Sherlock Sam and the Missing Heirloom in Katong by A.J. Low. Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2016. 9781449477899.
Elementary-aged, Singaporean amateur sleuth Sherlock Sam (real name: Samuel Tan Cher Lock) teams up with his sister, his cousin, and his snarky robot Watson to solve the mystery of his Auntie’s missing heirloom cookbook. Sherlock Sam is earnest, he learned all about problem-solving from Logicomix, he’s annoyed that adults keep pinching his chubby cheeks, and he’s motivated by food. This book made me hungry: it’s packed full of Singaporean delicacies (Sherlock Sam’s love of his Auntie’s ayam buah keluak is the main reason he wants to solve the case quickly).
This is an illustrated chapter book (though Andrews McMeel’s AMP! Kids imprint is known for graphic novels) with delightful black and white spot illustrations by Andrew Tan.
The Murder at the Vicarage: A Miss Marple Mystery by Agatha Christie. Harper, 1930. 9780062073600.
I’ve decided that my personal reading challenge for 2017 is to sample the classics of the mystery and detective genre. I started early, with the first Sherlock Holmes novel in November. This was my first inkling of how difficult this will be, since I immediately wanted to read the rest of the stories! My next author was Agatha Christie. Now I want to read through all of her mysteries, too. I had only known that Christie’s books had well-crafted puzzles, I had no idea how funny she was!
In The Murder at the Vicarage, local blowhard Colonel Protheroe is murdered in the vicar’s study. No one in the village of St. Mary Mead is terribly sorry that he’s gone, and there is no shortage of suspects. The story is narrated by the vicar, Leonard Clement, who makes hilariously dry internal observations about the odd characters who cross his path as he tries to solve the crime. In a tiny village where everyone knows everyone’s business, a murder is almost gleefully appreciated. Everyone fancies themselves a detective and begins looking for clues. The most observant and knowledgeable about human nature (as well as being an avid mystery reader) is Miss Marple, one of the many spinsters who dominate local life. I loved the various winks to the reader about the conventions of mystery novels — this was written in 1930, as the genre was just beginning its golden age!
Normal by Warren Ellis. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016. 9780374534974.
Hidden in an experimental forest in rural Oregon is a facility funded by various government agencies and NGOs, a facility where professionals help mentally ill futurists. They observe trends in technology, finance, and warfare in order to predict what comes next, and are driven mad by what they predict. Foresight strategist Adam Dearden arrives after a breakdown and is ready for time away from the constant inbound information that controlled his life. Then a patient goes missing from his locked and very closely watched room, leaving behind a huge mound of writhing insects on his bed. The facility goes into lockdown and everyone begins to panic. Adam decides that the safest thing to do is to solve the mystery before anyone from the outside world comes and investigates his background too closely.
Ellis provides his usual gonzo, fever-dream take on current and near-future technology, much of it based on the work of futurist friends. He writes a fast-paced mystery that will leave you unsettled by the doomsday scenarios that brought patients to the facility.
Nailbiter Volume One: There Will Be Blood by Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson. Image, 2014. 9781632151124.
Contains Nailbiter #1 – #5.
Nailbiter Volume Two: Bloody Hands by Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson. Image, 2015. 9781632152329.
Contains Nailbiter #6 – #10.
Eliot Carroll has been investigating the connections between the Buckaroo Butchers — sixteen serial killers born in the small town of Buckaroo, Oregon. He called his friend, Army Intelligence Officer Nicholas Finch, to tell him he’d solved the mystery. But by the time Finch arrives in town to meet him, Carroll is missing. Now Finch just wants to find his friend. Did acquitted serial killer The Nailbiter (who chewed his victims’ nails right down to their bloody bones) have anything to do with his friend’s disappearance?
