Manga Review: Case Closed (Detective Conan) Vol. 63/64

Manga Review: Case Closed (Detective Conan) Vol. 63/64 by Gosho Aoyama

Quick recap:  When teen genius detective Shinichi Kudou (Jimmy Kudo in the American version) is shrunk to a childlike form in a botched assassination attempt, he takes the name Conan Edogawa and is taken in by bumbling private eye Kogoro Mouri (Richard Moore) and his daughter Ran (Rachel), who happens to be Shinichi’s sweetheart.  Conan must hide from the international crime organization that changed him, but also finds himself having to solve crimes, despite the fact that first-graders aren’t supposed to be that great at detection.  See my reviews of earlier volumes for more details.

Case Closed Volume 63

In the previous volume, Shinichi had taken an experimental antidote that allows him to assume his normal appearance for a few hours–only to spend most of that time separated from his friends.  As Volume 63 opens, he finally has an hour or two to spend with Ran as himself…or he would, except that they’ve stumbled across a man strangled to death while alone in a moving automobile!  Can Shinichi solve the crime before he shrinks again?

Then Professor Agasa takes the Detective Boys out for sushi on a revolving conveyor belt, only to have an obnoxious food critic be poisoned right by them.

This is followed by a story that the Americanized names makes not make much sense.  Genta Kojima’s (George Kaminski in the dub) father is enrolled in a special televised tournament only for people who write “Kojima” with a specific set of kanji (ideograms).  In the English version, it’s a contest for people who spell the name “Kaminski” that way.  Conan must figure out which of the contestants murdered the organizer of the tournament and why.  He’ll just hope it’s not Genta’s never before seen father!

The last story in the volume is the hunt for the “Silver Witch”, a legendary drift racer.  She seems to be back from wherever she disappeared to a few years ago, and luring mountain racers into auto accidents in the fog.  Has a big twist at the end!

Case Closed Volume 64

Volume 64 opens with the Detective Boys visiting Horn Rock, an isolated islet shunned by fisherfolk due to bad luck (unless you have a child on board.)  They find a scuba diver there, dead of starvation, and a curious inscription she wrote.  The complication this time is that they are accompanied not by Professor Agasa, but grad student Subaru Okiya, who is not in on Conan’s secret, and on whom Ai (Anita) sometimes detects the scent of the Black Organization.  Is he an enemy, or is there something else going on?  This is another case that you need to know kanji to solve.

After that, Kogoro Mouri is called in to help a blind heiress discover which of two scarred men is the boy who saved her life as a child.  Making matters more urgent, the police believe the one who’s an impostor may in fact be the Whistling Killer one of the cops managed to scar years before.

Once the mystery of the scarred boy is solved, the story flows into the Whistling Killer case proper.  The killer did several murders years ago, but seemingly comes out of retirement to kill a man who taunted him on television.  Why now, and what is the significance of the song “Let It Be”?

The final chapter is the setup for a Kaito Kid story.  The flashy thief has again challenged Sonoko’s (Serena) wealthy uncle by claiming he will steal something from a supposedly theft-proof safe.  Or has he?  The challenge letter looks wrong, and Conan smells a rat.   Just who is the real villain here?  Wait for Volume 64 to find out!

Of these stories, I liked the Whistling Man tale the best as it’s good and atmospheric.    The two cases that rely on ideograms for clues suffer badly from the erasure of Japanese language for the American version.   There’s no movement on the myth arc, other than the suspicious behavior of Subaru Okiya.

Recommended if you are a fan of the series; more casual fans may want to wait for the next volume that has actual plot developments.

 

Book Review: The Black Stallion Challenged

Book Review: The Black Stallion Challenged by Walter Farley

Alec Ramsay and his faithful trainer Henry Dailey are wintering in Hialeah, Florida, where they hope to race their prize horse, the Black Stallion.  Provided, of course, that the Black has fully recovered from the hoof injury he received some months back.  One day Alec receives a piece of fan mail asking for his help.  It seems that young Steve Duncan has a horse he’d like to race, a stallion named Flame…if he can convince the racetrack officials to let him.

The Black Stallion Challenged

Unbeknownst to Alec or Steve, Flame and the Black have met before, and feel a strong rivalry towards each other.  Plus, Steve needs to make a lot of money very quickly, in order to save Flame’s island home.  The stage is set for a thrilling match between the two great stallions!

