Friday, October 21, 2016

Kickoff to Danger (#170)

Kickoff to Danger coverYou know, I’ve never considered the idea that I would ever question a Hardy Boy book’s characterization of Biff Hooper, but now I’ve read Kickoff to Danger (#170), and well, that day is here.

Kickoff is a weird title. On one hand, it’s a Bayport-based mystery that uses the Hardys’ chums and supporting cast. Those kinds of mysteries are really my favorites. The book also makes a concession to reality — more than one, really, as not only does Frank leave the football team to take an advanced computer course, but someone outperforms a Hardy on an athletic field. I approve, and if either of those changes would have stuck, I’d have overlooked all the book’s problems.

On the other hand, too many supporting characters are introduced; it would be OK if I expected to see any of them again, but Kickoff will likely be the only appearance for various school personnel and students. And sometimes Kickoff portrays recurring characters all wrong. For instance, Biff Hooper goes along with what the popular kids are doing, which isn’t too out of character, but what the popular kids are doing is bullying everyone else in the school, and Biff participates, even when the bullying involves ganging up on Chet Morton. Iola Morton doesn’t appear in the book despite Chet being accused of whacking Biff in the head with a coal shovel. A subplot in which a meek teacher is run out of school goes nowhere. In another scene, Frank and Callie discuss football like people who have heard of the sport but are unsure of the terminology. Given that it’s debatable whether the kids speak like real teens (or real humans) in the first place, though, maybe I shouldn’t dock a Hardy Boys book for its dialogue.

What pushes the book into “good book” territory is the violence and a random bit of Hardy Boys continuity. For the former, Biff gets whanged so hard with a coal shovel that he’s put in a coma, and later on, someone gets very close to killing him. The two incidents give a bit of extra weight to the events of the book, even if it’s strange the events go from bullying to assault to attempted murder.

The bit of continuity that is dredged up is that Seneca Tech is Bayport’s cross-county football rival. Do you know what book originally revealed that Bayport vs. Seneca Tech is the big game for both squads? The Sinister Sign Post (#15), published way back in 1936. (Kickoff was released in 2001.) And how did that game turn out? Bayport won, with Joe out with an arm injury. Frank was not on the squad at all — just like in Kickoff.

Kickoff begins with Callie and Frank commiserating over the difficulty of trigonometry. (The “commiseration” extends to physicality, as Callie ruffles her boyfriend’s hair. So that’s what they’re calling it these days!) Both are planning on college; in fact, Frank is taking a toughie of a college computer programming course, which is why he isn’t playing football. The course seems to have removed all of Frank’s fun circuits too, as he calls a football player who jumps off a loading dock on his way to practice a “clown” (4). While watching Joe practice, he spells out the plot to Callie: new student Terry Golden is awesome at the footballs, is getting scouted by college programs, and is a giant jackhole whose entourage wants to be the same as he is.

Callie’s reaction? She’s sad because she “liked dating a football hero” (7). You should have thought of Callie, Frank! It’s not every boy who has a girlfriend who will ruffle his hair, if you know what I mean, and I think you don’t.

After practice, Golden gives a puff-piece interview with the Beacon, the school newspaper; after the reporter leaves, he and his cronies bully Chet, snapping their towels at him. Biff helps them, which takes all the fight out of Chet. The next day, Chet’s still feeling the effects — after Golden steals his dessert at lunch, Chet throws in the towel and tries to get in good with the Golden Boys.

After deciding not to head to Mr. Pizza to see Tony Prito, Frank runs into the aftermath of the rivalry that will drive the book: he finds Dan Freeman, debate club champ and Beacon photog, after he has been pantsed by the Golden Boys. Freeman refuses to rat out his attackers, though. The next day, the Golden Boys shove other students around, and they nearly push Phil Cohen down the stairs; only the quick reactions of Joe and Biff save him. (This is Phil’s only appearance in the story, so all you Cohen fanatics better appreciate it.)

Frank and Joe approach the football coach to have him talk to the unruly athletes, but he refuses, which sets the scene for “tragedy.” After a big win vs. Seneca Tech, the Golden Boys stage an elaborate prank in which they steal the debate team’s backpacks; when the debate nerds follow the thieves into the basement, other Golden Boys are there to pummel them. Chet, who thought he was in on the joke, gets beaten too, and when Frank and Joe follow the chaos, they find Chet with a black eye and a coal shovel in his hand, standing over Biff’s unconscious body. Joe considers violating the rules of the Fentonian Mysteries by wiping the fingerprints from the shovel, but Frank — steady, faithful Frank — chastises his brother for his weakness. The evidence is preserved, and surely those who have kept it holy shall be blessed.

Biff is taken to the hospital, and the Hardys learn he was trying to foil the assault on the debate team. (He did a poor job of it, though.) Chet’s taken to police headquarters, and his name is released on the evening news. Mr. and Mrs. Morton come by, in a panic; additionally, Mr. Morton is in a “blue velour jogging — or rather, leisure — suit” (66), which is inexcusable. Honestly, man, have more pride than that. Also: You should shave our head, since you’ve “lost almost all the hair on the top of his head except for a little tuft just over his forehead” (65-6). You’re going bald. Own it.

Fenton gives the Mortons good advice — get a criminal defense lawyer, not a real-estate lawyer — but he gives the information in a jerkish, “haven’t I done enough for your family?” sort of way. The Mortons are not pleased, and Laura calls her husband on his bedside manner.

The school is useless in the investigation, the TV news has no interest in finding another suspect, and the Bayport Police Department is, after all, the Bayport Police Department. Frank and Joe feed Con Riley a lead — the coal shovel should have been filthy, but it was wiped and had only Chet’s fingerprints, meaning someone else had used it and wiped his / her fingerprints — but that goes nowhere. It’s up to Frank and Joe to investigate! They suspect Golden whacked Biff, although they should have suspected one of the nerdlingers: A shovel is a tool, and intelligent creatures use tools, not knuckle-dragging morons.

They are immediately threatened with a shunning, although a weak-minded Golden Boy reveals his co-conspirators by flinching when Joe guesses their names. Coach Devlin belatedly tries “discipline,” although his version of discipline involves — as it often does for middle-aged men physically in charge of young men — yelling and making the boys run. This doesn’t stop one of the larger Golden Boys from taking a swing at Joe; in response, Joe uses “that move [Frank] taught … where you catch the guy’s wrist when he throws a punch and use that to twist his arm” (95), then tries to stuff the attacker into a locker. (The guy won’t fit, sadly.) Nice move, Joe!

But retribution comes: someone throws a 2x4 at the Hardys’ van, shattering the windshield and nearly hitting Callie. After taking Callie home and securing Con’s help, they randomly accuse Golden Boy Wendell Logan. He cracks, admitting tossing the caber at the van, but he knows little else. And he doesn’t know much about the attack on Biff, either. Frank and Joe are convinced the law would be useless against Logan, so they don’t press charges. They could at least sue the jerk-o for damages!

On the way home, an SUV tries to bump the Hardys off the road repeatedly. After a narrow escape, they learn the SUV was stolen from near Golden’s house. Fenton complains about the repair costs, but we all know the Hardys have SUPER INSURANCE — it’s the only way they could afford their destructive lifestyles — so they should be OK. Nobody files any charges with the police, although Joe does let Con know over the phone.

The next day, Frank ditches a chance to see Callie, instead going with Joe (who is skipping football practice himself) to see Biff at Bayport General Hospital. Frank “silently promis[es] to make it up to her later” (128). No, you won’t, Frank. You never do, you non-football hero.

At the hospital, the Hardys find Dan Freeman battered in the bushes and a fire alarm blaring at the hospital. Freeman tells the Hardys that Golden pulled the alarm and is using the confusion to slip in and attack Biff. While Joe fruitlessly attempts to get hospital security interested in a possible murder — they will be struck down by a righteous, Fentonian god for their inaction — Frank and Freeman go to rescue Biff. Freeman admits he whanged Biff; in the dark, he didn’t know who he was hitting. But Golden worked Freeman over after Freeman backed out of his own plan to kill Biff. Freeman tries to pass his murder scheme as a, you know, thought experiment, but really, once you’ve started thinking about murdering somebody, you’re on thin ice.

Thankfully, Frank prevents Golden from putting an air bubble in Biff’s IV, then beats him up before he can physically assault Biff. He keeps him down until the guard assigned to protect Biff can return. And that is that! No one mentions what Golden is going to be charged with, just that his football career is down the tubes. Freeman is suddenly less attractive to colleges, but no one expects him to serve any jail time for his conspiracy to murder Biff. Joe gets in a dig about “NFL” standing for “National Felons’ League” (147), and Biff is forgiven for his heel turn. We will never speak of this again!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Post-hiatus schedule update

Now that I’ve gone back and written about the books I picked up over the hiatus — Breakdown in Axeblade (#94) and The Case of the Cosmic Kidnapping (#120) — you’d think the next book on my agenda would be #142, Lost in Gator Swamp.

Well, you are wrong, chum breath. I will write about #142 — it will be the first post in November — but I’m going to be more seasonal with the next two. The next post will be Kickoff to Danger (#170), which focuses on Bayport High football, and the one after that, the one just before Halloween, will be Trick-or-Trouble (#175).

The plan from there will be to read the books more or less in order, filling in the books I haven’t yet covered after #141. Unfortunately, I don’t have a few of the books at the moment, so there will still be gaps beyond Demolition Mission (#112), Sabotage at Sports City (#115), and Carnival of Crime (#122). (That last one sounds awful. I’m not looking forward to it.) Additionally, I reserve the right to pick a book that goes with the season when I want to.

