I’m going to stop posting to this blog for a while. I don’t know how long, but hopefully it will not be as long as the last hiatus, which was about two years long.
So I’ll be back. In the meantime, keep reading those Hardy Boys books!
Lighthearted synopses and analysis of the later paperbacks in the Hardy Boys series.
“Borrowing” from the past: Frank and Joe mention they’ve taken Callie and Iola to the Bayport Diner, and Joe enjoys its banana cream pie. Joe claims it’s in a residential neighborhood close to their home, but the previously mentioned Bayport Diner was on the edge of town, bordered by woods in The Night of the Werewolf (#59). The Bayport Diner also appeared in The Vanishing Thieves (#66), The Outlaw’s Silver (#67), and The Track of the Zombie (#71). In The Secret of the Lost Tunnel (#29), Shorty’s Diner, a downtown establishment, was mentioned, and Mike’s popped up in The Sign of the Crooked Arrow (#28). An unnamed Bayport diner owned by Nick Papadapolos appeared in The Mummy Case (#63). Tom and Mary’s Diner was located on Shore Road outside Bayport in The Mysterious Caravan (#54).
Laura Hardy’s car is described as a failing station wagon — “on the verge of falling apart” with a broken radio and odometer. Laura had never been specifically given ownership of a vehicle before; the family had owned a sedan (The Disappearing Floor, #19, and The Yellow Feather Mystery, #33) as well as other unspecified models in the past.
The Hardys have a home computer, and Frank admits to doing a “little tinkering” with it. It would be important in later mysteries, but prior to this, there was little mention of home computing. In Revenge of the Desert Phantom (#84), Chief Collig sells the boys “surplus computer parts” at the same time he gave them their supervan, and in The Skyfire Puzzle (#85), there’s a computer in the van.
The boys tune in rock station WBAY while in their CompuCar. Previously, the only radio station mentioned in the Bayport market is WMC in The Mystery of the Flying Express (#20). WBAY has been a CBS affiliate in Green Bay, Wisc., for half a century. WMC is used by a TV and AM and FM radio stations in Memphis, Tenn; the AM station has been WMC since 1923.
The March of Technology: This is a book reliant on the idea of pushing the frontiers of technology. CompuCar Co. makes cars that are, to a degree, voice operated — drivers can command the car to accelerate, slow, or change the radio station. Although voice-operated driving hasn’t arrived yet, cars have been able to change the radio and deal with other electronic devices, like cell phones, for a few years now, making Program for Destruction only about two decades ahead of the times. Taking its cue more from Knight Rider than Car and Driver, however, the car can talk back to its users. That automated systems can talk to users is a coincidence; the CompuCar can say “You’re welcome” to the user’s “Thank you” and has other responses that seems to indicate a higher level of intelligence than today’s electronics.
At one point, the Hardys loaner CompuCar starts having random failures. After the car almost kills the boys — the author cannot resist having the computer say one of the Hardys’ commands “does not compute” — they remove its “program disk” for analysis. Where do they analyze it? In their home PC. Frank says, “I just hope it’s compatible” before … before they “slid the CompuCar computer disk into the machine.” Which leaves the question of how they were interfacing their computer with the program disk. Is it a standard 3½" or 5¼" floppy? The “slid” seems to indicate it wasn’t hooked up through cables, which you could do with a pair of hard disks. Perhaps they remove their computer’s hard drive and put the program disk in its place. That would explain why Frank is not worried about the computer virus the program disk has infecting their home PC. (Frank acts as if “virus” is a new term, which surprisingly, it is — the term began being used for self-replicating computer programs only in the early to mid-80s. Of course, what Frank is describing today is probably better described by the general term “malware,” since he has no evidence of the program’s virus-like replication.)
The Hardys do have a “car phone” — not yet called a “cell phone” — in the far-flung year of 1987. When their car fails, however, they have to use a pay phone. A pay phone! Ha!
Who do you think Henry Ford was?: One of Stockard’s former employees gives this condemnation of ex-boss: “Stockard’s supposed to be a genius, the next Henry Ford, but he only cares about making money; he doesn’t care about the people who work for him.” In the ‘80s, was the public opinion of Ford as a mechanical genius who was also a humanitarian? Because that’s not what we think of him as today. He was a man who wanted to make lots of money, and he made it through using a manufacturing process that streamlined automobile assembly. It’s said he wanted to pay his employees enough that they could afford the cars they were assembling, but he sure fought the unions hard.