This is the sixteenth in the Stallion series penned by Walter Farley, and the last that’s a straight-up horse racing story.   There’s some time compression involved; the first book, The Black Stallion, clearly takes place in 1940 when it was written, and this volume takes place in 1964, but the Black is most assuredly not twenty-four years older.

However, the main attraction of the series is less the plausibility of the setting (one book had aliens!) and more the detailed descriptions of horse care and racing, and Mr. Farley delivers well in this volume.  (Some details are different–the rules of horse racing have changed since the 1960s, let alone the 1940s.)  The final race in particular is exciting as the outcome is in doubt until the horses pass the finish line.

The Stallion series is nominally children’s books, so I should mention that there is an operation on an injured horse that may be too intense a scene for sensitive readers.  Several characters smoke; one specifically mentions that he neither smokes nor drinks alcohol for his health.  I am told there’s period racism and sexism in some of the volumes, but this one manages to avoid that.

The book starts slowly; a one-page letter gets stretched over an entire chapter in a manner that does not build suspense in the mind of anyone who read the back cover copy.  A couple of scenes stuff a lot of telling about the personalities of supporting characters in, rather than showing by their actions.  And to be honest, Alec, Henry and Steve are not deep characters.  (Steve’s a bit more of a hothead here than in his solo appearances.)

But all of that pales compared to the exciting race scenes and the bond between the riders and their horses.  The hardback edition with illustrations by Angie Draper may be hard to find, but there are inexpensive paperback reprints which you can probably get through interlibrary loan.  Recommended to young horse lovers and horse lovers young at heart.

And now, the trailer for The Black Stallion movie, starring Mickey Rooney as Henry Dailey.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GlZJ4wVLdA

Book Review: Skycruiser

Book Review: Skycruiser by Howard M. Brier

Barry Martin is not as young as he looks.  He’s had three years of engineering in college, and two years training as a pilot.  But he looks like a teenager, and a perception that he was too young to handle a man’s job caused him to wash out of the Navy’s pilot program.  Now Barry is trying to get a job at Starwing Airplane Company as a test pilot, but things are not going well.  The owner, Porter J. Hamlin, has banned Barry from his office!  But Barry isn’t licked yet.

Skycruiser

This 1939 boys’ air adventure novel (my copy is a Comet Books reprint from 1948) originally appeared as a serial in Boy’s Life magazine, the house organ of the Boy Scouts of America.  Starwing is pretty transparently a fictional version of Boeing, with a touch of Hughes Aircraft.  Mr. Brier set the story in  the Pacific Northwest, as he did with most of his books, being most comfortable where he lived.

When Barry’s mentor becomes ill, the young man is able to use a contract loophole to demonstrate his test pilot skills to Mr. Hamlin, and seeing Barry in action is enough to overcome the older man’s objections.  Barry is hired  as a junior pilot, but then experiences difficulty winning over the senior pilots.  Not only do they resent the implication that they’re over the hill (a media report on Barry doesn’t help) but the last junior pilot they had turned out to be crooked.

The Skycruiser of the title turns out to be an experimental aircraft Mr. Hamlin wants to build, an enormous passenger plane that will be the equivalent of a luxury liner.   Rival companies would like to steal the plans for the Skycruiser, as it requires several innovative designs just to handle minor functions, let alone get the thing to fly; and if they can’t get that, sabotaging the prototype would work too.  There’s an ever-present threat of industrial espionage.

But there’s plenty of work for Barry even in his regular job, as he tests planes and flies rescue missions.  Barry’s pretty much married to his work–when he isn’t flying airplanes, he’s maintaining them or reading about them, and seems at something of a loss when he has to kill time without access to airplanes.

After a trip to Canada to deliver a cargo plane and demonstrate its features, Barry is approached by a smooth-talking man who offers him a job at double the salary.  This turns out to be crooked pilot Deat Proctor (yes, that’s as phony a name as it sounds).  Barry plays it cagey with Proctor, not promising anything in hopes of discovering what the criminal is up to.  Unfortunately, this convinces Starwing senior pilot Steve Cline that Barry is in cahoots with Proctor, and every step Barry takes to try to prove himself innocent only puts him further under suspicion.

By the end of the book, Barry’s brave and intelligent actions allow the criminals to be captured, and he is now friends with the senior pilots.  (There’s a sequel titled Skyblazer in which Barry has South American adventures.)

