Bad Machinery: The Case of the Team Spirit and The Case of the Good Boy, by John Allison

I picked up the first volume of John Allison's Bad Machinery because I kept seeing it described as a spectacular title for children, and I figured: what the hell, I'm pretty childish. But now that I've read every Bad Machinery strip to date, I've decided Allison's publisher is making a mistake by pushing Bad Machinery exclusively at kids—this is a story about children, but that doesn't mean it's best appreciated by children.

Bad Machinery is a mystery series set in the fictional, not-quite-earthly British town of Tackleford, where weirdness is part of everyday life. (When a group of toddlers is stolen from a daycare, the local police assure everyone that missing kids are the exception in Tackleford, not the rule: “There are thousands of children in Tackleford Metropolital Borough, but only nine have vanished in the last three weeks. I've got a couple of officers keeping an eye out. They'll turn up.”) Six middle-grade students—Charlotte Jack, Shauna, Linton, Mildred, and Sonny—handle most of the local crime-solving, which in Tackleford involves everything from arsonists to werewolves to time travel.

While the quirkier elements of Bad Machinery (magical dog-monsters, evil WAGs, etc.) drive the plots along, much of the story's charm comes from its characters. I immediately fell in love with the group's steady loyalty, Charlotte's unshakeable—actually, borderline delusional—self-confidence, and the pattern of their speech (a delicious mixture of regional accent and straight-up wrongness):
“Let's find Pepper a wife so he can have puppies! Puppies for me!”
“Sorry Mildred but Pepper has been “sorted out”. His test icicles are in heaven.”
“Did you... have a funeral for them?”
“No but Mum said we wouldn't eat meatballs for a month. Out of RESPECK.”
If I really wanted to nitpick, the girl characters are a hair more strongly defined than the boys, and some American readers might find the British slang a little confusing, despite the handy glossary at the back. (Definition for the Velvet Underground: “Music band from the past who caused all sorts of trouble. The sound of the Velvet Underground is like a set of bagpipes going through a mangle while a German exchange student lists all the reasons you should take up living homeless as a hobby. Bad news for people who like sounds.”) However, these are really, really minor quibbles, and if you're even an occasional comics reader I strongly encourage you to check this awesome series out. The mysteries can be read for free here, but the books are huge and colorful, include loads of additional content, and—at $20—are a totally affordable and important way to support the author.
Posted by: Julianka


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