And in case you’re wondering, the last two digests I plan to cover are the first and last ones: The Mystery of the Silver Star (#86) and Motocross Madness (#190).

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Case of the Cosmic Kidnapping (#120)

The Case of the Cosmic Kidnapping coverI like the digests’ habit of giving Chet jobs instead of just hobbies; the teenage years is the time when someone can flit from job to job and not make it look like he’s incompetent or a serial killer. In the digests, Chet has been a DJ (Rock ‘n’ Roll Renegades, #116), an airport shuttle driver (Spark of Suspicion, #98), a salesman for an ersatz Amway (Tricky Business, #88), a zoo intern (The Search for the Snow Leopard, #139), an ice cream salesman (The Mark of the Blue Tattoo, #146), and maybe a few others I’ve forgotten.

In The Case of the Cosmic Kidnapping, Chet is a cook and assistant manager at “Happy Burger,” a new diner. Assistant manager! Who would put Chet in charge of other human beings? Or, for that matter, put him in charge of ordering supplies or bookkeeping or anything else that requires close attention and dedication? I mean, I’m not making Chet’s shortcomings up out of thin air: on page 3, after being told he’s botched the books again, Chet reveals he doesn’t know how to use a calculator (or perform basic math, maybe): “It’s that electric calculator he’s got back there. I can never remember when to press the plus key.”

It’s addition, you moron, not differential calculus. It’s pretty evident when you should press the + key. Your boss, Fred Hawkins, is right to yell at you, although sternly telling Chet to clean his station and to “try to eat only five hamburgers a day” (5) hardly counts as treating him “pretty rough,” as Iola claims. She also says, “Even Dad doesn’t hassle you that much,” although I’m not sure how to take that. Does that mean Chet and Mr. Morton have an adversarial relationship? Or are the readers supposed to realize that, given Hawkins’s mild rebuke, Chet’s relationship with his father is probably normal?

Chet reveals to his chums (Joe, Frank, and Callie) and Iola that Happy Burger is doing poorly, business-wise, so that does help explain why someone with no experience and no prospects is given a position of authority. Not even the rest of the Hardys’ teenage crowd wants to hang out at Happy Burger, as they all prefer Mr. Pizza.

But Chet’s qualifications soon become moot, as the Hardys, their girlfriends, and Chet see Hawkins seemingly abducted by a UFO. Chet claims this is “a close encounter of the third kind” (11) but that’s not true; the third kind involves human contact with an extraterrestrial entity. Since the kids can’t confirm that anyone was driving the UFO, it’s a close encounter of the fourth kind: Abduction.

The Bayport Gazette is on the scene soon after the police decide to ignore the kids’ UFO report, and a story in the next day’s paper makes Happy Burger the most popular place in town. UFOlogists, the media, and random curious bystanders flock to the Happy Burger, keeping Chet busy and making Happy Burger — at least temporarily — a success. The Gazette has to be considered a success as well; it’s never appeared in a Hardy Boys story before, from what I can tell, and it’s created a media event out of a bunch of stupid kids seeing a UFO.

Fenton and Laura are in Europe for both work and pleasure, and Gertrude (back to being “plump,” as she was in The Smoke Screen Mystery) warns them to be careful after they decide to look for Hawkins. Given Happy Burger’s success, the police and the boys are leaning toward the idea that Hawkins staged his own disappearance. Good to see some competence being displayed! And then after showing that bit of competence, Frank and Joe spend 40 pages wandering around Happy Burger and the shopping plaza it’s in. What do they discover? Well, Happy Burger is deeply in debt — no surprise there — to a guy named William Harbison and … nothing else, really. They avoid the media, even though they’ve worked at both radio station WBBX, which Joe mentions (in Rock ‘n’ Roll Renegades), and TV station WBPT, which neither mentions, even though both did spots for the station in Danger on the Air (#95) and Spark of Suspicion.

The brothers do meet the cast as they wander aimlessly for what feels like forever: Hawkins’s wife, Clarissa; author Hodding Wheatley, who writes about UFOs; and fringe UFO devotees, including the belligerent Carl Thurmon. Since this book was published in 1993, the same year The X-Files hit the air, the people who believe in UFOs are seen as kooks. Frank and Joe don’t consider the possibility that Hawkins’s disappearance is an abduction at all.

After Frank and Joe joke about Joe learning to be a detective from TV shows — I’m not sure Frank is joking — the brothers visit Harbison, who’s a loan shark. Joe plays the tough detective role to the hilt, growling at Harbison and invading his personal space to intimidate him. They get nothing but a denial from Haribison, but I admit: acting like a bit of a thug is a nice technique and a good change of pace. Also, it made me laugh.

The next day, the media attention has only grown, with Sandra Rodriguez, host of Mysteries Today, doing a live show from the “tiny town” (83) of Bayport. No details about Mysteries Today are ever given; is it syndicated? Is it a show about the paranormal, or is it more Unsolved Mysteries? All we learn is that Rodriguez has a boyfriend — “Mr. Matt Hunk Everton” (74), as the jealous (or attracted) Frank calls him — who is also a helicopter pilot and Vietnam vet. Someone claiming to be the aliens interrupts MT’s signal, saying Hawkins will be returned in Bayport Meadows soon, but all they find is a letter on Happy Burger stationery, saying “Help.”

For their next magical trick, Frank and Joe decide to follow Matt’s helicopter. “It shouldn’t be too hard to tail a helicopter” (90), Frank says, forgetting that helicopters fly much faster than city traffic, don’t have to follow roads, and never have to stop for lights or stop signs. Other than that, sure! But of course it works, and after Matt drives away from the abandoned farm where he lands his helicopter, the Hardys break into the barn, finding the fake UFO inside. A metal hitch at the craft’s top allowed the phony ship to be towed by a cable from a helicopter — Matt’s helicopter, of course. Matt returns and tries to threaten the Hardys with a gun, but Frank and Joe easily disarm him. The gun was unloaded anyway.

Matt confesses all: The kidnapping was all Hawkins’s idea, although he needed Rodriguez’s show’s backing for funding. After Hawkins signed a letter absolving Rodriguez and Matt of all wrongdoing, they agreed to help. But Hawkins was supposed to reappear in Bayport Meadows, and now he’s truly missing.

This calls for someone to jump to a conclusion, and since about 50 pages remain in the book, the Hardys jump to the wrong one. They follow Harbison to the man who gives him money to loan, Amos Woodworth IV, a prosperous legitimate businessman who is, reassuringly, also a smuggler. Haven’t had one of those in a while, and it’s nice to know they can still pop up. Unfortunately, goons discover Frank and Joe snooping around Woodworth’s home as fake pool men, and worse yet, Woodworth recognizes them as “those detective brothers everyone talks about. The Harley brothers” (115). Luckily, though, he gives them a stern talking to and makes them promise to let him know when they find that welcher, Hawkins.

The brothers go to Clarissa, who admits she learned the kidnapping was a fake. At the Hawkins home, Joe spots the angry UFOlogist, Thurmon, in a picture of a Vietnam veterans’ gathering — the same one at which Hawkins pitched his loony plan to Matt. The Hardys track down Thurmon and a tied-up Hawkins at an isolated cabin via Thurmon’s fellow UFO enthusiasts. Frank and Wheatley nearly talk Thurmon down, but a TV report playing in the background reveals Frank is a detective (and Joe’s brother; Thurmon hates Joe, as all hotheads do). In the ensuing scuffle, Frank gets a bleeding head wound, and Thurmon burns the cabin down, but the fake UFO, towed from Matt’s helicopter, shows up as Thurmon is about to kill Frank. Amazed at seeing what he has long sought, Thurmon lets his guard down, and Joe emerges from the UFO to subdue the violent kook. The police are close behind.

Everything ends well. Hawkins isn’t arrested for anything; he merely has to apologize. I’m sure he did something wrong, though. I suppose he didn’t file a false report, but he knew one would be filed, and he did waste Bayport Police Department resources looking for him, even though he wasn’t in danger. Or maybe not — the BPD didn’t seem to care about Hawkins’s disappearance, so perhaps they didn’t spend any time looking for him. Woodworth is investigated for his loansharking, and Hawkins’s loan is transferred to a legitimate bank at a better interest rate. I’m not sure that’s how it works, but then again, I’m not acquainted with this state’s stringent usury laws. Rodriguez seems to suffer no consequences for organizing a hoax and then broadcasting it as if it were a real story. At least Thurmon is arrested for kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon … but not attempted murder or arson, despite having the Hardys — super witnesses! — to testify. Well, I guess a plea bargain from Thurmon makes more sense than Hawkins and Rodriguez getting off without consequences.

Remember, kids: Crime does pay! Just make sure it’s non-violent crime that doesn’t victimize any private citizen. Then you too can pull your generic hamburger stand out of the toilet and into prosperity!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Breakdown in Axeblade (#94)

Breakdown in AxebladeI know I said I was going to return from my hiatus with The Case of the Cosmic Kidnapping (#120), but I lied. Well, not really a lie — I found Breakdown at Axeblade (#94) at a used bookstore, and since it was an earlier digest, I decided to start with it instead.

In Axeblade, Frank and Joe drive into the movie Bad Day at Black Rock. Despite having three more arms between them than Spencer Tracy’s lead character, Macreedy, does in the movie, they seem to combine for about half the brains, which makes the challenge of getting out of a corrupt town about the same for Macreedy and the Hardys.