We remind you: Joe is not a lawyer: Joe notices one of the suspects has a brochure for Rio de Janiero, and Joe’s immediate thought is that the suspect is planning to leave the country. “If Krisp broke the law in America and fled to Rio,” Joe thinks, “he couldn't be arrested and brought back to the United States.” This is very wrong; America has had an extradition treaty with Brazil since the ‘60s, which would allow the U.S. to request Brazil to arrest and return citizens who have committed certain crimes to the U.S. To be fair, Krisp might be considering vanishing in Brazil, but that’s not what Joe’s suggesting.
You never know: Frank says he’s read about the CompuCar in “my” car magazines, which indicates to me that he’s a subscriber (or a regular newsstand buyer). I wouldn’t think of Frank as the kind of guy who would buy car mags, but I usually think of them as having scantily clad women leaning on hoods of cars. Probably the kind Frank subscribes to has in-depth reviews of cars — Car and Driver, that sort of thing. Frank has catholic tastes when it comes to knowledge anyway.
Are you sure you’re a detective?: When their top two suspects are assaulted, Frank and Joe reconsider who might be behind the sabotage. They also have to figure out why someone crept into a house to knock them over the head. Collig decides it’s a warning, something to shut them up. The boys reject that sort of simplistic analysis and decide it’s so they’ll be unseen at a time when sabotage is occurring at the plant. Good enough, as far as it goes … except they assume the sabotage won’t happen at midday, when the pair are clubbed, but that night, after the two have had several hours to recover and establish an alibi … with, say, the police or a doctor, which are the people you consult with after you’ve been assaulted.
The culprit reveals Collig was, of course, correct.
Opinions: For an ‘80s cybercrime mystery, Program for Destruction is pretty impressive. Interoperability issues aside, the idea of a virus not only sabotaging the computer in a car (although straight failures would be more likely than switching functions) but corroding worldwide banking is an good idea. On the other hand, the investigation is simplistic — actually, “simplistic” insults the simple among us — and the reader will likely figure out the culprit while Frank and Joe are still trying on fanciful theories of assault. There are only five possible suspects in the entire book, and once you figure out the red herrings and decide to drop the unlikely ones, there’s only one person left.
It was refreshing to return to the digests after so many Casefiles. Early in the book, Frank assumes Joe is too much of a screwup to walk a letter to a nearby post office for their father when the van isn’t working. In the Casefiles, Joe would really have been too lazy to walk a few blocks; in the digests, Joe has not only walked to the post office but picked up Laura’s dry cleaning. And Frank apologizes. I know which series is more realistic, when it comes to the behavior of teenage boys, and I know which series is more pleasant to read.
Grade: B-. Simple but sweet.
“Borrowing” from the past: The Hardys are no strangers to space exploration. In The Skyfire Puzzle (#85), the last digest before the year-long hiatus that presaged the beginning of the Casefiles, the Hardys actually went into space on the space shuttle Skyfire. It was a logical development; after going to Easter Island and Antarctica, two of the most remote places on Earth (as they did in The Stone Idol, #65), where else is there to go? The Hardys trained and took off from Kennedy Space Center in Skyfire; they visited Kennedy Space Center in Sky Sabotage (#79) as well.
Frank and Joe both identify themselves as pilots in Mission: Mayhem, although they don’t actually fly. Frank’s flying experience is listed in Power Play (Casefiles #50); in addition, Frank claims to have “dead-stick landed” a plane without engine power. I have no idea whether that has been shown in the books, though. A précis of Joe’s experience can be found in In Plane Sight (#176).
Just in case you care: Frank and Joe are six feet and six feet, one inch tall, although Mission: Mayhem makes it vague about which brother is which height.
Joe’s skills: While watching other students perform a mock shuttle launch, Joe watches a “pretty young woman with blond hair, not much older than he was” perform her complicated mission-control duties. Joe’s first thought? “At seventeen, Joe knew he wasn’t ready for a job like this.” Come on! Joe’s looking at a pretty girl. He shouldn’t be thinking about, you know, complicated stuff like life and a career.
Later on, however, Joe does raid the lockers in the girls’ barracks, trying to pick the locks. So that’s something … and by “something,” I mean “creepy.”
Frank’s skills … : Are, of course, nonexistent. He sneaks off late at night with one of the female students, but it’s to compete against her on the multi-axis trainer — a sort of a gyroscope that spins students along all three axes. He tells himself he doesn’t know why he would do something so stupid; he suggests it will allow him to get to know her better or perhaps he wanted to succeed at the challenge the trainer presented. He does not suggest the most likely rationales: hormones, adrenaline rush, or competition with the girl. This is a boy who is repressing something, and that “something” is likely “adolescence.”
Joe suggests Frank wanted to “soften up the ice queen.” I’m not sure what dirty, dirty thing “soften up” is youth slang for, but I am interested in finding out.
