and Juillard are old hands, so they know their craft, and they do it well. I'm a bit annoyed at the way Captions are handled, as they sometimes give redundant information and are lettered in all caps while the speech balloons are in lower case, giving the impression of a narrator speaking in a RATHER LOUD VOICE. But the overall work is solid, with a complicated plot that is gradually revealed to the reader, skillfully weaving in some real-life connections and an interesting episode from Francis Blake's past, adding some dimension to the character and a reason for him to take a special interest in the case.
There are also some nice bits of characterization showing the reader what incredibly Britishly polite people Messieurs Blake and Mortimer are. As an example of that, please listen to the head of the MI5 asking the person at the front desk of a hospital to make a life-or-death phone call: "I don't want to impose on you, miss, but could you place another call for me?"
Overall, the positive aspects of the story compensates for the actual solution to the case being not all that special and somewhat predictable. (Only "somewhat", though, because if you're familiar with the genre, you're not particularly surprised by it, but Sente does keep his options for tying the whole thing together open for most of the album.)
Also, occasionally it becomes almost a bit too "let's do a really, really British whodunit", but overall, it's enjoyable like a good Midsomer Murders or Lewis episode. Worth your time.
Here's an enthusiastic review with some art samples.