While on a summer vacation road trip, Frank and Joe’s super-duper ex-police van develops engine trouble in the middle of the Wyoming wilderness. The van limps into Axeblade, a town of 300 people, without giving up the ghost; I was disappointed the brothers weren’t forced to use the knowledge they gained in Seven Stories of Survival, but maybe that’s for the best, since they don’t even think about how they’d have to survive if the engine quits outside of civilization.

Frank says the van has a bad fan belt, while Joe says it’s the water pump; the smiling garage mechanic, Bill Hunt, says it’s both. Frank imperiously tells him to get cracking then, but Bill says the repairs will take a few days, as he doesn’t have a replacement pump. Bill’s demeanor changes when the brothers say they’re going to camp in the nearby national forest the van is being fixed. (Which forest? Who knows! Take a look at this map if you want to make a guess; the text gives us no real hints except that it’s near a four-lane highway and some grasslands.) Bill tells them they should drive on to nearby Lawton — or stay with him, or at a motel. Lots of bears around, you see.

But Frank and Joe are not dissuaded. They go camping, and while being pummeled into unconsciousness during the night, they are warned to leave the area. They wake up dumped by a four-lane highway, several miles from town. After hiking back to Axeblade, the sheriff rebuffs their attempts to report a crime, and a desk clerk tells them the vacant motel is full up. (Frank and Joe don’t question why a town of 300, in the middle of nowhere, has a motel at all, especially since the town seems to discourage tourism.) After spending the night in their van, Joe is unsuccessful at “flash[ing his] baby blues at the waitress” (22) to get free food; the brothers can’t get any service at the Morning Glory Restaurant. Even the drugstore won’t sell a sticky bun to them.

Fortunately, they don’t get the cold shoulder at Becky’s Café, operated by the eponymous Becky and her adopted Vietnamese son, Kwo. Becky’s husband had an “accident” a few years before, and she blames rancher Ben Barntree, who runs Axeblade. Kwo supplies that a weekly fleet of tanker truck dumps toxic waste on Barntree’s ranch, the B-Bar-B. (I like to think the B-Bar-B raises several hundred head of Ken, Skipper, and Barbie dolls.)

After Frank and Joe get in a scuffle at the café, they remember some of Fenton’s advice: “Sometimes people start a fight to change the subject” (38). Since they were talking about Barntree’s toxic waste dumping at the time, the boys decide to head out to the B-Bar-B. Becky loans them her husband’s classic Harley and tells them her husband’s not the only opponent of Barntree’s to die from a fall … and suddenly Axeblade is looking a lot more like a Casefile repurposed into a digest.

The reconnaissance of the B-Barbie is a dud; the boys are chased around and around by dogs, then are showed off the ranch by Barntree and his cronies. The boys do get a ride in a groovy van with “an expensive, detailed airbrush painting on the side — a skeleton riding a beautiful galloping mustang horse with fiery eyes” (46). The van’s owner, Robbie McCoy, is a bit of a jerk, though.

Back in Axeblade, Bill’s sister, Sara, invites Frank and Joe to supper, despite being married to one of the cowboys who tangled with the Hardys at Becky’s Café. Before they go, the interior of their van is set on fire, although the blaze is quickly extinguished. The arson causes Frank to contemplate homicide, although not on the arsonist: he “wanted to strangle the old man” (65) who stood around squawking that their van was burning. Good to know Frank has a dark side.

It is then, and only then, that Frank and Joe think to call someone to let them know they’re in a dangerous place where they don’t understand the rules. They call home, but Fenton and Laura aren’t there, so they give up. I mean, who else could they call for advice / aid? Well, in no particular order:

  • Con Riley or Ezra Collig, from the Bayport Police Department
  • Sam Radley, who has worked for Fenton (although he hasn’t appeared since The Revenge of the Desert Phantom, #85)
  • Gertrude, who probably isn’t with Fenton and Laura
  • The Mortons, who have probably been drawn into enough of Frank and Joe’s nonsense to know the drill
  • Any of their other chums
  • Anyone of authority who owes them from a previous case, like Andrew Crawford, the police commissioner of Philadelphia, whom they helped in Shield of Fear (#91)

Of course Frank and Joe don’t do that. Why would they? They’ve been beaten, shunned, and threatened. That’s just an average vacation for them. Their reluctance to call home becomes stranger after they are arrested; the address Sara gave them was vacant for the week, and the brothers are accused of stealing silverware, which was planted in their van. The brothers realize the cop is corrupt, so they call … Becky. Sure, why not? With all their contacts in law enforcement, a café owner who was friendly toward them seems the right call.

(Also: Joe is arrested while playing the arcade game Flyswatter. It’s one of his favorites … probably right up there with Hack Attack.)

Becky is reluctant to help them, and when she leaves, she tells the sheriff she was wrong about Frank and Joe, who are sure they’re sunk. You idiots — no matter what she thinks, she has to tell the police that. Otherwise, she’ll be arrested (or killed) next. Becky returns later, seducing — as much as anyone is ever seduced in a Hardy Boys book — the sheriff over pie and drugged coffee. (The sheriff is already talking marriage.) Frank and Joe can’t see this middle-aged steaminess, but then again, they don’t realize the sheriff’s complaints about the funny-tasting coffee and his difficulty forming words indicates he’s, you know, been drugged. Morons. If anyone should recognize the symptoms of being doped, it’s those two dopes.

Becky frees the halfwit Hardys, then loans them a car. Frank and Joe drive the car to the toxic dump site. Turns out, it’s on federal land! Whodathunkit? The dumping is actually killing animals; Frank and Joe see a dead raccoon and squirrels. Unfortunately, Frank and Joe don’t cover their tracks well, and Barnwell’s men start searching for them. The brothers run across a random missing boy; they tell him to yell for help, but he has no real effect on the story.

The brothers hide in the mountains, but Joe is awakened by a rockslide that gives Frank his second concussion of the book — his eyes don’t focus when he wakes up, and “his brain [was] temporarily scrambled” (114). Geez, that sounds bad. Joe’s more broken up about Barntree’s pollution than any possible TBI his brother has, though. I see the logic: The bill they’ll have to pay for repeated blows to the head won’t come due until they reach an age they will never be allowed to reach.

Barntree’s forces catch the Hardys without much trouble the next day, and Barntree wants to kill them; fortunately, some of his men are squeamish about killin’, including Robbie (the guy with the cool skeleton on his van). Barntree agrees to just tie them up and leave them in his basement for a while, but he and his wife know they’re going to have to kill the boys. While Frank suggests to Joe that their next vacation be to Hawaii — something that doesn’t happen until The Treasure at Dolphin Bay, #129 — they manage to free themselves with Frank’s pocket knife.

After radioing Kwo to get the police from Lawton, they escape from shotgun-packing Mrs. Barntree, who misses with both barrels, despite the basement’s close quarters. They tie her up and try to delay Barntree and the toxic-waste tankers. Joe fails to slow Barntree, though, losing a more brutal than usual fight with the rancher: Joe gets his head slammed against the steering wheel, and he throws Barntree out of his jeep after grabbing him by the “seat of his neck” (138). (That should be scruff, I’m guessing.) Frank bluffs Barntree, though, threatening his wife, and Joe puts Barntree in handcuffs. Barntree is furious when Frank tells him they left Mrs. Barntree in the basement: “Our mom and dad didn’t raise kidnappers,” Frank says (142), although after being serial kidnapping victims, you’d think Frank and Joe would have picked up some tips.

The cops arrive in time, with the aid of Robbie, who got cold feet. Everything is sorted out, but Frank and Joe can’t leave town, even after they unload everything onto law enforcement … because Bill still doesn’t have their water pump.

*sad trombone*

Still, other than Frank and Joe being, you know, morons, this is one of the better digests. ON the other hand, Frank and Joe are so often incompetent that I can’t really hold that against Breakdown in Axeblade.

Friday, August 12, 2016

On Hiatus until October 7

Before this year, I’d written about Hardy Boys digests without an overall plan, choosing to mock whatever came into my possession. Because of that, the only string of consecutive books that were on the site were #130-141, and that was an accident. It just happened that I’d picked up some books in the 130s, and I’d started with #140 eight years ago.

But at the beginning of this year, I decided to go through the books I owned (or could borrow from the library) in numerical order. The #130-141 block neatly divided the digests into two halves, and now that I’ve finished The Treasure at Dolphin Bay (#129), I’m (mostly) done with the first half. To reward myself for a job well done (or a job done), I’m going to take a two-month hiatus.

On October 7, I’ll be back, and I’m planning to start plowing through the last 49 digests then. Well, I’ve already posted many of those books — only 27 books remain. I’ll be using the hiatus to find the books I don’t already have and to enjoy not thinking about whether Frank and Joe’s technique of angrily accusing persons of interest of wrongdoing is the best way to solve crime.

I still haven’t covered six of the first 56 books, but I hope to return to those books eventually. As a matter of fact, I just picked up The Case of the Cosmic Kidnapping (#120), and that will be the first book I’ll write about when I return from the hiatus.

Hope to see you in October!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Treasure at Dolphin Bay (#129)

The Treasure at Dolphin Bay coverWhen the first word of a book is “Cowabunga,” the reader’s expectations must necessarily be adjusted downward. This is a natural response, and rarely is it not the prudent course.

The first word of The Treasure at Dolphin Bay is, indeed, “Cowabunga.” Joe says it, not as he catches a wave or even imitates a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. He shouts it as he jumps into a jeep. Does leaping into a jeep require that level of excitement? Or is it sarcasm from Joe? It has to be the former, as sarcasm is a foreign concept to Joe. In any event, “cowabunga” is a prelude to the book’s use of other surfing / Hawaiian words, like “brah,” so readers have that to look forward to. Readers will also have to get accustomed to flip-flop sandals being referred to exclusively as “thongs”; it’s a bit jarring when the local head of police is described as wearing thongs, but if Frank and Joe can handle it, so can I.