Excuses, excuses: Laura and Fenton allow the boys to “take time off from school” to complete the week-long program. This ranks among the weakest excuses Frank and Joe have ever used to get out of school to do whatever they wanted; the only one that comes close is the revised Short-Wave Mystery, in which Fenton just writes the boys an excuse to show the school for the three days they miss. Yes, heating-system breakdowns, a collapsed school roof, and teacher’s conferences are extremely convenient, and the Hardys have had more summer and winter vacations during the theoretical year of high school most of the mysteries take place in than I ever had. But at least the writer was trying; it wasn’t just, hey, let’s go to Space Camp instead of school.
Do you want space fries with that space burger?: “Space” is an adjective that, if this book is to believed, is used so often in Huntsville that it loses all meaning. There’s Space Camp, of course; Frank and Joe are enrolled at Space Academy, which is a physically and mentally tougher course for older students. (Today, what Frank and Joe are doing is Advanced Space Academy, which is for high schoolers; Space Academy is for the junior high set.) They watch movies in the Space-Dome, and there’s also a Space Museum. There are others, too — I just stopped paying attention after the Space-Dome. They watched the movie Speed there — not the one with Keanu, but one that talks about how perception of speed has changed over the centuries.
While at Space Academy, Frank and Joe pass by the space shuttle Pathfinder. The Pathfinder is fictional, of course. The U.S. space shuttles were Columbia (1981-2003), Challenger (1983-6), Atlantis (1985-; last flight planned for June 28, 2011), Discovery (1984-2011), Endeavour (1992-; last flight planned for April 29, 2011), and Enterprise (1974-; never capable of space flight and now an exhibit at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian). As mentioned above, the Hardys went into space on the space shuttle Skyfire.
Let us take a moment to remember America’s space shuttle program, which will come to an end soon after 30 years. Hopefully it will not take another 30 years before America sets its sights that high again.
Wrong, Brainiac: Two allegedly smart people make dumb mistakes in this book. When a fire breaks out in student barracks, Frank tries to beat it out with blankets and then a mattress, both attempts failing. Another student wisely uses the fire extinguisher, which Frank “completely forgot.” Well, it was a crisis situation, so you could forgive Frank if he didn’t face crisis situations every couple of days. The other one is worse, in its way, especially since an astronaut teacher lets the mistake pass uncontested: Maria Galewski, class know-it-all, claims “Frank could graduate from college in the time it would take to travel to Mars.” No — it would take less than a year to get to Mars (about nine months), and the round trip would take less than two. We all know Frank is brilliant — as he himself immodestly says, “I know a lot about a lot of things” — but I don’t think he could finish a college degree in a year or even two.
Physically phit: Joe complains that running two miles in twelve minutes will mean he will have to average six minutes a mile. Well, Joe’s good at math, but not evidently at running; six miles a minute isn’t that impressive for a high school athlete. I was not a very good cross country runner when I was in high school, but I could almost do that over more than three miles. (Not quite, but I was the worst varsity runner on the team, eighth on a team of eight.) Whatever happened to the vaunted Hardy athletic ability? They’ve participated in five school sports and are “star athletes”; they’re also top sprinters and track stars at Bayport High (as per The Ghost at Skeleton Rock, #37, and The Demon’s Den, #81). In Game Plan for Disaster (#76), Frank and Joe were completing five-mile runs, although admittedly the book didn’t say they were completing them with any sort of speed.
Casual sexism is the best sexism: When the Hardys’ team leader says trainees are divided into six-man teams, Maria, one of the female students loudly clears her throat, forcing the former astronaut team leader to acknowledge that yes, females can be interested in being astronauts. Not so surprising for a book from 1994; not so surprising now, really. On the other hand, Dixon makes a point that Maria is a hyper-motivated jerk; when an asthmatic student collapses during a two-mile run, her first words to the student are, “You should keep yourself in better shape.” She also locks Frank into the multi-axis trainer until he succeeds at the replicating the sequence of flashing lights that are flashing at him. Frank almost passes out but succeeds; Maria says he needed the proper motivation.
Glory!: I have made the point that in the real world, the Hardys would not be very good investigators, as they have little or no conception of basic rights and seem to be more interested in their own glory than actually protecting people. Mission: Mayhem continues that theme. When their trainer gets booted from the program without a chance to defend himself, Frank is indignant, although basic Constitutional rights have never been a major concern of his before — and this is just an employment situation, rather than a criminal investigation. Frank also has an opportunity to get a suspect booted from the Space Academy premises — a move that would likely save lives, if the suspect was guilty, or clear the suspect, if more “accidents” happened. However, Frank wants to expose the malefactor, so he keeps Barron, the suspect, near.
