Book Review: The Baker Street Peculiars

Book Review: The Baker Street Peculiars written by Roger Langridge, art by Andy Hirsch

It is 1933 in the city of London, and what appears to be a stone lion from Trafalgar Square is running wild in the streets.  Three children from different walks of life (and a dog) have separately decided to chase down the lion to learn what’s going on.  They eventually lose the trail, but meet the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes, who engages them for a shilling each to be his new Irregulars.  They’ll investigate the supposed living statue while he’s busy with other cases.

The Baker Street Peculiars

But wait; assuming Sherlock Holmes wasn’t just made up by Arthur Conan Doyle, didn’t he retire to a bee farm in Sussex before World War One?  There’s more than one odd thing going on here!

This volume collects the four issues of last year’s children’s comic book series of the same name.  As a modern period piece, it’s a bit more diverse than the comic papers that would have been published back in the day.

Molly Rosenberg is a whip-smart girl, who wants to be a detective.  Her kindly but conservative tailor grandfather has forbidden her formal education as he’s afraid she’s already too learned to attract a good husband.

Rajani Malakar is an orphan of Bengali descent who was raised (when not confined to juvenile institutions) by professional thief Big Jim Cunningham.  Big Jim had an alcohol-related fatality a bit back, and she’s had to make her way alone with petty theft.  Rajani is probably the oldest of the children, as she’s hit puberty.

Humphrey Fforbes-Davenport is the youngest son of a large upper-crust family.  Evidently he was unplanned and unwanted, as he was shipped off to a harsh boarding school as soon as possible, with only a golden retriever named Wellington as a valet.  (Wellington doesn’t talk, so his level of intelligence is difficult to gauge.)  Over the course of the story, Humphrey learns to weaponize his class privilege (within his own class, of course, it’s never done him any good, so he didn’t even realize he had it.)

As it happens, Molly’s cultural background is especially useful in this case, as the villain is Chippy Kipper, the Pearly King of Brick Street, a self-willed golem.  Chippy has the mind of a small-time protection racketeer, but has realized that the ability to bring statues to life gives him an army with which he could take over the city–maybe the world!

The kids are on their own through most of the adventure.  The sole representative of the law enforcement establishment is PC Plank, who’s intellectually lazy, and would rather arrest known riffraff Rajani than investigate any other possible criminals.  Sherlock Holmes is…elsewhere…much of the time, and Daily Mirror reporter Hetty Jones is well behind the children in her investigations.

The art is cartoony, with several Sherlockian in-jokes hidden in the background.  This serves to soften somewhat the several off-screen deaths.

This volume should be suitable for middle-schoolers on up.  Parents may want to be ready for discussions on period sexism and ethnic prejudice.  (There’s also a subplot about dog farts.)

It appears that this may be the first in a series about the kids–I should mention that despite the Holmes connection, this and potential future volumes seem more about the “weird adventure” than mysteries.

Manga Review: Akuma no Riddle Volume 1

Manga Review: Akuma no Riddle Volume 1 story by Yun Kouga, art by Sunao Minakata

Azuma Tokaku is the star student at  Private Academy 17, secretly a school for assassins.  As such, she’s being temporarily transferred to Myojo Private School, to participate in Class Black.  Supposedly, Class Black is a game disguised as an ordinary homeroom class–twelve assassins compete to see which one of them can  kill the thirteenth student.

Akuma no Riddle Volume 1

The target is Haru Ichinose, a bubbly girl who doesn’t seem to have a care in the world.  But we soon have hints that her past is dark indeed, and she’s much harder to kill than she appears.  Azuma begins to have second thoughts about her mission…perhaps she should be protecting Haru instead?

This manga (“Devil’s Riddle”) has been adapted into an anime series as well.  (I am told the anime compresses the series and cuts out several subplots.)  The author’s notes mention a “social game” but it’s not clear if this series was adapted from that or vice-versa.

In the tradition of dystopian YA, it is readily apparent that the teenage assassins have not been told the entire truth about what’s going on, and some of what the adults have led them to believe is completely false.   Azuma’s teacher at Private Academy 17 tells the reader as much, and looks forward to her figuring that out.  Most of the characters have very dark backstories, most only hinted at in this volume.  (Haru’s body is covered in nasty scars, and “Tokaku” means “rabbit’s horn”, aka “a thing that does not exist” like a jackalope.)

Most of the first volume is given over to brief introductions to the characters; there are thirteen girls in Class Black, a homeroom teacher who appears to be oblivious to what’s really going on, Azuma’s teacher, and the mysterious person who set up Class Black.  Azuma and Haru get the most characterization as “trying hard to be an emotionless professional” and “overly cute girl who refers to herself in the third person.”

The art is decent but relies heavily on hairstyles and uniforms to distinguish the characters.  There’s a couple of fanservicey scenes in aid of the plotline.

The book’s primary weakness from my point of view is that it seems overly calculated.  Each of the young women is designed to fit into a particular “appeal category” (the big-breasted one, the one with glasses, the one that looks underage, etc.) and I would not be surprised if this was originally published in a magazine with a primarily male reader demographic.  Also, the premise kind of unsuspends my disbelief.  Yes, I can accept for the sake of the concept one small private school that trains assassins, but here we have twelve teenage girls who come from twelve different schools and are all trained assassins.  Plus we’re given to understand that Class Black has happened at least twice before without the outside world noticing.

I do not think I will be picking up a second volume, but if teenage female assassins are your thing, and the plausibility issues aren’t a dealbreaker for you, you might enjoy this.

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