In Dolphin Bay, Frank, Joe, and their parents are in Hawaii for a Christmas holiday. This is the boys’ second trip to Hawaii; the previous one was a stopover in The Firebird Rocket (#57), although they learn to surf in that brief time. This time, Frank and Joe are even luckier: Unlike every other teenager who has ever been on vacation to a distant location with his or her parents, Frank and Joe see their parents only at breakfast, and then they have the rest of the day to themselves. Oh, they might meet for supper, but if the boys’ investigation runs too long, well, that’s fine. It’s not like Fenton and Laura want the boys around most of the time anyway; the first two days of the book, they’re busy “playing golf.” I can only assume that’s a euphemism for something you don’t speak of in front of your children, or perhaps they picked something boring to say they were doing so Frank and Joe would just leave them alone.

They needn’t have bothered. Frank and Joe find a mystery immediately; there’s always a mystery, and Laura and Fenton, of all people, should realize that. After two days of rain, Frank and Joe head to the Institute of Cetacean Studies at Nai’a Bay, where Joe is hoping to swim with the dolphins. (Both the ICS and Nai’a Bay on Maui are fictional; “nai’a” means “dolphin” in Hawaiian.) After the dolphins perform for the crowd, one person per day gets to swim with the dolphins; I’m not sure how the ICS reconciles this with their emphasis on “humane research” (4).

Joe is the one chosen to swim with the dolphins; Joe can’t believe his luck, but I’m sure the readers can. Choosing him is a bit of a waste, though. Technically, Joe’s never swam with dolphins before, but he (and Frank and Fenton) have ridden porpoises, in Sky Sabotage (#79). Even though it’s not mentioned here, perhaps Joe remembers the experience — he’s quite eager for the dolphin to swim between his legs, if you know what I mean. (I think you do.) Unfortunately, Mr. Joe’s wild ride is interrupted when his dolphin finds another of ICS’s dolphins, who has been shot by a speargun. They soon discover the researcher who worked with that dolphin is missing.

Frank, Joe, and an intern, Stan, head out on a boat to look for the researcher, Jack Lord — sorry, I mean, “Jack Storm.” Stan mentions there’s a lost treasure reputed to be near Devil’s Hat, the island Storm was working around, and locals frequently search for it. A pair of brothers, the MacAllisters, lurks around the island, but they’re there to protect their fishing rights … and in this case, they also kick Joe in the stomach while attempting to bully Joe, Frank, and Stan. For some reason, despite being fearsome bullies, they “scrambled” away after landing the kick (23). That’s not something people who have the advantage do.

The kids don’t find Storm, but another ICS researcher, Jerry Finski, has collected Storm’s “mangled dinghy” (25). The effects of a mangled dinghy can be severe for a man, so it’s obvious Storm is in trouble. Strangely, though, the Maui police won’t look for Storm until he’s been missing for 48 hours, despite the boat’s condition and the dolphin’s injury suggesting foul play is involved.

The next day, Joe is saved from a random shark attack by an ICS dolphin. It’s not the boys’ first run-in with the soulless predators of the deep; they ran into sharks in The Ghost at Skeleton Rock (#37), Sky Sabotage (#79), and the revised Twisted Claw (#18), and they specifically encountered a great white in The Vanishing Thieves (#66). While Fenton and Laura are busy with “golf,” Frank and Joe talk to Uncle Billy, who runs a scuba shop while not looking for the treasure; he points a speargun at them, which he thinks is a funny joke. Would he think it funny, were the positions switched? Spearguns ain’t toys, man. The boys do learn the treasure is a strongbox full of stolen jewels, which were lost after the thief’s plane went down.

After the Hardys stop by Storm’s home, the MacAllisters try to run them off a mountain road. Frank and Joe rent a speedboat to follow them onto the water, with Joe nearly renting a speargun for protection. He should have stuck with his instincts, though, because the MacAllisters shoot at the Hardys’ speedboat with spearguns. The spears come close enough to hit the boat, but Frank and Joe aren’t hurt. Still, this is a serious matter. Frank and Joe report the incidents to the cops, trying to get the McAllisters arrested for Storm’s disappearance, and the cops do nothing.

Wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait. Wait. WAIT. What the McAllisters did — what Frank and Joe know they did, what they saw and reported to the police — is reckless discharge of a weapon, at the very least. I would argue to the police that it was two separate attempts at murder, but I’m not a lawyer; still, I think if the police wanted to squeeze the MacAllisters for information, they could arrest them for the most severe plausible charges and then demand their cooperation on the Storm case. But the police do nothing when it comes to the MacAllisters, and the fishing brothers pass from the story without answering for their crimes.

I’m beginning to think these cops aren’t very good, and it may have nothing to do with the thongs.

The incompetence of local police isn’t the only consistency with other books in the series; just like in Mystery on Makatunk Island, Joe doesn’t like fish. It’s a small consistency, but it’s something. Another consistency: like Chet in The Phantom Freighter (#26), Joe calls soda “pop.” (If you want to know what that means about the location of Bayport, see this map.)

After Frank and Joe break into Storm’s home again, learning he was looking for the treasure and taking his fingerprints, Frank nearly gets his “once in a lifetime” chance to swim with the cetaceans. As it turns out, the dolphins don’t want to play with him — ha ha, Frank. (If you’re reading this and you’re not into dolphins, too bad. Dolphins, according to Frank and Joe, are amazing. Smart, too: with a little training, the dolphins could probably solve mysteries.) While searching for Storm, Frank, Joe, and Stan are shot at by a real gun from an unidentified trawler; after eluding it, they run out of gas because of a faulty gas gauge. The next day, the Hardys’ regulators malfunction during a dive, and Frank has to give Joe mouth-to-mouth to revive him. The boys blame Uncle Billy, who supplied the faulty motorboat and scuba equipment, but he convinces them he’s innocent.

Fingerprints identify Storm as an alias for Jack Mobley, the son of the man who stole the lost treasure. When Storm’s ICS co-worker and covert girlfriend steals a dolphin to search for either the treasure or Storm (or both), Frank, Joe, and Stan head out to Devil’s Hat to look for them. Instead, they find Storm diving beneath Finsky’s trawler. By the time Frank and Joe reach Storm, he has found the treasure. Through sign language and something between telepathy and plot convenience, Storm accuses Finsky. Frank realizes Finsky had the opportunity to sabotage their fuel supply and rebreathers; his trawler could have been the one that shot at them. Now Finsky’s possession of Storm’s boat seems more sinister.

Finsky swims after Storm, but Storm escapes with the treasure via dolphin. In the struggle with Finsky, Frank is shot with a speargun in the arm and loses consciousness; Joe puts Frank on the back of a dolphin, which takes Frank to safety. Sure, why not? Dolphins are amazing, I tell you. The Hardy Boys of the sea, really. Anyway, Joe follows Finsky and defeats him in an aquatic battle. How, you might ask? I would have jerked Finsky’s respirator from his mouth because air is a person’s weak point underwater. No, Joe uses a “move involving pressure points” from “one of his karate magazines” (142).

I swear to Dixon, I am not making that up. It’s not exactly Thunderball, but it is better than we should have expected from a book that starts with “Cowabunga.”

Anyway, Finsky confesses to kidnapping Storm and making him look for the treasure, saying, “What do you think it’s like for a scientist, living from grant to grant, job to job?” (144-5). After ICS boss Helen Cho cut his research, he reached for the brass ring. Too bad! At least you shot a Hardy Boy, though. That’s something you’ll be able to brag about while you’re doing hard time for kidnapping and attempted murder.

I know I haven’t talked about Cho much — at all — but she comes across as the most incompetent administrator ever, and given how bad the police are, that’s saying something. Cho doesn’t realize that two of her researchers are using company time to hunt for treasure, and a third, Storm’s girlfriend, is aiding one of those two and carrying on a secret affair with him. And Cho’s smartest move? Letting a couple of teenagers help search for Storm, a move she herself calls “crazy” (18). Yet Cho’s the one who’s probably going to escape with her reputation intact, despite authorizing tourists to play with the dolphins she’s supposed to be taking care of. Cowabunga, brah!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Day of the Dinosaur (#128)

Day of the Dinosaur coverBayport has a lot of old mansions, and most of them are abandoned. (It certainly seems that way, at least.) In the original canon, Frank and Joe encountered nine abandoned Bayport showplaces — that’s one every nine (or so) books! The ratio is even greater if we consider the mysteries set primarily in Bayport.

When Simon & Schuster took over the series, it curtailed the amount of time Frank and Joe spent around large, derelict buildings; Cold Cash Caper (#136) had an abandoned mansion, and Warehouse Rumble (#183) takes place in a formerly deserted warehouse, but that about all I’ve run into so far. Day of the Dinosaur is mostly set in an old, Bayport-area mansion — but the Sackville mansion, located on the outskirts of Bayport, isn’t just rotting away. Instead, it’s being refurbished into a prehistory museum, focusing on dinosaurs, and the money for doing so was left by old man Sackville. Let’s hear it for superior estate planning!

Frank and Joe visit the museum, which is about two weeks from opening, to see the animatronic dinosaurs. When I say “visit,” I mean “trespass,” but fortunately they meet their old friend Sally Jenkins, whose father is a detective who worked with Fenton. (Mr. Jenkins was never mentioned in the canon.) Sally is an assistant exhibitions director at the museum, scrambling to get the museum ready in time for its opening. She’s more than happy to have Frank and Joe volunteer, which they do because they like to get access to all the coolest stuff in Bayport and aren’t afraid to use their connections to do so.