Such is fame: A teenage actor is inserted into Space Academy to study for his next role; he tries to convince everyone he’s famous, but no one is buying it since his fame came from his role as a child. When he and his personal assistant are expecting everyone to recognize him, Joe shrugs. So what if he’s an actor? Will his name — or the name of his father — keep him out of jail in any state or in several other countries? No. No, it will not.
Snark: While Frank is trying to get info from a counselor by sounding sympathetic, Joe keeps butting in with his own comments, which are decidedly unsympathetic. Frank gives Joe a sharp look to keep him from talking: “Joe’s opinion he could get any time. … He hoped Joe would get the hint and either get with the program or stop talking.” This is one of those times I sympathize with Frank; even though he didn’t fill Joe in on what the plan is, Joe should have figured it out.
Whatever happened to Scott Randolph?: Another actor is mentioned as a potential rival to the actor at Space Academy; his name is Scott Randolph. Randolph Scott was a famous movie actor from the ‘30s to the ‘50s, mostly famous for his more than 60 Westerns. He was also rumored to have had an affair with Cary Grant, but that claim is hotly disputed.
Generic equivalent: Joe compares an instructor with bulging muscles to “the cartoon character made out of car tires that he’d seen in commercials.” Afraid to invoke the name of the Michellin Man, Joe? Is it out of some prurient, anti-commercialism? Or are you afraid that if you think the name too forcefully, the Michellin Man will emerge out of thin air and take you (or your soul) to France? Yes, it’s a horrible fate to contemplate, but it won’t really happen. The Michellin Man looks like a lumpy, horrifying beast called up from some mephitic abyss, but he’s just an advertising icon. There’s a subtle but identifiable difference.
Boffo?: Frank says the villain was hoping for a “boffo climax.” Joe wisely pretends not to understand what “boffo” means, as no East Coast teenager should ever admit to knowing that word.
Opinions: The culprit is obvious, the story ignores some of the Hardys’ more unforgettable adventures, but there’s something about Mission: Mayhem that I like. There’s a female character who is more than the equal of the boys, although she’s a bit aggressive about it; the Hardy Boys books have never been subtle. The “accidents” are (mostly) plausibly seen as accidents, although everyone seems to overlook the arson incident. Space Academy is a place the Hardys could logically get into and that Frank might be logically interested in. (Why Joe attends is a question best left unexamined.) Most importantly, there isn’t anything that makes me want to hurt Franklin W. Dixon. This is a Frank novel, as most of the challenges are mental rather than physical. Joe looks like an idiot for most of the book, but his stupidity is plausible for a 17-year-old boy. Somewhat implausibly, Joe doesn’t distinguish himself on the physical challenges, but there aren’t that many to deal with. The message is clear: space is a place where the mentally tough will distinguish themselves.
Grade: B-. Unexceptional and inoffensive.
“Borrowing” from the past: Like many stories, Frank and Joe visit New York, and like many other stories, the brothers take an exotic, vibrant foreign culture and distill it into a few curio shops and spicy dishes (including a food allergy). In Deadly Engagement, they combine the two when Frank and Joe spend time in the Little India section of Manhattan; in The Mystery of the Chinese Junk (#39), they visit Chinatown. In The Clue in the Embers (#35), they go to Tony’s deceased uncle’s curio shop in Greenwich Village. (I know, I know; it’s not an ethnic neighborhood; on the other hand, given Tony’s immigrant past, when I remembered Tony’s uncle had a shop in New York, I expected it to be in Little Italy.) Other than those visits (did I miss any?), the boys tend to miss New York’s distinct neighborhoods.
Frank bugs some phones with listening devices designed by Phil Cohen. (Phil doesn’t actually appear in the book, however.) Since the advent of computers, Phil’s been on the forefront of hacking / electronics for Dixons who don’t think Frank should be good enough. In The Mysterious Caravan (#54), Frank says Phil is “good at that sort of thing,” which evidently means sneaking and eavesdropping. The Serpent’s Tooth Mystery (#93) portrays Phil as a “high-tech” genius, an electronic engineering geek. He builds an electronically controlled display case for serpents in that book. His engineering genius nearly gets everybody burned to death in The End of the Trail (#162), when he tries to monkey with an old telephone exchange. In A Game Called Chaos (#160), Phil is a hacker. In Plane Sight (#176) has him as a computer expert.
Adding to the past: Frank and Joe are catsitting for Fenton’s “good friend,” Mr. Scheer. He’s such a good friend that no one has mentioned him in the past, and no one mentions his name in this book either!
Where Is Bayport?: It’s less than two hours to Manhattan by van. No other details are given, though. This would tend to suggest Bayport is on the central to southern end of New Jersey’s coast (around the appropriately named Barnegat, N.J.) or around New Haven, Conn. Unfortunately, this clashes with the description in Beyond the Law (Casefiles #54), which puts Bayport somewhere in New Jersey, not far from New York. Of course, any time you mention where Bayport is in reference to other places, it’s going to contradict another book.
