Every Christmas, while the kids are exclaiming over toys and playing in relative harmony, I adopt benevolent mama pose and sit and read a Bad Machinery book while they giggle and coo (clearly romanticized, but if not now, when.) This year, I was so discombobulated by the book series’ change of format that I accidentally read The Case Of The Unwelcome Visitor again before realizing my mistake and picking up this (correct) volume instead.
One thing that that experience really shot home to me was how much I enjoy my subsequent readings of these books even more than my first. Don’t get me wrong: I really liked The Unwelcome Visitor the first time around but appreciated it even more the second, probably due to mostly already knowing where it was going, so being able to savor the details and pacing instead of rushing towards the who and howdunnit end. Alas that I can never extend that same patience to my initial reads! The Case Of The Forked Road was no different, as I gulped down the contents like a woman parched of quality literary entertainment.
This greed actually helped me get over the fact of the afore-mentioned format change. The series had previously been presented in over-sized landscape mode, but for this book alone moves to standard portrait. I am not a fan (and, fortunately, subsequent printings of TCotFR go back to landscape.) The mode I don’t mind so much, but the panels are subsequently so much smaller that they’re rather more difficult to read. Ah, well, that just ensures I spend more time poring over each panel I suppose, which is well worth it in the end.
Story-wise, this might be one of the slightest in the series, and that’s entirely due to the fact that it’s about time travel, a sci-fi concept that’s notoriously difficult to make not silly. I especially disliked the Simpsons-esque ending. But nothing can defeat the utter charm of Charlotte Grote and co, as they face growing up with various levels of aplomb.
It’s actually a shock to open the book and discover that Little Claire no longer lisps! And while the boys — Linton, Jack and Sonny — are overtaken by that horrid monster Puberty, Mildred must persuade the other girls to not only join her in Drama Club, but also in investigating what the rest don’t believe is an actual mystery.
Calvin is ostensibly the nephew of one of the staff of Griswalds Grammar School, which our detecting team attends. But Mildred thinks there’s something strange about this kid who’s obsessed with communists, whom the other teachers swear isn’t actually enrolled there despite Mildred ever only seeing him in uniform. As she digs deeper into this contradiction, she and the other girls cross paths with a gang of kids who don’t care what havoc they wreak in their petty quest for vengeance. Will Mildred, Charlotte and Shauna be able to save reality, or at least get it back as close to where they know it should be?
So, on the one hand, time travel, bleh. I’m also not as invested in the Beckwiths’ relationship as the girls clearly are. But on the other, Charlotte in Drama Club! Killing it in Glengarry Glen Ross, no less! And the initial fight between the girls and their subsequent reconciliation was so authentic, as was their weirdly proprietary interest in the Beckwiths’ marriage, my own lack of interest notwithstanding. Also, Charlotte’s life plan to be a Mystery Queen is just The Best. I love her so much.
My husband gave me the first two books in John Allison’s latest series, Steeple, for Christmas, prompting me once more to feel like I really ought to read these books more often than once a year. Perhaps I’ll read the next over New Year’s*! They’re just so rich and delightful that I feel I ought to spread out their enjoyment as long as I can.
*spoiler alert: I did not.
The Case Of The Forked Road by John Allison was published May 30 2017 by Oni Press and is available from all good booksellers, including