The writing is direct and free from frills, and there’s little objectionable subject matter, so this book would be suitable for middle grade readers (with a dictionary for a bit of technical vocabulary) on up.  There’s no romance, but the only women seen are wives and have tiny roles at best.  The primary and recommended audience, though, is boys with an interest in air adventure stories.  There appears to have been a 2007 reprint which should be affordable, but the collector will probably want this heavily illustrated edition.

Comet Books was evidently a short-lived imprint of Pocket Books that issued reprints of popular juvenile fiction, both boys’ and girls’ (one of the volumes listed in the back is the first entry in the Sue Barton, Student Nurse line.)

Overall, this is a well-written boys’ adventure book; a little dated, but well worth looking up.

Book Review: The Infinite Arena

Book Review: The Infinite Arena edited by Terry Carr

Science fiction, in a way, is a very broad genre, that can easily contain stories of other genres within itself.  Thus space westerns, fantastic romance, star war novels and so forth.   In this case, we have a sample of sports stories set in science fiction terms.

The Infinite Arena

Lead batter in the lineup is “Joy in Mudville” by Poul Anderson & Gordon Dickson.  It’s a Hoka story as the imaginative aliens that look like sentient teddy bears have taken up the sport of baseball.  As is their wont, they have assumed the identities of fictional ballplayers of Earth, including the Mighty Casey, their best batter.  Unfortunately, their latest opponents, the Sarenn Snakes, are masters of psychological warfare.  Alexander Jones, the ambassador from Earth, must summon one of his rarely-appreciated talents to save the day.  It’s all very silly.

“Bullard Reflects” by Malcolm Jameson begins with the Space Patrol celebrating the Jovian armistice with athletic contests, including the sport of Dazzle Dart, played with flashlights and mirrors.  But it turns out not all the Jovians are honoring the armistice, and Captain Bullard’s Pollux is sent to track down diehards who’ve taken over an experimental weapons testing station.  Things look dark for the Patrol when they are ambushed and disarmed, but Bullard figures out a way to make the situation a Dazzle Dart game…to the death!  A fine bit of pulp writing, but Mr. Jameson piles the awesomeness of his heroes a shade high.  Not only are they the fleet champions in Dazzle Dart, but are best at all the other athletic contests too, and the Pollux is the only ship in condition to fly when the crisis arises as all the others slacked off when peace was declared.

“The Body Builders” by Keith Laumer posits a future in which most people who can afford it store their physical bodies away and use humaniform robots by telepresence.  Dueling has become a frequent occurrence thanks to the more or less disposable extra bodies, and the protagonist is a professional gladiator.  Which is all well and good until he’s tricked into a duel in his weak “pretty boy” body used for dates, as opposed to the monstrosity he uses for combat.   He sees no way out except to tarnish his honor temporarily in an effort to get to his backup bodies, but is eventually forced to resort to his original organic form–if this one dies, it’s curtains!  Some of the celebrities name-dropped as body models are now obscure, which may make reading the story a chore for the young.

“The Great Kladnar Race” by Robert Silverberg and Randall Garrett has Earthlings stuck on a backwater planet try to create some excitement by organizing a race of the local beasts of burden.   The twist ending is one that could have been thwarted easily if any of the Earthlings had bothered to ask the natives relevant questions.

“Mr. Meek Plays Polo” by Clifford D. Simak involves space polo.  Don’t know how that’s played?  Neither does Mr. Meek, a retired bookkeeper now touring the Solar System in the spaceship it took him a lifetime to save up for.  But he did see a game once, which is more than anyone else in the rowdy frontier of Saturn’s rings has to their credit.  So when the radioactive moss harvesters are talked into a game by a social worker trying to civilize them, Mr. Meek is drafted as a coach for one team, and eventually a replacement player.

As you might guess from his name, Mr. Meek is a timid fellow who tries to explain the reality of the situation, but no one is listening until he is so riled up that he bets his ship on the contest.  (Apparently, he keeps getting into this sort of situation.)  Oh, and there’s an infestation of metal-eating bugs to deal with; that can’t be good.  Things sort themselves out in the end.

“Sunjammer” by Arthur C. Clarke is more “hard” SF than most of the other stories, as solar yachts use the pressure of sunlight to have a race from Earth orbit to the Moon.  One of the ships is manned by the inventor of solar sails, after decades of work finally able to compete; but this will be his last chance.  Soon, solar flares will make it too dangerous to yacht, and he’ll be too old for the sport by the time it’s safe again.  This one has a bittersweet ending.