March of Technology: At one point, Frank and Joe call Fenton, trying to find out who a phone number belongs to. Fenton promises to search the NYPD computerized reverse directory, then calls the boys back. Today, there are many Web sites that will allow you to do the same thing — admittedly, the accuracy will be less, but the access is free, and you don’t have to hang up the phone (usually) to get the info.
Convenient: The brothers are spending a week in the Big Apple without female supervision because their girlfriends, Callie and Vanessa, are “still on vacation.” This raises a host of possibilities in my mind. I’m sure we’re supposed to believe both girls are on vacation with their families, but the way Joe phrases it, it sounds as if the girls are on vacation together. Which is possible; high-school friends do go on vacation together. It even happens in the Hardy Boys’ Universe, as seen in Panic on Gull Island, when Iola goes on Spring Break with a friend. I prefer to think, however, that Callie and Vanessa needed a vacation from Frank and Joe; having had enough of their boyfriend’s neglect, suicidal tendencies, and reckless endangerment, each decides they have to get away before they just snap. It’s probably something Callie used to do with Iola before, well, you know.
Laura is annoyed by this lack of female or parental supervision while in New York. At first, she seems merely overprotective, giving the boys reminders and curfews despite the boys being completely able to ignore both. But when she learns they’re going to be investigating while they’re in Manhattan, she sighs “in annoyance.” She just knows some sort of wacky crap is going to happen, and she’s probably going to get a call in the middle of the night asking for money or from some damn emergency room or from the police or a ransom demand or something, and it’s going to ruin the peace and quiet she deserves, dammit.
That’s the way business cards work, Fenton: Although he remembers meeting faux client Biju Kumar at a party, he doesn’t remember giving him a business card — although Kumar says he did. Fenton acts annoyed, although God knows why. You give business cards to people who might hire you, like people who run jewelry stores (targets for robbery, millions of dollars in inventory), but you don’t necessarily have to account for each card. They’re not precious or even coupons, Fenton: you give them out as frequently as is polite or useful.
It’s funny, but only in a coincidence way, not in a punny way: Biju Kumar is a jeweler. His first name is very similar to the English word “bijou”; nowadays, it’s used mainly as the names of movie theaters, when you need an old timey name for a movie theater, but the word means “jewel.”
$10,000 is a lot of money, back now: A shipment of gold jewelry for Kumar’s store is stolen. In today’s terms, that’s not much gold; at the present price of nearly $1,500 per ounce, that would be less than seven Troy ounces of gold. Of course, that’s assuming the jewelry was the nearly pure 24 karat gold but not considering the workmanship that went into the gold. (18K gold is only 75 percent pure, if you’re wondering.) In 1994, when Deadly Engagement came out, that would have been more gold — the average price was below $400 at the time.
He doesn’t love her for her fashion sense: During their investigation, Frank and Joe track down the missing man’s girlfriend, Nikki Shah. He’s described as wearing a “black sleeveless shirt and a yellow miniskirt printed with bright red parrots and was carrying a big, black shoulder bag.” I know it was the ‘90s, and young people in college are going to experiment with personal fashion, but that’s pretty awful. Interestingly, given this interesting color palette to work with, the cover artist chooses to portray Nikki wearing a pink tanktop and dark blue / purple miniskirt.
I despair for you, Joe: You would think, having solved crimes for more than 65 years at this point and encountered different cultures for nearly as long, Joe would be able to do either with some skill. But no, Joe handles witnesses and clients with the aplomb of a man trying to make enemies. At least he keeps his thoughts to himself when he realizes Biju Kumar, his “client,” is “annoying,” but he makes a hash of the rest. He can’t believe two families — the Kumars and Shahs — would allow a feud to last for a century; just because the Hardy family erupted fully formed from the heads of Edward Stratemeyer and Leslie Macfarlane doesn’t mean other families don’t have histories. Joe spooks a potential source by trying to pump him for information about a mysterious local fence with a reputation. And when Nikki talks about her love for Sanjay, Joe blithely suggests Sanjay could have been murdered and that Nikki doesn’t know much more about love than he does. Nikki doesn’t quite realize how she’s been insulted, although she does get it when Joe repeatedly tells her her uncle is likely the one who kidnapped Sanjay. When he actually does it to the man’s face, at least he’s confronting the person he’s accusing.
Of course, Frank has problems of his own: namely, his modesty, or lack of it. When the NYPD detective on the case explains where he got tripped up and the boys didn’t, Frank says “modestly,” “You would have found him eventually.” It’s hard to imagine a more patronizing dismissal from an 18-year-old. Sure, you would have found him eventually. He might have become a drug addict in New Dehli before you found him; he might have been a skeleton who fed the fishes at the bottom of the Hudson River. But I’m sure you would have cracked the case eventually.