What follows is an odd mystery; Frank and Joe have no client, not even by their nebulous “amateur” standards, and no one gets arrested at the end. I don’t know if those two things make Day of the Dinosaur unique, but it’s certainly unusual.

Before they get hired as unpaid gofers, Frank and Joe get a tour from Sally. She shows them the museum’s prize exhibit, a 15,000-year-old clay sculpture of a buffalo from southern France, which I thought was nonsense — clay sculptures that old? — but it turns out to be a real thing. (Shows what I know.) They also meet Dan Parker, who has created the Dinobots, and his rival, academic paleontologist Carl Lubski; Dr. Clarence Smith, the museum director; and Tom Smedly, the head custodian.

How do Frank and Joe get to spend the week working at the museum during the school year? You’ll be surprised to know they aren’t out of school because of some breakdown in the school’s physical plant or some vague administrative holiday … well, they’re not out of school all day because of vague administrative holiday; the first day they work, they have to go to school for only a couple of hours because of “some teacher’s meeting” (10), while on subsequent days they get out early because their last scheduled class is study hall.

Frank and Joe’s support staff is largely missing in this book. Chet, for some unspecified reason, is grounded, and the rest of the gang isn’t mentioned. For most of the book, Fenton is out late / gone early working on a case. Gertrude is in Arizona, visiting “an old friend,” although I think we all know she doesn’t have friends, just people she’s known for a while and doesn’t hate. However, Laura, that perpetual non-entity, is around to cook meals for the boys. She gets no lines, but this is the first time I can remember her appearing in a book in a long time. I can’t even remember a digest I’ve covered this year in which Laura does as much as she does in Dinosaur.

Despite no actual mystery presenting itself, Frank and Joe can’t stay out of trouble. Joe gets a jolt of electricity while trying out Parker’s virtual reality helmet without permission; I thought it was a security feature, but it turns out to be a short in the system. Well, serves you right, Joe. Smedly almost drops a light fixture on Frank’s head — and more importantly, almost on the buffalo sculpture. It’s at this point the Hardys suspect a mystery, although this seems unjustifiable paranoia: by now, Frank and Joe should be used to electrical shocks and heavy objects almost falling on their heads. These things should be second nature to them; Frank is certainly no Flitcraft.

Still, weird things keep happening. A Dinobot picks up Joe in its mouth, and only Frank’s quick thinking saves the day. Parker blames Lubski, saying he must have sabotaged and reprogrammed the Dinobot, but Lubski has shown no programming experience. (Still, it turns out he did do it as a prank.) Lubski can’t be blamed completely, as the Dinobot attacked after Parker and Joe were trying to repair a problem with the Dinobot still on. That has to be an workplace safety violation of some sort.

Lubski almost gets stepped on by a Dinobot the following day — a definite accident, but one that prompts a bit of investigatory B&E from the boys. For some reason, they break into Lubski’s lab. Although Frank and Joe are acting like criminals, I am happy to see Frank uses the proper tool for the job this time: lock picks. (For some reason, Frank didn’t have to go to the van to get them; he just had his lock-picking tool in his pocket.) They find nothing of interest, other than Lubski and Parker having different theories about dinosaur extinction.

The day after that, the bison gets chipped when a wheel falls off the dolly Smedly was using to move it; the sculpture has to be taken to the restoration shed. After work, Joe follows Smedly and discovers him visiting the tony home of Raymond Casada, a name that means nothing to either Hardy boy. Later, the brothers break into the museum, eluding the worst security guard ever. They discover Smedly’s personnel file is missing and spot a figure sabotaging a Dinobot, but the intruder flees before he can do any real damage.

Fenton’s on the couch with Laura when the boys get home, but Frank and Joe don’t ask him if he knows anything about Casada or any criminal connections he might have. Because why fall back on such expert resources? Fortunately Sally clues them in later: he’s a “wealthy antiques dealer … suspected of dealing in forgeries and stolen artifacts” (111).

While Frank and Joe are unloading roof tiles the next day, an unattended Dinobot rampages through the restoration shed. Joe prevents it from running into the lake, but the shed — and the bison sculpture inside — are ruined. Smith quickly sweeps up the sculpture’s remains and double bags them, sealing in that prehistoric goodness. Smedly was injured by the Dinobot, but from the wounds, the Hardys suspect he started the Dinobot and aimed it at the shed. He’s taken to Bayport General by concerned roofers; one of them says, “I’ve had plenty of concussions myself. I know how the guy feels” (108). Plenty! Maybe concussions are just something that happens around Bayport — you’re not a man until you get your first one.

Frank and Joe avoid a concussion on their way home when their van is run off the road. “Not another dent on that side [passenger] of the van,” Joe says (115), blithely ignoring the possibility they could have been killed or seriously injured. They think they recognize Smedly’s pickup as the one that hit them, and the driver, although wearing a ski mask, was also wearing Smedly’s bandanna, or one like it. This, of course, makes Smedly one of the dumbest criminals the Hardys have faced. Couldn’t he at least have stolen a truck to run them off the road?

Now the boys know something’s up. They break into the museum again to get a sample of the destroyed buffalo sculpture, but they find Parker is a step ahead of them. The next day — Saturday — a friend of Parker’s examines the fragment, and she declares it a fake. Somehow they convince Sally to approach Casada as a buyer, but while she and Frank discuss matters with Casada, Joe sneaks into Casada’s office. He’s caught, but he manages to find a receipt for the buffalo, made out to Smith. I have to say I’m disappointed in Casada; he should have had his butler / thug punch Joe a few times or at least intimidate him. But no: all three fakers are politely escorted to the door. I think Burn Notice has led me to expect too much of such criminals.

Sally, Parker, and the boys set a trap: they convince Lubski to tell Smith that he thinks the sculpture was a phony. That night, they find Smith in the process of burying the shards under concrete on the museum’s grounds. (I’m not sure what staff would have made of the sudden appearance of a patch of concrete on the museum grounds, but after the shards are entombed, Smith wouldn’t care.) Smith confesses he unwisely purchased a fake with the museum’s money and blackmailed Smedly, who had lied about his job experience and competence, into destroying the fake. Smedly was as competent at destruction as he was at his job, though, and things spiraled out of control.

That’s where matters are left; the police are not involved, and crime triumphs! The museum trundles toward its opening with a new director. Smedly vanishes. Smith resigns and heads for a tropical vacation. And Casada isn’t mentioned at all, meaning he gets away with peddling a forgery. Great work, Frank and Joe!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Mystery on Makatunk Island (#125)

Mystery on Makatunk Island coverThe Hardy Boys are heading back to Maine in Mystery on Makatunk Island.

We’ve been to Maine with the Hardys before, although the state has been mentioned as a vacation destination as often as it has been shown as one. Frank, Joe, and Chet went whitewater rafting in Maine in The Roaring River Mystery (#80), and that book claimed the brothers had gone backpacking in Maine before. Mystery of Smugglers Cove (#64) claims the brothers hiked the Appalachian Trail a few weeks before; perhaps the two books referred to the same event. In The Secret Agent on Flight 101, the boys went to a deserted Maine island with the coordinates 44 degrees, 18' 10" north, 68 degrees 23' west to look for Fenton. (An island, Mt. Desert Island, is located at those coordinates, but even though those coordinates are part of Acadia National Park, that’s the island with Bar Harbor on it and not a deserted island. Many small islands are located near Mt. Desert Island, though.) In addition, Fenton took Laura to Maine for a vacation in the original While the Clock Ticked (#11).

[EtA: I forgot Frank, Joe, Chet, and Biff went to Maine to investigate in The Money Hunt (#101). Oops! Money Hunt featured plenty of hiking, of course. ]

Frank, Joe, and Chet are headed to Chet’s aunt’s vacation home on Makatunk Island. This aunt — Emma Morton — hasn’t been mentioned before. Chet (and his sister, Iola) have an unnamed aunt and uncle in Los Angeles, mentioned in Mystery of the Desert Giant (#40); an uncle (Tyler Morton), who is a big-game hunter, according to The Wailing Siren Mystery (#30); and another uncle, Jim Kenyon, who is an art instructor in The Haunted Fort (#44). (In a sort-of callback to Haunted Fort, Chet does a little painting while on Makatunk. Haunted Fort is not referenced, though.) Additionally, two cousins have been traipsed their way into the series: William “Bill” Morton, who appears in the original Sinister Sign Post (#15), and Vern Nelson, who lives with his sister in Montreal in The Vanishing Thieves (#66) because his parents have died. Emma must be on his dad’s side, like Uncle Tyler, but the story doesn’t mention whether Emma is Chet’s aunt by blood or marriage.

Emma lives in “the city” — presumably the same one the Tick lives in. She hasn’t been able to rent her island vacation home, so the boys are allowed to use it for a week. But of course Makatunk Island is having trouble — vandalism, like broken windows and destroyed lobster traps — and the tourist trade is drying up. People aren’t coming to see the island’s natural beauty, visit its art galleries, or even to gawk at the home of famous artist Kent Halliwell. (Never heard of her? Don’t worry. She’s fictional. I don’t know who she’s based on, although I will wildly guess P. Buckley Moss, even though their landscapes they paint are hundreds of miles apart.) I’m not sure how famous Halliwell really is, though; when a few of her paintings are stolen, the owner of the gallery they were taken from estimates they were each worth “a few thousand dollars” (59), which doesn’t sound that much for an incredibly famous artist.