“Run to Sunlight” by George R.R. Martin is comparatively light considering his reputation.  A spaceport’s amateur football league is thrown into chaos when a team of heavy-worlders apply to play.  The government doesn’t want the coordinator of the league to reject the application as they’re trying to keep a peace treaty going, and this is an obvious propaganda moment.  But the aliens prove to have major advantages in the sport, and the war may start again if they can prove how weak the Earthling really are.  Good use of strategizing and using strengths and weaknesses, but true victory goes to the person with their priorities straight.

I liked the Laumer and Clarke stories best.  The stories were written from the 1940s to the 1970s, so there are none that feature female athletes, and the few women that do appear are largely useless in plot terms.  (The Laumer story has the protagonist choosing between a young woman who hates artificial bodies but genuinely likes his personality and a flashier woman who wants to get married for a five-year trial period so she doesn’t have to work anymore.)

Recommended to fans of “strange sports” stories and fans of particular authors who haven’t seen these stories before.  Check interlibrary loan or the finer used book stores.

Anime for Speculative Fiction Fans (2015)

Once again this year I participated in the “Anime and Manga for Speculative Fiction Fans” panel at Minicon.  As promised at the panel, here’s a list of the items mentioned–I make no representations regarding the quality of the ones I have not seen.

.hack:  A series of interlocking video games, anime, manga and light novels about a virtual reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) called “The World.”  The anime involves a player who abruptly discovers that they can’t log out, and their memories of their real life have vanished.  Some parts of the universe have never appeared in a legal English edition, so the explanations contained in these are missing.

Akira:  Members of a biker gang in post-apocalypse Tokyo get involved with psychic children, enmeshed in a government conspiracy.  Both a really good manga and a decent movie (one of the first anime movies to come to the US labeled as such.)

Assassination Classroom

Assassination Classroom:  A junior high class must kill their teacher before graduation or he will destroy the world.  Manga and now an anime series–see my previous review.

Attack on Titan:  The Earth has been overrun by gigantic humanoids that eat people.  The last remnants of humanity huddle behind enormous walls, but now those walls have been breached.  It is up to a small army of specially-trained warriors to defend the humans from being devoured.  An adequate manga that became a very popular anime.  Violent and gory.

Berserk:  The nigh-unstoppable warrior known as Guts battles demons invading a medievalish world.  The twist is that his former best friend Griffith is the leader of the demons–but the public at large sees him as a savior.  A long-running but very slow manga, and two anime series (the first cuts off at the worst possible moment.)  Warning:  extremely violent, including sexual violence, lots of gore.

Bleach:  Ichigo Kurosaki can see ghosts, which is mostly an annoyance until he meets a mysterious girl who gives him the ability to become a Soul Reaper, a kind of psychopomp.   After some adventures fighting the evil spirits known as Hollows, Ichigo gets caught up in Soul Reaper politics.  Long-running manga and anime, which has been in its final arc for the last two years.

A Certain Magical Index/Scientific Railgun:  Interlocking series of light novels and anime taking place in a world where mystics and mutants both exist and attend school together.  The series differ primarily in their viewpoint characters.  “Index” stars Touma, an unlucky lad with an anti-magic punch, while “Railgun” stars Misaki, an electricity-wielder.

Corpse Party: Originally a survival horror video game, this has also been manga, anime and a live-action movie.  When a new school is built on the site of the former Heavenly Host Elementary (torn down after a massacre), some of the students decide to perform a mystic ritual of friendship which goes horribly wrong–they wind up in the old school with the ghosts of the murder victims.

Cowboy Bebop: In the not-so distant future, the solar system has been colonized, but a skyrocketing crime rate allows there to be a subculture of bounty hunters.   We follow the quirky crew of the Bebop as they try to stay afloat in the business.  Anime series and a really cool movie.

Crest/Banner of the Stars:  A light novel series that became an anime and manga.  Jinto’s home planet has been taken over by the Abh, a humanoid alien race which has the largest local empire.  His father sold out his homeworld in exchange for a position of power, and Jinto has been sent off for education in the empire’s ways.  He meets and befriends the Abh princess Lafiel on the way, but they get sidetracked by a war with the remaining human alliances.

