John Allison's Bad Machinery is, head and shoulders, one of my favorite webcomics of the year. The successor to Allison's immensely popular Scary-Go-Round, Bad Machinery centers around two groups of grammar schoolers -- a trio of girls and a trio of boys -- who solve mysteries. These are not, for the record, your secular humanist Scooby-Doo mysteries, but absurd happenings involving magic pencils, haunted soccer teams and onion-eating hypnotists. This past year has seen the comic's darkest (though still appropriately silly) mystery yet, while giving us a deeper look at its wide and endlessly likable cast.But Bad Machinery is on Christmas vacation, leaving us without our underage sleuths until the new year. Thankfully, Allison wouldn't deprive us of his witty Britishisms for too long. His hiatus story arc "Murder, She Writes" pairs Scary-Go-Round star Shelley Winters, now a successful children's book author, with mystery solving pre-teen Charlotte Grote. The sharp-tongued duo have found themselves inside a surprisingly traditional murder mystery featuring a snowed-in cabin, far too much booze, adultery, literally backstabbing children's authors and buckets of blood. It's a good thing Charlotte has a hard shell of mystery love coating her delicate lady brain, or else she might be scarred for life.

In the wake of Bad Machinery's latest story arc, "The Case of the Lonely One," in which an odd new student at Griswalds Grammar School hypnotizes the entire class into becoming his friends, 12-year-old Charlotte "Lottie" Grote spends her winter holiday interning for the fabulous (and newly wealthy) Shelley Winters. When Shelley's agent invites her to his authors' retreat in the Welsh mountains, Lottie is eager to trot along, and she's at once intrigued and perplexed by the adult world of cocktail hour and frilly underthings. But then a guest turns up dead and Lottie is back in her element, shamelessly interrogating the hungover party guests -- much to Shelley's chagrin. In typical murder mystery fashion, the bodies quickly start piling up and that trip to Wales starts looking a lot less relaxing.

If you've never dipped your toe into the Scary-Go-Round or Bad Machinery waters, "Murder, She Writes" is a great place to jump in. It's a standalone story, and while Charlotte is perhaps the best thing about Bad Machinery, you don't need to know anything about her character or Shelley's to enjoy the clever patter of their dialogue, or that Lottie manages to be the most level-headed guest at the murder lodge, despite being young enough to earnestly ask questions like, "Is it... imp'lite to stick your hand down the back of someone's pants?" If you enjoy "Murder, She Writes," it's worth a trip through the Bad Machinery archives for more of Charlotte's mystery-solving hijinks.