Written by: John Allison
Illustrated by: John Allison
Publisher: Oni Press
Format: Softcover, 9 x 12, 128 pages, Full Color, $19.99
Reviewed by: Diamond BookShelf
Love is in the air for the mystery-solving English middle schoolers of John Allison's Bad Machinery series, and with it comes both drama and intrigue.
Allison spins a complex narrative in this volume, laying out many threads which unfold throughout the chapters. Sonny finds himself becoming fast friends with Ellen, the new girl at school, who can't read or write, and seems to have washed up from the sea. Mildred finds herself falling for the school bad boy Lee, who happens to be dating Sasha. When Lee breaks up with Sasha, she vows revenge on the Mildred for stealing his love away. As the mystery of Ellen builds and Mildred's relationship develops (and Sasha's fury grows), a strange man appears out of the sea, looking for his daughters and wearing a large seal skin – similar to the one Sonny found on the beach right before Ellen showed up.
Allison ably balances the daily lives of his characters with the overarching mystery behind the new additions, and although anyone familiar with Celtic folklore will figure out a key point right away (the new girl introduces herself as Ellen Selky), there are still enough surprises in the story to keep readers’ attention to the end. Originally released as a webcomic, each page of Bad Machinery works as a strip in its own right, delivering set ups and punchlines even as they move the overall story forward. Allison keeps the flow of one-liners and jokes steady, which helps the narrative move quickly.
Allison's art conveys the energy of the story well, with very expressive characters and vibrant line work and colors that is effective in both the fun and serious aspects of the story.
Suitable for middle school readers and above, The Case of the Fire Inside offers a fun, mythological mystery while aptly capturing the heady feeling for first love – and first hreatbreak.