Jan 01 2021

The Case of the Fire Inside (Bad Machinery #5) by John Allison

My husband got me this book several years ago as I’m a huge Bad Machinery fan, but for some reason or other, I put off reading this until I felt it was the “right time.” So it’s been languishing on my dining room table for years, unready to join its kin — the first four volumes — that I hide in a special place to save from my kids’ grubby and destructive fingers, until I decided on Christmas morning, while my kids were occupying themselves with presents, that it was finally the moment!

Ofc, the first thing I did upon slipping back into that wonderful fictional world was chastise myself for waiting so long, but if I did that for every book I own that I put off reading, I’d be recriminating myself foreeeeever. And don’t think I wasn’t sufficiently punished when I went online afterward to track down the next volumes, and found myself faced with a multiplicity of editions and availabilities. Wound up buying used copies from online thrift stores because I’d waited so long to get the particular editions I wanted… and I’ve just discovered I could’ve gotten the exact copies I had in mind directly from the author’s website, oh good grief.

But this should give you some idea of the charm and hold that this series, revolving around six teenagers solving weird crimes in the town of Tackleford, England, has on the reader. Both funny and poignant, John Allison is doing some of the best work of his career with this series, and especially with this fifth installment, The Case Of The Fire Inside. Our heroes are growing up and setting aside things like their mystery-solving clubs in favor of romance and swotting up for college (well, most of them anyway: Charlotte is incorrigible as always.) Shauna and Jack have broken up, so now Jack and Linton, his best friend, spend all their time thinking about meeting girls. This doesn’t sit well with the last member of their trio, Sonny, who isn’t ready for a girlfriend and wishes they could go back to just playing with toys and having adventures. While moping at the swim party organized for his 14th birthday, he thinks he sees a girl swimming outside off the beach. He runs to see if she needs help, more or less followed by Charlotte, who is busy getting herself kicked out of the pool establishment. The mysterious girl disappears, but not before Sonny finds some weird hide lying on the seashore. Charlotte stuffs the hide into Sonny’s bag because… well, because she’s Charlotte and in her tortured logic it’s the sensible thing to do.

Meanwhile, Sonny’s cousin Mildred is suffering the pangs of first love when cool, handsome Lee starts paying attention to her. Shauna and Charlotte egg her on, tho Shauna is too busy with her studies to care about boys herself. But Lee has a secret that could change everything, even before a new girl shows up in Tackleford and seems to set her sights on Sonny.

I love these books so much, not only for the lightly paranormal mysteries and gleeful humor but also for the authentic look into the lives and emotions of young people trying to navigate growing up and what it means to be a good friend. The kids are certainly in a different place in their lives now than they were in the first books, and it’s a joy to follow along as they solve not only crimes but the conundrums of their personal lives. I am also obsessed with Charlotte, who is exactly the bold, savage opposite of myself at that age (I was definitely more of a Shauna.)

I’m hoping the thrift store volumes arrive soon so I can happily devour the rest, ahead of catching up with the final volumes, the last of which is to be released January 26th! I can’t believe their story is coming to a close. But I also know that I put off reading this book so as to prolong my own joy, knowing there are fresh Bad Machinery stories for me to enjoy for the first time still in my future (also, I think Mr Allison keeps writing about the kids as grown-ups? The prospect sends a delighted shiver of joy through me!) Were I impatient, I would have likely already read all these at Scary Go Round, the site where Mr Allison originally publishes his webcomics, but I like having these nice floppy volumes in hand to savor while overseeing my children’s mischief. Anyway, don’t be an idiot like me and put off buying these delightful books.

Bad Machinery Vol 5: The Case Of The Fire Inside by John Allison was first published April 20th, 2016 by Oni Press, and is available from all good booksellers, including

Want it now? For the Kindle version, click here.

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