Makatunk Island is reminiscent of Mt. Desert Island and Mackinac Island, Mich. Like Mackinac Island, there are art galleries, no cars, an old shipwreck just offshore, and a single island inn. (The name “Makatunk” is more than reminiscent of Mackinac as well.) Like Makatunk, Mackinac Island can be reached only by ferry, although it doesn’t take as long to reach Mackinac. However, Mt. Desert Island is more or less in the right place geographically and is big enough to have large forested tracts for tourists to explore. The population of Makatunk seems more similar to Mackinac Island (population 492) than Mt. Desert Island (population 10,615).

Like pretty much all locals around a tourist destination, though, the people of Makatunk Island have a love / hate relationship with tourists. The visitors are a pain in the tuchus, but without them, the community would be impoverished.

Anyway, Frank and Joe can’t resist the opportunity to investigate, and the criminals oblige them by continuing their crimes right in front of the boys. The sheriff’s boat, for instance, is sabotaged and starts sinking while Frank and Joe are discussing matters with the sheriff. (The sheriff doesn’t seem very good at his job, hemming and hawing, threatening that he might maybe do his job sometimes right soon.) The lobster traps turn up as kindling at the local hotel. Frank and Joe find a vial marked “salmonella” at the shipwreck; they turn it over to the sheriff

At supper that night, Frank and Chet go wild about the fresh halibut, keeping up their habit of eating seafood only outside of Bayport’s crime-polluted waters, but Joe says, “I’m not crazy about fish” and orders the vegetarian platter instead. Two other tourists at the table order the vegetarian platter, with one of them saying, “It sounds very good.” Given that the description of the vegetarian platter was limited to the words “vegetarian platter,” that’s a strange thing to say, but it turns out it’s a plot point rather than a weird Dixonism. Then, in a scene reminiscent of Airplane, people begin suffering from stomach pains, and according to a passing doctor, “Everyone who ate the fish is as sick as a dog” (68). My mind supplies a flash of lightning and a peal of thunder. Surely he can’t be serious!

Frank and Chet are not immune to salmonella; fortunately, the two seem to get hit by abdominal cramps and avoid the bloody, sudden onset diarrhea, nausea, and fever. It turns out someone took the salmonella from the sheriff’s house and liberally dosed the halibut. While Frank is sick, Joe is lured to a late-night meeting by the promise of information about Halliwell’s stolen paintings, but the roof of the shack he was supposed to meet in is dropped on him. He survives, somehow. Frank deduces it wasn’t an accident, which is the top-flight detective work we’ve come to expect in this series.

The Hardys endure more attacks — an arrow fired at Joe, their ropes cut while they rapelled down a cliff (the narration makes it clear they were rock climbing, not rappelling, but the danger is the same) — before finding a map that shows a corporation is trying to buy up the island to construct a resort. We should have known it: developers are the natural enemy of natural places. The two guys who ordered the vegetarian plate are the developers’ emissaries, but who are they working with? The too-committed environmentalist hippie? The chiseling man-for-hire with tax problems and a grudge against the sheriff? Kent Halliwell, who has vicious dogs she doesn’t treat well? The owner of the inn, who also doesn’t like the sheriff? Frank tries to find out by following the two men, but he’s chloroformed, and Joe later finds him sprawled in the middle of the road. He’s all right, Frank says: “I was chloroformed, that’s all” (111). No one, I think, has ever said that before.

It’s none of these suspects, though. You might have noticed the sheriff isn’t all that well liked, and he’s not all that competent. Turns out his incompetence was planned! (Also: It might be innate.) He tells Frank and Joe that authorities on the mainland want him to take the investigation even more slowly. When the brothers ask to talk to his superiors themselves, he says the island is incommunicado because an incoming storm has knocked out the telephones. Shockingly, the Hardys — amateur radio users from way back — do not think to ask about ham radios. The Hardys! Forgetting ham radios!

Further casting doubt on the author’s attention to detail is the description of Fenton as “a high-ranking police detective back in Bayport” (132). Oh, dear.

Frank and Joe, in order to save Chet, also burst in on the sheriff and his two co-conspirators and … and … and beat up all three. That’s something Frank and Joe almost never do in the books: defeat a numerically superior foe. At the end of a book, with allies rushing in to make up the numbers, they can take an equal number of combatants, but never do they overcome superior numbers. They do here, though, and Joe even disarms a guy with a rifle! Frank breaks the wrist of the sheriff with a karate kick! It’s wild and violent and I kinda like it.

For saving the island, the locals reward Chet and the Hardys. Finally. I’d had enough of this “goodness of their hearts” crap, or “for the kicks” motivation. The hippie gives them a pair of carved wooden acorns — well, it’s the thought that counts — and the inn’s owner gives the entire island a free meal and tells the boys to consider the inn “your home away from home” (147). (It’s unclear whether that means free accommodations or if it’s just a marketing slogan.) The surly chiseler promises to stop chiseling them, for a while. Most importantly, Kent Halliwell gives them a “matted watercolor” (147) of a forest on the island. That painting was worth several thousand in 1994; it could be worth double several thousand now!

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Robot's Revenge (#123)

The Robot’s Revenge coverThe title and cover to The Robot’s Revenge are really disappointing. Before you get too excited, no robots take revenge or attempt to take revenge in this book. If you were hoping for man-vs.-android carnage, or a robot cleverly subverting Asimov’s three laws of robotics, well, sorry. I know: I’m just as disappointed as you are. And although I really wished this cover was an homage to The Terminator, with the German shepherd-typedog snarling at the cybernetic organism, but the scene actually appears in the book. (More or less; I don’t think the book mentions Joe’s sweater, although looking at that picture, it definitely should have.)

I’ve mentioned Joe having stupid hobbies / jobs before, but The Robot’s Revenge proves Frank can have a wildly improbable hobby himself. In this case, it’s inventing, as he and Phil Cohen team up to create Roger the Lobber, a robot that can retrieve and serve tennis balls. (It’s also modular; it can fit in a traveling case, but this isn’t particularly seen as a positive as much as it’s a necessity for transport.)

Frank, Joe, and Phil fly into Chicago, which would have … well, not thrilled me, but it would have interested me as a child. I grew up in southern Illinois, more than 300 miles from Chicago, but knowing the Hardy Boys at least visited the state I lived in would have been cool. Admittedly, they have visited Chicago in other books: the original Hunting for Hidden Gold (#5), The Mystery at Devil’s Paw (#38), Mystery of the Desert Giant (#40), and The Shattered Helmet (#52). But Chicago was always a stopover for the Hardys, where they switched trains (Hidden Gold) or planes (the other three), never a destination.

The trio exhibit their robot at the fictional Cahill College along with the rest of the finalists in the Teen Inventors’ Club. Of course they name it something boring and descriptive like “Teen Inventors’ Club” and not something fun like “Junior Edisons (or Teslas) of America.” Still, the prize for winning the contest is a college scholarship. That’s something Frank and Joe have absolutely no use for, although I suppose Phil might have plans to go to college. I mean, he’s never going to be allowed to age that much, but it’s nice to have dreams.

Phil’s in fine fettle to begin the book; when he forgets where he stored a component and remembers only at the last moment, Joe shouts at him, but Phil shrugs in response. You’re not the boss of me, Joe Hardy, that shrug says, which is true: Joe’s a tagalong and not really an inventor. Unfortunately, Phil gets shoved to the side to make semi-googly eyes at female rivals and man the booth while Frank and Joe get to investigate.

After an argument with competitor Megan Sweetwater, in which she accuses the Hardys and Phil of invention theft / sabotage and the boys accuse her of siccing her dog on them, Roger the Lobber is stolen. Very little is done about the theft; a security guard tells them he’s the person they need to report the crime to, but “there’s nothing I can do until tomorrow” (24). (This is at about 5 p.m.) At least Frank and Phil could have complained more; Megan complains loudly and seems to get results, but the Hardys let it go. You’d think Cahill College would have campus cops, or the TIC would take burglary seriously enough to call in real cops, but only security guards are involved.

Oh, and the Hardys, of course, but no one in Chicago takes the Hardys seriously. That’s because they don’t invoke their credentials, either as “amateur” PIs or as Fenton Hardy’s sons. The security guard calls them “troublemakers” (82). Ari Zorba, the head of the competition, thinks the Hardys are a complication he doesn’t need, and after they report another competitor’s misconduct, says he hopes he doesn’t see the brothers again. He also accuses the boys of “grandstanding” (90), which is an unusual accusation against Frank and Joe. A Chicago PD detective, Det. Novello, keeps shooing them from a crime scene. As with a lot of other mysteries, what Frank and Joe are left to do is badger other people.

What are they badgering the people at TIC about? Two things: Someone is after Megan’s invention, a “radio-control leash” (17), and someone tried to kill one of the judges, Nicholas Makowski, by using a remote controller to fire an arrow at him during a cruise on the Chicago River. The arrow missed, but Makowski fell in the river, and Joe had to rescue him. Being in the Chicago River is dangerous enough without the risk of drowning; the river was heavily polluted until beautification efforts in the 1990s. Still, in 1993, it’s likely the river was still contaminated with PCBs, heavy metals, and garbage; heck, the river has too much poop bacteria even today.

