Bad Machinery Vol. III: The Case of the Simple Soul by John Allison sees the return of the teenage Tackleford gang as they try to solve an arson case (available December 10, 2014).
I greet the publication of every new Bad Machinery collection with a thrill and a silent cheer. No group of sleuthing teens has ever charmed me as much as John Allison’s rival gangs in Tackleford, England have. Alas for our intrepid investigators though, summer term at the start of this third volume finds both groups seriously short-handed, as their respective leaders, Shauna and Jack, have finally made their romantic relationship public. As a result, Shauna and Jack have started spending more time with each other than with their friends, leading to considerable unhappiness in those left behind. In particular, Shauna’s best friend, Charlotte, takes it hard, as she and the other member of the girl’s sleuthing group hang out together:
Mildred: Where is Shauna today?
Charlotte: You know… she's gotta lot on… swimming club… she's… SHE'S BUSY BEING IN LOVE. We had a lot of plans for what we were going to do, too.
Mildred: Don't let love ruin your summer! She'll get bored of kissing, eventually your lips must get worn out.
Charlotte: No. From what I've seen, BLORG, they take breaks to do some intense staring at each other.
Mildred: I'm pretty sure your eyeballs can dry out doing that.
Little do Charlotte and Mildred know that they will soon take an interest in love themselves, though not on their own behalves. They come across and befriend a large, rather simple-minded individual, and soon hatch a hare-brained scheme to find him a lady friend from the ranks of their school teachers.
Meanwhile, the boys’ group is at their own loose end. Feeling both leaderless and rudderless, it’s easy for new kid, Colm, to worm his way into their circle. To Linton and Sonny’s dismay, though, Colm turns out to be a bit of a bad seed (plus, he freely admits to having a crush on Charlotte, which the other boys just don’t understand.) Linton and Sonny are determined to investigate the arson of old barns as a way of carrying on without Jack, but it seems that their investigations will lead them on a collision course with Charlotte and Mildred. Even more unfortunately, the mysterious arsons soon cause violence to erupt in Tackleford. Dan, Shauna’s stepdad, steps in to rescue Shauna and Charlotte when the girls get a little too close to danger. As always, John Allison tempers the drama with a bit of blithe teenage humor:
Charlotte: Dan were you in the mob?
Dan: Of course I ruddy wasn't. Mobs are full of idiots. No matter why a mob forms… most of those people are there looking to break a window and steal a TV.
Shauna: What about a mob of BLIND PEOPLE?
Charlotte: I reckon they'd just steal a radio.
Shauna: Oh yeah of course.
The mystery at the heart of The Case Of The Simple Soul wasn’t quite as solid, I thought, as the puzzles of Bad Machinery Volumes 1 and 2, but the overall story is still as charming and funny as its predecessors. Importantly, it also allows for the character development of our twelve year-olds, as well as introducing new characters who further flesh out the world of Tackleford. I did like how the book tackled the issue of teenage relationships and the strains that can be placed on friendships by romance.
In addition to the case, this volume includes a glossary of British English terms used in the book, helpfully translated by Charlotte herself into words Americans might better understand. There is also a hilarious section featuring all the drawings of potential husbands Charlotte and Mildred dreamed up for each other while hanging out without Shauna.
John Allison’s artwork throughout is impeccable as always, perfectly suiting the light-hearted tale. I always like going back and comparing an artist’s current style with his previous work, and you can really see how much more confident his lines are in this volume as compared to his earlier Bad Machinery panels. I’m really looking forward to seeing his continuing evolution, both in art and in story, as further volumes are published.
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She
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