Deadman Wonderland: In the near future, Tokyo is destroyed and a prison is built on it, where prisoners are required to battle for the pleasure of viewers.  A boy is framed for the murder of his class, imprisoned, and discovers he has bizarre blood-based superpowers.  Both manga and anime.

Durarara!!:  A light novel series and now anime about the odd happening in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo,  It’s urban fantasy with some added elements; everyone has a secret, but few of them are the secrets you might immediately guess.  Very entertaining.

Eden of the East:  A naked man with a cellphone and a gun but no memory is met by a Japanese tourist at the White House.  This begins a rollicking adventure as they try to unravel who he is and why he doesn’t remember anything.  Anime series and a couple of wrap-up movies.

Evangelion:  In a now-alternate timeline, the Earth is being attacked by alien monsters known as Angels, and must be defended by fourteen-year olds in giant robots.  However, not all is as it seems, and the reason the robots require teen pilots is sinister.  Started as anime, has had a couple of manga series, is being done as a series of reboot movies.  Very influential.

Fairy Tail:  Lucy Heartfilia is a young wizard who runs away from home to join the wacky Fairy Tail guild, teaming with a fire specialist named Natsu.  They and their guildmates have exciting and long running adventures, both in the manga and anime.

Ghost in the Shell:  Cyberpunk action with a special ops group in a future Japan overrun with cyborgs, robots and less definable cyber-beings.  Major Motoko Kusanagi, a full-body cyborg, is our main protagonist.  Manga and several different anime, both TV and film.  Very influential.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time:  A high school student discovers the ability to jump through time (literally) and promptly abuses the heck out of it.  Eventually, she comes to realize that just overwriting events doesn’t mean they didn’t happen, and there’s a hidden cost to her powers…oh, and they’re about to stop working.  Very well done.

Higarashi-When They Cry:  A small mountain village is trapped in a time loop–each repeat ends in murder.  The characters slowly realize what’s going on, but can they stop it?  Originally a “visual novel”, also now anime and manga.

Jojo's Bizarre Adventures
Dio and Jonathan

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure:  A series of series about people with strange powers, all of whom have a “jojo” sound in their name.  Check out my review of the first two seasons of the anime adaptation!  (The third season, “Stardust Crusaders”, is currently running.)

Kill la Kill

Kill la Kill:  In the indefinite future, a girl seeking revenge for her murdered father comes to a high school ranked by special uniforms, and must partner with a sentient costume to battle against what turns out to be a much larger threat.   Warning:  nudity, sexual harassment.  See my review!

Laputa–Castle in the Sky:  A Welsh boy has a girl drop in from the sky–it turns out she’s the last rightful heir to the flying island of Laputa.  Another descendant of that dead land wants to use it to conquer the world, and the kids must seek help from sky pirates.  Vintage Miyazaki.

Last Exile:  An “aeropunk” series set on a world at perpetual war–courier pilots must protect and deliver a girl who is the key to a peaceful resolution.  Anime with a manga adaptation.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes:  A sprawling epic space opera concerning the clash between two great star nations, and the heroes on each side.  Originally a novel series, turned into a lengthy anime.  Very rich in character development.

Log Horizon: Another MMORPG gone horribly wrong story–this one is notable for the development of “non-player characters” who suddenly are developing actual personalities and free will.

Medaka Box:  A girl who’s good at everything takes problem solving requests from a suggestion box at her school.  Several volumes in, it turns out superpowers exist and (according to the fans of the manga) it gets really good.  Was turned into a less well received anime series.

Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya:  A girl forms a club at her school to look for science-fiction beings, not realizing that she and everyone else in the club are themselves science fiction character types.  Light novels, adapted into anime–skip all but the first and last episodes of Endless Eight.

Millennium Actress:  A Satoshi Kon film about an actress who played many roles over several decades who’s being interviewed for a retrospective.  It interweaves her life story with the history of Japan’s film industry.  Some magical realism.

Moribito:  A richly-imagined light novel/anime series about a spearwoman who becomes bodyguard to a prince supposedly possessed by an evil spirit.  The truth is much more complicated.  The author is an anthropology major and it really shows.

Patema Inverted:  An experiment to control gravity as an energy source goes horribly wrong and much of Earth suffers inverted gravity, killing billions.  The story picks up much later when two young people with different gravity orientations meet and their civilizations clash.  This is an Internet-original series.

