Category: Book Review

Graphic Novel Review: Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys: The Big Lie

I’m a longtime fan of both the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. So, I picked up this selection, the NOIR take on the character with curiosity but also trepidation. Would they completely destroy these beloved characters in an overly gritty, grim, dark story?

To be honest, the early issues had me nervous. The book begins quite dark with Frank and Joe’s father already murdered and them the prime suspects and Frank being beaten up by the lovable Chief Colig from the novels. He’s not so lovable here. No one is to start out. The book begins with Nancy almost hard as nails as she leads the hapless Hardys through her plan to find the truth, a plan that puts the Hardys on the wrong side of the law.

The story gets better and you do feel by the end that these characters do relate to the ones in the novel, even in this grittier world. While it’s not my preferred take on the characters, it’s a respectful one that tells a compelling story with some nice emotional moments.

The artwork helps. It’s more stylized than your typical comic book art, but it uses its colors and shading intelligently to help tell the story and it succeeds in building the noir atmosphere. The cover art is particularly striking.

The book isn’t without its flaws. Anthony Del Col, like many older writers, is trying to tell a story of modern teenagers and has them using pop culture references any teenager would know–if they were alive in a decade before their time. In addition, the book tries to randomly re-imagine other books opened by the same publishing syndicate as the Hardy Boys such as the Bobsey Twins and Tom Swift as a butcher’s son (what the heck?) and occasionally I feel like the book tried too hard to be edgy. Still, these were few and far between. If you’re open to a different take on the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, this might be a good book for you.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

****Disclosure: I Received a free copy from Net Galley in Exchange for an Honest Review***

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Book Review: Mycroft Holmes


What was Mycroft Holmes like as a young man? What events made him the man he became? His more famous brother once said he “was the British government.” He was a behind-the-scenes player who set the pace for national security foreign policy, while founding and running a social club for the anti-social known as the Diogenes Club.

This is the topic of Basketball Legend Kareem Abdul-Jabaar and Anne Waterhouse’s novel Mycroft Holmes. The book begins with Mycroft Holmes as a young man working at the foreign office, engaged to marry a beautiful woman. He’s best friends with Douglas, a native of Trinidad who secretly owns the finest tobacconist shop in London. Douglas pretends to be an employee of two white shopkeepers who pretend to run it in order to avoid the prejudices of the time. When children began mysteriously dying in Trinidad, Mycroft’s fiancée (whose family has a plantation there) takes off for the island and tells him not to follow. He, however, joins Douglas and departs for the Island to aide her and find out what he can do to help her and stop the trouble.

The novel is superbly researched. Abdul-Jabaar traces his heritage backs to Trinidad and the book reflects a broad knowledge of the island, its history, and the various sub-cultures that are part of it. The book’s plot deals with issues of slavery and race but rarely comes across as if we’re reading a modern-day screed on the topic. Much of it is told as simply what happened, with any sentiments being expressed being believable for people living in the Victorian era.

The book has pacing that’s appropriate to a novel set in this era. The pacing is never glacial but the book isn’t afraid to take its time, to paint a vivid picture, and to show the action’s development. As for the story itself, it’s a bit more action than it is a mystery.

At the heart of the book is Mycroft’s relationship to Douglas. In many ways, Douglas is Mycroft’s Watson. He’s not a genius, but he’s steady, reliable, courageous, and street smart. The dynamic is different because, as the book starts, Douglas is a 40-year-old man of the world, while Mycroft is a brilliant young man in his twenties who is, in many ways, naïve about the ways of the world. The book is a coming-of-age story for him.

Of course, no Holmes book would be complete without Sherlock playing a role in it, in some way. In Mycroft Holmes, it’s limited to a couple of brief cameos that offer a compelling take on the two brothers’ relationship. The book manages to be true to who the characters have been established to be in canon while showing just enough of brotherly warmth between them.

There are a ton of pastiches about Sherlock Holmes and friends. Many of them are awful. If you’re a little bit skeptical and wonder if a basketball player could write one of the good ones, wonder no more., Mycroft Holmes is a superb novel and a great origin story for the Greatest Detective’s big brother.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Graphic Novel Review: Jazz Age Chronicles, Volume 1

This black and white comic book collection features two stories set in the 1920s. Both feature Private Detective Ace Mifflin, a Boston-based Private Detective. He has many of the same vices as Sam Spade, but isn’t quite as good as Spade. Though he is good enough to get the job done in most cases.

In the first case, “The Case of the Beguiling Baroness,” Mifflin is hired to keep tabs on a baroness. A secret society is interested in her because of her dabbling in the black arts. When she dies, it’s just the start of the case. This one’s an intriguing mystery and a bit of a genre mash-up between a traditional private detective story and the strange tales featured in the Doc Savage and the Shadow pulp magazines. This one works okay, but Mifflin’s role in this is a bit confused. He’s out of his element, and the hero is supposed to be Clifton Jennings, who hired him. This one could have worked better.

The second case is, “Vote Early, Vote Often.” Mifflin gets in trouble, gets his license suspended, and runs into a whole lot of political corruption. All as he tries to help a friend get free of a murder charge. It’s a good noirish story with a neat mystery to unravel. Mifflin works far better in this story and he is in his element. Of the two tales in the book, I preferred this one more.