Charity begins in the waste bin: Frank throws away aluminum cans in a public trash can, rationalizing someone else could use the money for turning them in. I was more interested in the can redemption than Frank’s trickle-down economics; I had no idea that people had been getting a nickel a can in New York state since 1983.
EMTs to the rescue: Joe discovers he is allergic to cardamom in the usual way, by having an allergic reaction after consuming some. EMTs arrive and give Joe a shot of adrenaline, then leave. That seems a little cursory. Today, the adrenaline is called epinephrine, but victims are generally kept under observation for hours to a whole day because of the possibility of biphasic anaphylaxis — that is, the recurrence of the allergic reaction without exposure to the allergen.
That’s magnanimous of you, Nikki: The climax of the story happens at a block party hosted by Indian Business Association. Nikki reluctantly invites the boys, but given that the party is being advertised on posters all around Little India, I doubt they need your permission to attend, Nikki.
Does he have furry feet?: Like a hobbit, Joe indulges in second breakfast from time to time. In Deadly Engagement, the meal is a very hobbit-appropriate eggs and toast.
Says you, pal: When the NYPD finally gets involved, a detective tells Frank and Joe they “can’t go around questioning people as if [they] were the police.” That’s what you think, buddy — Frank and Joe have made a career of doing it, and they’ve done it over the objections of better cops than you.
Off his game: Nikki joins the boys’ investigation, and Frank leaves Joe and Nikki alone together. Joe isn’t sure he likes that idea, which is weird; usually Joe is all about the ladies. It could be that she has a fiancé, but as he suggested more than once, Sanjay could be dead, and that would technically mean that Nikki is available. And we all know how Frank and Joe feel about technicalities when they benefit the Hardys. It could have something about how he “accidentally” attacked her in the dark and she wouldn’t even accept his hand to help her up, though.
Frank thinks it has something to do with Nikki’s personality: “Joe sometimes had trouble with strong and smart women, and Nikki was both.” I don’t think Frank realizes this, but it makes Joe sound like a date rapist: he has trouble with women whom he can’t physically overpower or trick / bully / cajole into having sex with him. I know that’s not what’s intended, and I don’t even think it’s funny, but it would go along with the stupid, slightly vain, birddogging jock archetype Joe’s later incarnations hew to. Joe does move in for the clinch when he sees Nikki emotionally vulnerable at a friend’s betrayal, putting an arm around her and trying to comfort her.
Emotional responses: After finding out a friend betrayed Sanjay to have a romantic chance with Nikki, she wonders what her response should be: should she be flattered or angry? The answer, of course, is angry — cartoonishly, freakishly enraged that a man thought that all he had to do to win her was remove the man she loved and plotted to send him into exile until he did win her hand in marriage. Yes, angry does it.
Opinions: The most disappointing part of this book is that this particular Dixon takes a colorful immigrant community in New York City and boils it down to jewelry, Curry in a Hurry, arranged marriage, and an old feud. Think of all the details a modern-day Macfarlane would have strewn throughout the narrative; think of the feasts, which would have had no pointless allergies. (Is cardamom that exotic? Wouldn’t Joe have run into it somewhere before?) Religion isn’t even mentioned, despite the Shahs and Kumars coming from part of India near the partition with Pakistan. (OK, religion might be too controversial for the Hardy Boys — but this is the Casefiles! You can blow someone up, surely you can have Hindus and Muslims hating one another without killing each other.) As for the case itself, Frank and Joe fail to zero in on the obvious suspects despite his blinding obviousness. Oh, well — that’s not much different from normal.
Grade: C+. At times I had the feeling Dixon really was trying. Not all the time, of course, but some times.
Sorry there was no post this week — gardening and taxes got in the way.
Next week, the book will be Deadly Engagement, #90 in the Casefiles. The next two books after that will be Mission: Mayhem, #93 in the Casefiles series, and Program for Destruction #87 in the digest series. I haven’t decided on the order yet, though.
“Borrowing” from the past: This is not the first time this blog has seen Gertrude’s love life, as unpleasant as it might seem. In Past and Present Danger (#166), an old friend — reporter Clayton Silvers — mentions Gertrude was once engaged to a local business owner, who died before the wedding. (The engagement was first mentioned by Fenton in The Phantom Freighter #26.) In A Killing in the Market, Gertrude is romanced by investment banker Cyril Bayard (real name: Henry Simone). I don’t want to say anything about Gertrude, but a couple of men have already died to get out of relationships with her. If it happens again, it’s a pattern.