Record of Lodoss Wars:  A Dungeons and Dragons inspired series set on the fantasy island of Lodoss, wracked by periodic wars between good and evil.  A band of adventurers discover that there is a hidden hand behind the chaos.  Two different animated series–the second is much longer and involves a second generation of heroes.

Redline:  A “Wacky Racers in Space” movie–much motor action.  The art style takes some getting used to.

Revolutionary Girl Utena:  A girl was rescued by a prince as a child.  Now Utena has come to Ohtori Academy to become a prince herself.  But first she must fight a series of duels.  Lots of symbolism and hidden agendas.

Usagi

Sailor Moon:  Wimpy junior high student Usagi discovers that she is actually the reincarnation of a moon princess and becomes a magical girl to fight evil, along with the rest of her Sailor Senshi pals.  Manga, anime, live action series, and now rebooted as Sailor Moon Crystal.

Samurai Flamenco

Samurai Flamenco:  A metafictional series about a male model who decides to become the first real-life superhero.  Goes all the way down the rabbit hole and pulls it out the other side.  See my review!

Samurai Jack:  Japanese warrior trapped in a future where the evil spirit Aku has already won.  Not anime, but clearly inspired by it.

Space Dandy:  An “alien hunter” (he tracks down new species to register for the government) and his wacky companions run into various bizarre circumstances.  Each episode appears to happen in a slightly different reality.  Heavy on the fanservice.

String (?):  Someone mentioned this, but I have no information on it.

Summer Wars:  A math prodigy is invited to his crush’s family reunion to pretend to be her fiance.  Meanwhile, an amok AI is taking over Japan’s primary Internet provider.  These events are more related than they appear.  Very heartwarming movie, but the English dub is heavy on swearing.

Aincrad

Sword Art Online:  Our third series about an MMORPG where the players are trapped inside.  Very uneven–the first arc is pretty satisfying, but the second is painful and subsequent storylines become divisive.  See my review!

Tenchi Muyo–Ryo-Ohki!:  Teenage boy discovers that he’s part-alien and has all sorts of alien girls coming on to him.  This installment heavily features Ryo-Ohki, the adorable alien cabbit (who might also have a crush on Tenchi.)

Twelve Kingdoms:  A very well-done example of the normal(ish) teenager sucked into a fantasy world plotline.  Good world-building, and she’s not the first person to be brought over.

Yokohama Shopping Log:  A quiet series about a gynoid who runs a cafe after most of humanity has gone away.  Very peaceful.

Yukikaze:  After an alien invasion, a pilot with an intelligent plane tries to battle the invasion despite interference from other humans.

 

Your thoughts, comments, anime or manga you’d add?

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

Book Review: Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

Economics can be a deadly dull subject, at least when dominated by stuffed shirts talking about trade deficits, returns on annuities or fiat currency.  But the basics of economic theory can be used to learn useful or amusing things about the world.  With a large enough set of valid data, you can tease out fascinating conclusions, such as the answer to the question “is there cheating in professional sumo wrestling?”  (Probably, or some really amazing and highly consistent coincidences.)

Freakonomics

This book, as the front cover, back cover and several pages at the front remind us, was a New York Times bestseller and all-round phenomenon back in 2005.  (I wonder if there’s some sort of data available on whether having eleven pages of praise for the book before you even get to the title page is a good investment; I skipped right over it.)  It talks about such concepts as positive and negative incentives, regression analysis and information inequality as they relate to cheating schoolteachers, crime rates, baby names and other offbeat subjects.

Perhaps the most controversial subject covered is the notion that legalized abortion led to a massive drop in crime rates in the United States.  The evidence seems sound, but as the authors remind us, the data only shows us what is there, not what should be there.  The same results might have been achievable by other, less painful means.

There are some major changes to this edition of Freakonomics; the chapter  with the story of how the Klu Klux Klan was beaten back had to be heavily revised when one of the sources was revealed to have been exaggerating his role.  There are also several newspaper articles covering subjects that only got a passing mention in the main text, plus the one that got Mr. Dubner interested in covering Mr. Levitt’s research in the first place.  The advertised “Author Q & A” is rather flippant, and more of an advertisement for their next book, Super Freakonomics.

As a semi-scholarly book, there are footnotes, and an index, as well as a list of baby names you might want to consider.