Overall, this is a decent graphic novel collection and a nice read if you’re a fan of 1920s’ detective and pulp fiction stories.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

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A Look at Time Bomb with the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift

The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew have teamed up numerous times on television and in books. In 1992, the Hardy Boys crossed over with another long-time long-running literary franchise, Tom Swift. I read the first of these two crossovers, Time Bomb when it was first released. Recently, I spotted it in a thrift store and decided to give it another read to see if it lived up to my fond childhood memories.

Background:

The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew literary properties began to be published by Simon and Schuster in the late 1970s. In the late 1980s, the company launched the Nancy Drew files, and the Hardy Boys case files which offered readers a new book every month.

These were written for what the modern publishing world calls the young adult market. The original books were written for kids. The new series’ plotlines were clean but a bit more intense. For example, in the first Hardy Boys case file, Joe Hardy’s girlfriend killed in a terrorist car bombing.

This led the Hardy Boys, in addition to their typical mysteries, to serve as freelance operatives for the top-secret government organization known as the Network.

The books were successful, each series running for eleven years. In 1991, Simon and Schuster decided to launch another well-known juvenile fiction from a past generation in a similar series, Tom Swift.

In the 1990s series, Tom Swift Jr. was an eighteen-year-old inventor and the son of the founder of Swift Enterprises. He was constantly discovering and dealing with cutting-edge technology and facing a recurring enemy, the Black Dragon.

The Plot:

The Swift corporation tracks down the notes of a scientist who disappeared in the 1960s. Meanwhile, on an investigation with their father, they run into the scientist, alive and well, having traveled back in time from the 1960s.

However, both the Swifts and the Hardys are targeted by the Tom Swift, Jr.’s archenemy, the Black Dragon. He steals the Swifts’ nascent time-travel technology and tries to kidnap the scientist, and the Hardy boys’ father, Fenton, disappears. The Hardys mistakenly believe the Swifts are behind it. However, once the obligatory misunderstanding is sorted out, the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift join forces.

The Black Dragon plans to hold America hostage, giving the President a chance to either serve as a puppet ruler for the Black Dragon. If the President refuses, the Black Dragon will take an entire American city back in time so it lands on top of itself, destroying the city. And the only thing that can stop him? Three teenage boys.

The book feels much more like a Tom Swift book guest starring the Hardy Boys. Swift’s supporting cast plays a much more prominent role and the plot is very much science fiction with very little detective work to be done.

It’s a good time travel yarn with some interesting theoretical ideas and plot twists, but also a good deal of adventure. Swift and his talking robot, Rob, journey back to prehistoric times as part of their efforts to stop the Black Dragon, It’s easy to see why it was such a fun read for me when I was twelve. There’s a lot of really cool stuff in there.

That said, the story’s not without its flaws. Some of the dialogue is a bit cheesy. Like many books from this era, it was updated to connect with readers of this era, and now the book is a bit dated. In addition, the plot can be too cute for its own good.

For example, one character gets trapped back in time and writes a story about what happened in a pulp fiction magazine. He also writes a message to other characters that he has delivered to them in the 1990s, advising them to get a copy of the magazine. The Black Dragon finds out and is having every copy of the magazine stolen and sends his goons back in time to eliminate the character. This raises the question of why our time-stranded hero didn’t include a copy of the article in the envelope or just write them in the letter about what happened so he would be rescued without letting the bad guys know.

Still, despite the weaker plot points, this book was still fun to re-read. It offers 1990s nostalgia and a good time-travel story. If you like Tom Swift, or are curious to see the Hardy Boys in a different type of adventure, this book will be a worthwhile read.

Ratings: 3.5 out of 5.0

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Book Review: The Stones Cry Out


The Stones Cry Out by Sibella Giorello features FBI Geologist turned Rookie FBI field Agent Raleigh Harmon. She is assigned to a civil rights case in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia after a police detective and a black gym owner fall to their deaths in the middle of a rally led by the mayor. More than 200 people were present, but no one claims to have seen anything.

Her supervisor wants the case closed quickly and wants Raleigh and her over the hill partner, do the most perfunctory of investigations. Raleigh wants to get to the truth, but to do that she has to deal with a host of uncooperative witnesses and buried secrets.

This book does so much right. It creates a believable and relatable protagonist in Raleigh. She’s smart, dedicated to getting justice, and tenacious. She also has a complicated life. Rookie FBI agents rarely get assigned as close to home as she was but she has an ailing mother who is a bit eccentric and finds peace in regularly attending Pentecostal tent revivals.

Faith plays a role in her life and motivates her in her work, but author Sibella Giorello avoids her being preachy, pushy, or arrogant.

The book also does a very good job with its setting. There’s a clearly a great deal of appreciation and knowledge of Richmond that went into this book, but the description isn’t overwhelming as many books can be.

The investigation itself is well-handled. It shows the challenge the FBI often faces when assigned Civil Rights cases as their job is to get to the truth, yet they’re not trusted by people in the local community and they’re not welcomed by local police.

There’s also a good deal of forensic science in the book, particularly geology, being Raleigh’s specialty.

The book only has one major flaw and that is that the final third of the book really depends on Raleigh making a very stupid mistake and two random men who have nothing to do with the investigation assaulting her out of nowhere. While I suppose random things do happen, even to FBI Agents, it felt like the story slightly derailed even though it did eventually recover.

Overall, this is a well-written book with a great heroine. It’s a solid procedural with many interesting aspects to it, and this is one series I’d like to read more from.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

The digital form of this book is available for free for the Kindle.

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