I would have demanded an immediate shower after saving someone from the cold, dirty waters of the Chicago River, but Joe toughs it out, just changing his clothes. Joe’s on a macho kick for some reason in Robot’s Revenge; later in the book, after he’s knocked out, stuffed in a closet, and pricked with an arrow, he lies to a doctor about his headache and bump on his head because “doctors always told you to get plenty of rest” (87). I’m not sure why this would concern Joe, since he could ignore it — just like usual. Frank thinks Joe’s decisions are based on Joe having “been in so many scrapes, he knew his own limits” (36). Actually, it’s because Joe is too stupid or too addled to realize the damage being done to his brain. He’s also too addle-minded to accept when a bunch of girls want to dance with him at a TIC reception. C’mon, Joe! I live vicariously through you! …

… Oh. I, uh, didn’t really mean that. It’s, uh, a joke. Ha!

Meanwhile, someone wants Megan’s radio-control leash, which is essentially the same as those invisible fences people put in their yards, except the doggie gets zapped if he strays too far from whoever wears a special belt. That someone tried to buy the invention from Megan before she left New Mexico, then they threatened her, planted her dog’s hairs in the device that fired the arrow at Makowski, and stuffed her into a rocket in the Science and Industry Museum after she reached Chicago.

The Hardys are divided about whether she attacked the judge — Joe (and Phil) say no, but Frank’s not sure. (Phil pulls a total Chet by keeping Megan informed about the investigation as it’s going on.) Megan’s worried someone will steal her device before she can patent it. Well, why didn’t she start the patent process before she left the contest? And she doesn’t need a prototype to patent the leash; according to the US Patent Office, she needs only drawings or a specification (a description that will allow an engineer-type person make and use the patented object). Most patents are complex enough to need drawings, but Megan has them!

While investigating, the Hardys get a couple of their competitors disqualified. Byron Paige, whom Frank publicly humiliates by correcting him on basic astronomy, is disqualified from the contest after the Hardys show he stole Roger the Lobber and reprogrammed him. Yueh Chu is disqualified after the Hardys establish his alibi when Makowski was attacked; he drove home to St. Louis with judge (and classmate) Tanya Zane, which constitutes improper help from a judge. (Tonya’s earlier evasions made it sound like they were doing something far more interesting, perhaps in a bedroom somewhere.)

That’s a shame: Yueh seemed like he had a little fire. When Megan accuses him of impropriety, he retorts with, “Why, you little —” (89). What was he going to call her? My mind drifts into the obscene, of course, but dozens of more family-safe insults could be inserted there.

After the leash is stolen by blowing the hotel safe with explosives, Megan and the boys head to a laser show at Sears Tower, where someone reprograms the lasers to say, “HARDYS! YOU’RE NOT WANTED HERE! GET OUT WHILE YOU STILL CAN!” (103). It’s impractical, but I can’t deny that it’s the best medium for a warning message ever. Very 1990s of the crook (Byron, in this case).

With all the suspects out of the way, the Hardys find a note indicating Megan has been lured into exchanging her drawings for the leash. Even though they have the address for the exchange, Frank and Joe take her dog to find her … How do they get Megan’s dog? Glad you asked! Before asking for the dog, they pound on the counter and tell a hotel desk clerk, “Look, there’s no time to explain” (124). I wonder if that will work for me? “Look, there’s no time to explain, but I need everything in the hotel safe. Hey, I know none of it belongs to me, and I’m not even staying here, but there’s no time to explain.”

Before heading out, they tell Makowski to call the cops; he responds, “Don’t worry … I know just how to handle [the police] (125), which is an odd thing to say. Anyway, they find Megan under a heavy trapdoor near the waterfront address on the note. Before they can bring her out, the door is shut, and the river starts rushing into the basement they’re trapped in as Megan’s dog yelps in pain. They struggle with the door, but eventually they add some basic competence to their mighty moose muscles and escape. The dog has been tranquilized but is basically OK. (Also: I don’t think Megan is mentioned as white, but given that three wet, bedraggled teenagers with an unconscious dog have no trouble hailing a cab afterwards, I think it’s a safe bet.)

So who’s trying to steal Megan’s invention? Suddenly Frank realizes the cops never arrived. The criminal is Makowski, who faked the attack on himself (and put the dog hairs in the arrow launcher). The pieces come together quickly — Joe realizes Makowski knew about the launcher and arrow, even though he never mentioned them to the judge, and Makowski is a dog breeder and engineer with the connections to make a mint off the leash. They manage to capture Makowski without a hitch, ending the contest.

Unfortunately, Tony and Frank don’t win the contest, nor do any other contestants we’ve read about. It’s just some guy we haven’t heard of. Also, they receive no reward from anyone … although they do get a free meal at a fancy restaurant for being in the room when hotel staff see how badly Megan’s room has been trashed.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Mystery in the Old Mine (#121)

The Mystery in the Old Mine coverThe Mystery in the Old Mine is an old-school title, but it is not an old-school plot. It could be, if it tried, but I think someone decided, “Eh, let’s not get too ambitious here.”

The story begins in Bayport, where Frank and Joe’s weightlifting buddy, Garth Trimmer, has them look into his trashed apartment. Frank and Joe, according to the book, lift seriously in a downtown gym between cases only, but Garth is a mountain of a young man (250 pounds of “solid muscle”), developing the kind of body you only get when you’re constantly reminded you have been named “Garth” by people who ostensibly loved you. Anyway, the only clue Frank and Joe find in Garth’s apartment is a few orange dog hairs, which they are sure were left by the vandal and not left by the apartment’s previous resident.

Soon Garth gets a letter telling him his sister, Liz, has been kidnapped. Her abductors ask for a notebook in exchange for Liz. Which notebook? Nobody knows. Since Liz sent Garth some books recently, the boys surmise the notebook is with those, but they find no trace of it. Their best plan, the boys decide, is to bluff the kidnapper; they inform the sheriff of Ridge City, Penn., where the handoff is supposed to take place, and hope the police can catch the kidnapper.

Despite his friend’s anguish, Joe enjoys the situation: “It was exciting to be on a case again” (13). Heaven protect me from friends like Joe. And from ones like Frank, too: Although they will reach Ridge City with little time to spare if things go right, Frank sets the cruise control to 55 when they reach the open highway. Remember when the speed limit everywhere was 55? Man, that was a long time ago, and no one went 55 then, either. The three boys reach Ridge City in time, but the kidnapper slips the trap, in part because the deputies assigned to capture him are set up in the wrong place and mistake the boys for the kidnappers.

The trip out to Pennsylvania illustrates a key area that Franklin W. Dixons need to be good at but frequently aren’t: friendly banter. In Rock ‘n’ Roll Revenge (#116), Frank, Joe and Chet give each other good-natured ribbing that feels right for teenage boys (albeit in a PG sort of way). But this Dixon can’t get the hang of banter, with Garth and the Hardys spouting nonsensical non-sequiturs in the guise of amusing badinage. C’mon — you have to try harder than Joe saying, “Hey, hold on” and “punching Garth on the shoulder” (15) after Garth’s poor attempt to burn Frank and Joe.

Ridge City, which is located in the center of the state according to Garth, is a stand-in for the real-life coal-mining town of Centralia, Penn. In both towns, a seam of coal caught on fire, and as a result, the ground under the town is burning. Centralia’s coal deposits caught on fire in 1962, although the dangers of the underground fires didn’t become apparent until almost two decades later. In 1980, Centralia’s population was 1,017, down from 1,435 just before the fires in 1960; by 1990, after the state bought out and relocated most of the town, Centralia’s population was 63. Pennsylvania’s governor declared eminent domain on the town in 1992, although court cases delayed that declaration. Today just 10 people live in Centralia; as a result of their court battles with the state, they received about $350,000 and the right to stay in Centralia until they died. The state will take the land when they do.

Ridge City is in an early stage of that dissolution. The coal fire has been burning for less time, but the town is dying, and the government — it’s never declared whether it’s state, county, or federal — is planning to buy out the residents (or maybe just compensate them) and close down the nuclear plant. Why the coal region has a nuclear plant isn’t explained; perhaps the town was embracing its own obsolescence even before the coal fire. The government has made a proposal to the town, and even though the mayor is in favor of it, Liz believes the people deserve more. This has made her unpopular with the local power structure — such as it is — and gives the boys no shortage of suspects for her disappearance.

The person who should be at the top of their list is David Handler, Liz’s on-again, off-again boyfriend. He is so perfect for the role of suspect it is baffling that Frank rejects Handler as suspect so absolutely. Were we as a nation that naïve in 1993, that we wouldn’t think to immediately look at the guy who had broken up with a missing girl multiple times? Or is Frank just stupid? I’m thinking the latter, but I don't remember 1993 as well as I used to. For his part, Garth vouches for Handler, but he also thinks central Pennsylvania is “outside of Pittsburgh” (46), so maybe his perspective is skewed.

Still, Frank authorizes an investigatory B&E at Handler’s home. They find a golden retriever, whose fur roughly matches the hairs found in Garth’s apartment, and letters from Handler to Liz. One of them says, “You make me want to kill you sometimes, Liz Trimmer, as much as I love you” (66). This is deeply disturbing, and whether he did anything Liz, his protestations that he loves her should be viewed with a great deal of skepticism. In fact, if Garth doesn’t tell his sister to stay far away from Handler, he’s not a very good sibling.

Eventually, the boys discover Liz wasn’t kidnapped; she disappeared to investigate some shenanigans going on in Ridge City, hoping to get the residents a larger government payout. Oh, yeah, and justice, I suppose. Can’t forget the justice. Or “justice.” The “kidnapper,” as it turns out, was using Liz’s disappearance to get some sort of evidence she had gathered.