I found this an interesting book with some thought-provoking insights, though some of the conclusions seem a bit iffy.  Recommended to just about everyone, but especially those who’d like to know more about the less stuffy side of economics.

Comic Strip Review: Johnny Comet

Comic Strip Review: Johnny Comet by Frank Frazetta & Earl Baldwin

Before Frank Frazetta hit it big with movie posters and book cover paintings of brawny barbarians and scantily-clad women, he worked in comic books and tried to break into the lucrative newspaper comics business.    After a couple of abortive efforts, Mr. Frazetta was hired in 1952 to do the art for Johnny Comet, the tale of a driver of midget race cars.

Johnny Comet

The strip was written by Earl Baldwin, although the name of Indy 500 winner Peter DePaolo was attached to raise reader interest.   Johnny starts the strip loaning a tire to a hapless competitor of his, who goes on to win the race while Johnny crashes his vehicle.  Johnny’s idea of becoming a  mobile car repairman almost immediately falls through when his jalopy is destroyed in Clover, California.

Fortunately, this puts him in position to help out Jean Fargo,  a garage owner who just happens to have a midget car that needs a driver.  Aided by engineer “Pop” Bottle, his acerbic wife Mrs. Bottle and mechanic Sparky, Johnny and Jean battle the evil Al Gore(!) and his secret backer, who have good reasons to not want Johnny Comet to win the race.

The writing is kind of mediocre, with the basic plot device of a job opportunity for Johnny or his friends meaning ruin for someone else, who will then resort to violence rather than think of a less criminal way of doing things used repeatedly.  Mr. Baldwin was also overfond of resolving plotlines with the karmic death of the villains or an offstage arrest.

The art, on the other hand, was excellent, with Frazetta’s trademark handsome lead, attractive women , vile looking villains–and some very nice-looking cars.  There’s some fine craftsmanship on display in these strips.  A nice touch early on was the safety tips tucked into panels that let you know not to do the crazy stunts the characters get up to.

Towards the end of the strip, it was reworked, with Johnny being renamed Ace McCoy and becoming a stuntman.    There’s one storyline of this, and then the strip was cancelled three installments into the next plot, leaving the characters hanging forever.

The Sunday strips had a separate continuity and are reprinted here in color; they quickly switched to a gag format, mostly about Pop Bottle and Johnny being bumbling men who manage to offend Mrs. Bottle even when they’re trying to help.

There’s also an article on Mr. Frazetta’s comic strip career (he wound up as Al Capp’s assistant on Li’l Abner for eight years.)

If you’re a Frank Frazetta fan, or a midget car racing fan, this is a must-have.    Others will want to check it out from the library for the good art and mostly fun read.

Book Review: Beneath the Bleak New Moon

Beneath the Bleak New Moon by Debra Purdy Kong

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Beneath the Bleak New Moon

Casey Holland is a security officer for a small transit company in Vancouver, British Columbia.   She’s working the night shift during a new moon, and dealing with obnoxious twin sisters who flout the bus rules.  Suddenly, she and the bus passengers witness a hit and run accident caused by illegal street racers.  Casey tries to save the victim, but it’s too late.

As a result, Casey meets Danielle Carpenter, a rookie reporter with a burning grudge against Roadkill, the local gang of street racers.  She believes one of them killed her brother, and is taking dangerous chances to track them down.  She drags the unwilling Casey (who would much rather leave this to her police contacts) into the investigation.

More hit and runs happen, but these are no accidents–has Roadkill developed a taste for blood as well as their need for speed?  And do the twins know too much about the gang for their own good?

This is the third Casey Holland mystery; references are made to her having gotten too personally involved in previous cases (one was her father’s death.)  She’s apparently mostly learned her lesson on that score, so Danielle is brought in to be the reckless one.  Casey coordinates with the police whenever possible, given her quasi-authority status.

There’s a subplot involving Casey’s ex-husband and her current boyfriend, and very glancing looks at her foster daughter who may be getting a love life of her own.

This story is a bit closer to noir than to cozy, the conclusion is more the product of elimination of suspects than it is of clever reasoning.  Many of the characters come off as unlikable, but  we are seeing them through Casey’s eyes and she’s kind of judgmental.

This book should be enjoyable for those who want some, but not too much, grit in their mystery stories.  Also, those who wonder what happens to unlucky pedestrians in those Fast and Furious movies.  Check it out at your library, or there’s a special ebook offer at touchwoodeditions.com .

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