Killing mentions a few locations in Bayport, such as the Cliffside Heights neighborhood, Archer Street, Bay Road, and the Shore Inn, but none of them have appeared in the original canon. Nearby towns such as Bridgefield and Kirkland (destinations for trains from New York through Bayport) are also new, although Bridgeport and Bridgewater have popped up in the past.
Lives of the American privileged: As I mentioned in the review of Past and Present Danger, books that focus on Gertrude tend to shuffle Laura off the stage at an early spot. In Killing, Fenton takes Laura on a month-long vacation, and when Fenton returns to investigate Simone’s murder, she’s shuffled off to the neighbors’ house.
Good in a crisis: After Gertrude is arrested, Frank and Joe fall back on their all-purpose solution: investigation! A more practical course of action might be to a) call Fenton, who is on vacation with Laura, and b) to get a lawyer for Gertrude. The latter might be a result of the Hardys’ family prejudice toward lawyers, as Fenton doesn’t advise Gertrude to talk to a lawyer, even when she seems about to confess to murder.
But given how quickly Fenton gets results, you can only guess that Frank and Joe just wanted a rest from Gertrude — just a few moments of peace and quiet, and if she has to be incarcerated for them to get it, then by God, Gertrude’s getting prison time. One can see the direct link from this lack of human compassion to a relative in need to the boys’ insistence on investigating “their case,” in the face of nuclear annihilation, in The Pacific Conspiracy (Casefiles #78).
On the other hand, perhaps Joe just doesn’t give a damn. He says Gertrude’s too old for love — not to her face, of course, but to Frank. (Frank rightly calls him a “rotten nephew” a few pages later.) He runs down Cyril / Henry just because he’s an investment banker, since “the papers are full of stories about swindlers — guys who work for these big-and-mighty companies and steal clients’ money left and right!” Joe is right, but that’s hardly helpful, since Gertrude’s money is already gone. When Cyril / Henry’s house is ransacked and Cyril is gone, Joe says “maybe” he’s still alive.
Lying to the police, in this case, is considered a blessing: When asked about her last evening with Cyril / Henry by Officer Con Riley, Gertrude says, “We went for a long walk the night before last. Please, you’re not going to ask what we talked about, are you?” Because she’s not going to think up a lie quickly enough, since there was little talking during the activity “walk” is a euphemism for (Lothar of the Hill People knows the euphemism well, although Lothar was a couple of years after Killing was released).
Sentences that have never been seen in a Hardy Boys book before: “‘You’re awfully quiet, Aunt Gertrude,’ Frank finally said as they stopped for a traffic light.”
Is it weird that I find normal male / female interaction in a Hardy Boys book odd?: In Killing, there is a moment of genuine, indisputable romantic contact between a boy and a girl. It isn’t a playful peck, or some cheeky “reward” for lifesaving. Frank “wrapped his arms around [Callie] and touched his lips to hers.” The description lacks passion or artfulness, and the scene is interrupted by Joe, doing his little brother duty, honking the van’s horn and mocking his brother’s moment of intimacy.
You don’t measure up, Callie: Despite a male member of the Hardy family showing his approval for Callie by touching her, Gertrude pointedly asks Callie to stay in the van while the police question Gertrude about Henry’s murder because “it’s family business.” Well, it’s an investigation; of course that’s family business. I suppose dating Frank for 60 years isn’t enough to qualify Callie for membership in the Hardy clan, though. You’ll just have to wait for that ring, Callie! Of course, Callie’s waited so long even Miss Havisham would say, “Really, I think you’d better move on, dear.”
But still, she’s subject to the will and whims of the Hardy family. When Frank and Joe head to Henry’s funeral, Joe is afraid Callie will follow them; Frank says that won’t happen because he “had a long talk with her.” Of course; she wouldn’t dare disobey you, Frank.
Girls! If they’re not getting blown up, they’re bossing you around: After a day of investigation, Frank finds a message on his answering machine from Callie, who wants to know how their day went. Joe jokes, “So she can tell us how we could have done it better!” It seems an incredibly defensive thing for Joe to say; perhaps he misses having someone to share his adventures with.
Do you pay attention to where you live?: Greenwich Village reminds Frank of a “citified Bayport.” Really — a citified Bayport? The middle and upper-class nature of both make sense, but the Village has a bohemian, liberal, arty reputation, which Bayport does not. Bayport is the crime capital of the East Coast, and even its better-off part of the city is infested with criminals.
Opposite reactions: When Frank and Joe poke their nose into the murder investigation, two suspects have completely different reactions. Dodgy accountant Justin Spears hands over his clients’ confidential information with barely a demur, while swindling stockbroker Norman Fleckman offers them tobacco products, then tries to kill them. Fleckman also tries to go the bribery route before the murder attempt, dangling such well-known enticements as “jazzy clothes” and a “hot new car” in front of the boys. Joe claims he just “panicked,” but those are the sort of reactions one has to extreme intimidation, but it’s not like Frank and Joe are burly thugs waving guns and / or indictments around.