Liz worked at the local nuclear power plant, which is having unreported accidents. (Frank and Joe are no strangers to nuclear power plant problems; they were at the Bayridge Nuclear Power Plant during an accident — an earthquake, specifically — in The Infinity Clue [#70].) The boys think it’s plausible that Liz was investigating the plant, especially when the head of the plant and technicians give them the brushoff while they’re dealing with the accident. (I wouldn’t want a bunch of teenagers around while I repaired a malfunction at a nuclear plant.)

The search for Liz turns to the abandoned mine tunnels beneath Ridge City. It’s a crime it takes more than half the book to get to them; I can’t imagine a more atmospheric and dangerous environment for the Hardys to investigate. A mine is a dirty, dangerous place, but this book doesn’t take advantage of it in the way that the early Hardy Boys book would have. When the boys are down there, they don’t suffer from the noxious gasses that should be released by the burning fire, and their only real difficulty is when a wall falls on Joe. Rescue crews dig him out without much trouble, and when he realizes Joe is safe, Garth “let out a howl of relief” (93). I’m having trouble figuring out what that would sound like; at the moment, I’m leaning toward a cross between a wolf howl and a sigh.

No closer to finding Liz or her fake kidnapper, Joe briefly suspects Ridge City’s mayor, who wants to accept the current government payoff and considers Liz an annoyance. Her big-city wardrobe and coiffure makes his detective sense twitch: “He observed … her neat suit and her perfectly styled hair. Could she be ambitious enough to have threatened Liz?” (101). Since she has no real power, she’s eventually rejected.

Frank is annoyed by the sheriff, who wants to briefly stop searching the mine tunnels for Liz because of things like “rest,” “food,” and “safety.” The sheriff invites Garth and the Hardys to look for themselves. While they are down in the mine, they are almost run over by a mine train. They suspect Handler, but when they catch up with him, he provides a note from Liz telling him she was going to vanish. Later, through the power of luck, instilled in him through the Fentonian mysteries, Joe finds barrels of hazardous waste. The kids and Handler walk away from the barrels that night, presumably whistling, figuring the police have probably closed for the night. By the time Frank and Joe come back the next morning, with the promise of FBI agents to follow, almost all of the barrels are gone.

Luckily, they find Liz. Unluckily, the villains — the sheriff, the head of the nuclear plant, and most importantly, their guns — find Liz and the Hardys. Frank is clubbed unconscious, then he, Joe, and Liz are tied to the train and aimed at the underground fire. Fortunately, they free themselves and stop the train before they crash, or burn, or succumb to carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide poisoning. They reverse the train and quickly run down (not literally) the villains, who have forgotten they had weapons.

All is set right! Somehow, the hazardous waste dumping has made the unlivable Ridge City even more unlivable, so the people of Ridge City will get a bigger payout. I would have thought that subsidence and poisonous gasses from an underground fire would be enough to total the real estate, but what do I know? Liz got more money from the federal government, although that’s according to the nuclear regulator who was shocked — shocked! — at the malfeasance at the plant. Of course she’s going to say Ridge City is going to get more money.

That will make the people of Ridge City happy, giving her more time to get to a country without an extradition treaty before the head of the nuclear plant swears there’s no way he could have dumped hazardous waste without the regulator’s help.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Trouble at Coyote Canyon (#119)

Trouble at Coyote Canyon coverAs Trouble at Coyote Canyon begins, Frank and Joe are flying into Durango, Colo., to help Mike Preston protect his horseback tour business, Teen Trails West, from “accidents.” How do Frank and Joe know Mike? Well, they don’t — Doug Newman, the windsurfer / meathead from Wipeout (#96) has recommended the brothers to Mike. How does a windsurfer in France know a guy running a wilderness tourism business in southwestern Colorado? “Apparently, they’re old friends,” Frank says (2), showing as much interest in how the two men are linked as I do.

I’m more interested in how recommendations work in the digests. Frank and Joe rarely get paid — they don’t get paid here — so what do people need to say to get their endangered friends and loved ones to “hire” Frank and Joe? If your business is about to go under, as Mike contends his is, then what’s to lose by giving a free tour to a couple of kids who believe they can help? I suppose they need someone to get their name to the person in trouble; Trouble at Coyote Canyon came out in 1993, when an Internet search on “free teenage detectives” would have been impossible.

(Speaking of 1993: at one point, a character says a guy he knew thought the Anasazi tribe disappeared because they were taken away by aliens. That’s a theory mentioned by Fox Mulder of the X-Files, which debuted in fall 1993.)

On the other hand, Frank and Joe must be well known: when they reveal their roles on the tour to their fellow campers, one of them says, “You mean you’re that Frank and Joe Hardy? … The detectives? I’ve read all about your famous cases!” (140). I suppose it could be that Frank and Joe are the selective ones; if you are from out of town and want them to investigate, then someone has to recommend you to the Hardys.

So what are Frank and Joe supposed to do for their free Western vacation? Well, Teen Trails West has suffered some accidents, and Mike thinks someone has it out for his business. Suspects abound: the business rival, the spoiled rich girl, a possible agent from the other business …

Books like this make me want to go back to my old format, in which I talked about funny bits and how the book aligned with previous Hardy lore: using martial arts (they don’t here) or where they say Bayport is (New York, just outside the city), how often the Hardys have ridden horses and if they have ever gone to Colorado — yes, before you ask: while camping in Danger on Vampire Trail (#50) and while investigating in Mystery of the Desert Giant (#40). (They even visit a Shetland pony ranch in Desert Giant! Can you imagine? Well, you’ll have to, because it’s not like the writers of that period are going to paint you a word picture.)

So there’s no point in recounting Coyote Canyon’s plot. And it’s not a badly written book; it’s just one that sticks closely to the digests’ pattern. Someone’s making things hard on a small businessman (the backbone of America), he or she keeps doing stupid things that looks like bad luck or maybe sabotage, veering between annoying his victims and attempted manslaughter. (Coyote Canyon even has an insane prospector, which is an incredibly Hardy Boys thing to have happen.) Then Frank and Joe solve the case before someone dies. The end.

I want something different. I want Frank and Joe, during their snooping, spotting a couple of teens in the middle of hot monkey love, or maybe Joe and the stuck-up girl having a session of hate makeouts. I want Frank or Joe to pick up a rifle and think about having to use it. Just something — anything — different would be welcomed. But instead, we get something right out The Sign of the Crooked Arrow (#28) or The Secret of Wildcat Swamp (#31) or Desert Giant or The Money Hunt (#101) or … well, there’s not enough snow to make the original Hunting for Hidden Gold (#5) a direct comp, but it’s still pretty close.

The most surprising thing about Coyote Canyon is that the first knockout of either brother comes on pg. 133, and that’s the only KO in the entire book.

That being said, I want to go over a few things in Coyote Canyon:

One of the characters on the tour is Jessica Springer, a rich girl from Beverly Hills, the daughter of a movie director who has been in movies herself. Jessica is always portrayed as a jerk, and she is a jerk. But she’s not always wrong, and the book fails to acknowledge that.

At one point, the teen tourists are told they might see coyotes on the trip. Joe’s excited by the prospect, but Jessica says, “Coyotes are boring” (7). Jessica is right: they are boring, as wild animals go. I grew up in the lower Midwest, and in the fall and winter, I heard coyotes howling almost every night. People keep trying to call her “Jessie,” which Jessica — rightfully — resents and corrects. (I would too, if I were in her shoes.) She sniffs when Mike tells her his wife, Dottie, cuts both their hair; I imagine their hairstyles to be extremely utilitarian and not up to the standard of even an average teenage girl (or these days, the average teenage guy). Everyone laughs at her when she falls over her saddle after her stirrup is positioned too high, which is just mean.

Like I said, she’s supposed to be unlikeable, but a “nice” character keeps telling his friends he wants to put all sorts of creepy critters in her bed roll. (I think we’re supposed to read something crypto-sexual into the “nice” guy’s desires, but I can’t swear to it.) We’re supposed to understand that it’s an extreme, not acceptable response to Jessica’s snobbishness, and I appreciate that. But Jessica is the bad guy because she’s verbally unpleasant; she doesn’t do or threaten anything physical, like the “nice” guy does.

Greg, the guy who wants to put something shocking into Jessica’s bed, claims to be a musician, although he actually plays the accordion. I find it hard to believe the tour would allow him to lug that big of an instrument out on the trail, but evidently Mike has no policy against bulky “musical” instruments. The villain, on the other hand, has a more sensible policy, interrupting one of Greg’s impromptu concerts: “Before he could start to play, the silence was shattered by the sound of three closely spaced gunshots!” (93).

The brakes have failed on several of the vehicles Frank and Joe have been in during the series. Coyote Canyon has a special distinction: it is, I believe, the first time the brakes have failed on a horse-drawn wagon (specifically, the chuckwagon).

As I mentioned, Coyote Canyon has plenty of suspects, one of which calls Frank and Joe “out-of-town muscle” (10), which I appreciate. Later in the book, the worst act of sabotage happens: two-thirds of the tour’s water supply is destroyed. The tour leader plays down the significance of this but privately confides to Frank and Joe that it’s pretty bad. But later, with clouds rolling in, the group makes no attempt to catch any water in buckets. “These cloudbursts generally end as quick as they begin,” Mike says (115), but not even trying to get a little water — which could make a difference in a life-or-death situation — suggests the danger isn’t as great as Mike made it out to the Hardys.

While on the five-day tour, the camp provides food and drink. Somehow, after the water supply is depleted, the campers are still given orange juice for breakfast. For some reason, “orange juice” is not listed among their assets in staving off dehydration, but more importantly, how did they keep orange juice cold for several days on the trip? I don’t think standard coolers can keep orange juice cold for multiple days on the trail.