It features a local cop who used to date a serial killer, a Murder Shop that sells killer memorabilia, a ton of suspicious characters, and some of the grossest flashbacks I’ve seen in comics. This is perfect for splatterpunk fans and, as someone starts impersonating past serial killers, of the movie Scream. There’s a hilarious story in the second book where comics writer Brian Michael Bendis heads to Buckaroo on his bike to make notes for a graphic novel. But I was on board as soon as I read about any librarian’s favorite serial killer, The Book Burner, who torched libraries with people inside and then killed some authors. (I am, of course, happy that he’s fictional.)
Running Girl by Simon Mason. Scholastic, 2016. 9781338036428.
What if a mixed-race, 15-year-old suburban British slacker had a mind like Sherlock Holmes’, with his photographic memory, knowledge, and analytical skills? Garvie Smith is bored out of his skull in school, gets terrible grades, refuses to apply himself, and hangs out with friends at the park smoking weed. The only thing he puts any effort into is avoiding another lecture from his mom. Then one of his classmates, Chloe Dow, goes missing. Garvie takes it upon himself to find out what happened to her even as the young and serious Detective Inspector Singh tells him to leave the investigation to the police.
The two brilliant investigators piece together conflicting stories and physical evidence on their own, only occasionally sharing their insights with one another. I rooted for each of them through heaps of twists and turns. This books is 432 pages long and never lags. I am someone who tunes out during chase scenes in pretty much any media, but the one in Running Girl had me gasping on the edge of my seat. I really hope this is the start of a series, or maybe even two: one for Garvie and one for DI Singh.
A Study In Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle. 1887.
Did you know there is a verse in Sugarhill Gang’s classic song “Rapper’s Delight” about getting food poisoning?
“Ever went over a friends house to eat
And the food just ain’t no good?
I mean the macaroni’s soggy, the peas are mushed,
And the chicken tastes like wood”
After dancing along with “ho-tel, mo-tel, Holiday Inn” and all the other parts of the song that get sampled or referenced in hundreds of others, it’s almost alarming to come across big chunks of it that are totally unfamiliar. (The song is 15 minutes long. 15 minutes!)
That’s what it was like for me to read “A Study In Scarlet.” I’ve watched and read countless stories that included or referenced famous bits (a corpse in an empty room, poison, and revenge), but reading it I suddenly found myself in an unexpected place, in the middle of a tragic romance in Salt Lake City among the early Mormon settlers.
Aside from that cultural whiplash, it is tremendous fun and I can see why people still read it.
Gene: I find these stories largely unreadable, though I’ve bought complete collections of Sherlock Holmes stories several times (and then eventually passed them along as gifts). But graphic novels to the rescue! I loved this adaptation.
The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo by Drew Weing. First Second, 2016. 9781626723399.
Charles and his parents have moved from a small town to Echo City, where they’ll live in the top-floor apartment of the building his dad is renovating. As awful as it is to Charles to have to be in a tiny room, in a busy and (he thinks) dangerous city, it’s terrifying when he finds that his building has a resident monster who peeks out of his closet and steals his stuff. Another kid in the building gives him a business card (don’t show any grown-ups) from Margo Maloo: Monster Mediator. Margo swoops in through Charles’ window and takes him down a hidden access shaft to a blocked-off hotel kitchen. There they find a troll (Margo knows him well, his name is Marcus) and he and Charles end up bonding over their respective collection of Battlebean toys. More adventures follow as Margo lets Charles tag along on her cases around the city.
Kid detectives were my favorite genre in elementary school and this brought back happy memories of free-range kids solving mysteries. This isn’t just a throwback, though, these are very modern kids. I especially liked Charles’ vague questions to his dad about monsters — he assumes Charles is talking about the problems of gentrification. And maybe he is, really, as many of the stories touch on the monster population (who have their own neighborhoods and grocery stores hidden within the city) being pushed out by humans wandering into their territory.
Don’t miss the endpapers that have a map of Echo City. You’ll recognize neighborhoods and streets named after your favorite cartoonists and children’s authors!