Premature exultation: While the boys are in New York, the boys use a ticker-tape parade for the World Series champs as cover for their getaway. However, no New York team won the 1988 World Series — in fact, neither New York team won the Series between 1986, when the Mets beat the Red Sox in seven, and 1996, when the Yankees took their first championship since 1978 (their longest drought since the team won its first World Series in 1923). In 1988, the Yankees finished fifth in a mediocre American League East, 3 ½ games behind the Red Sox; the Mets won the National League East, but lost in the playoffs to the eventual champions, Los Angeles, in seven games.
Always be prepared: When Gertrude is accused of using one of her knitting needles to kill her boyfriend, she protests, “Why would I bring a knitting needle on a walk?” Con Riley doesn’t answer, logically enough, that she always seems to have her knitting needles, even when she and the boys investigate Cyril’s ransacked house.
No wonder the boys have so little respect for civil rights: Fenton has no ideas what Constitutional protections offer people. When the Bayport police are exploring theories of the murder, Fenton protests that they must enter into the investigation assuming Gertrude was innocent until proven guilty. Well, no, Fenton; the police can formulate theories that lead them to believe a suspect is as guilty as sin. It’s the press, judges, and juries who must make that assumption. Riley is too polite to tell Fenton he’s an idiot.
That makes no sense: When Joe is firing up the van to pursue a suspect, Frank cautions Joe to drive more carefully: “A little less speed will get us there as fast.” I’m not sure what science classes Frank has taken, but evidently physics wasn’t one of them.
I do envy your skills, Joe: To foil the criminal, Joe makes a not-very-convincing attempt to switch briefcases that involves the cooperation of a random woman stopped on in a traffic jam. The trick works, and after the criminal is arrested, the woman slips Joe her business card, then gives him a wink and a smile. This is remarkable, as the woman is probably — given her business paraphernalia — at least five years older than Joe, who had involved her in a situation with a gun-wielding murderer who set fire to his own motorcycle to show how serious he was.
Opinions: A story about crooked investment bankers is even more relevant today than it was in 1988, and if anything, the story makes the cheats seem a little too innocent (except for the murder attempts). Yes, these guys are bilking people out of their money, but no one in this book is Bernie Madoff; additionally, nothing these people are doing is likely to bring around a worldwide financial crisis. It’s just mainstream financial malfeasance, and as a warning to the young that Wall Street is not to be trusted, Killing works well. One has to think the book was partly inspired by the Black Monday crash the year before (October 19, 1987).
This one would be a good mystery except for the people in it. There’s a murder, the cops reach the logical conclusion, and there is a point in the book, about two-thirds of the way through, when it’s obvious who the murderer is. But the characters … Joe is a massive jerk, the suspects are nervous and insane, going from 0 to murder in about ten seconds. The chief suspect burns his own motorcycle to destroy evidence, blames Frank and Joe, then when the police show up, he claims it was childish high spirits and declines to press charges. Insane.
But Gertrude is the biggest disappointment. Faced with the largest challenge she’s ever seen in a Hardy Boys book, she crumbles. That seems alien to those who have read the series from the beginning. Gertrude falling to pieces seems so out of character; she should be sniping at the police, sarcastic, giving them a hard time, and telling the boys to do something useful. Maybe she gets a little weepy once or twice; maybe not. I’m not inflexible. But Gertrude falls apart early and stays useless through the rest of the story; the only non-weepy acts she undertakes are lying to the police and acting guilty. The last time we see any spirit from Gertrude is when she’s angry with Henry for standing her up, and she tells Con Riley that if he’s alive, she’ll kill him. Con says she’s “upset and confused,” which is polite; we all know she’s just Gertrude, but unfortunately, she’s not the real Gertrude for long.
Grade: C-. Dixon probably just panicked.
“Borrowing” from the past: Not much here. The Hardys have fought a lot of different scary animals, but I have to admit, I’ve never seen a komodo dragon in one of the books before. Kudos, Franklin W. Dixon! Frank is also rescued by the most convenient snake bite ever, as the snake attacks the Assassin who is about to inform his superiors about Frank’s true identity. The snake isn’t identified — it has black and gray stripes — but it kills quickly. (Sort of like the Vietnamese Two-Step Viper, except quicker.)
Real places: The Assassins try to detonate their world-altering nuclear bomb — a real Bond-villain plot — on Mount Agung. Mt. Agung is a real volcano on the Indonesian island of Bali; it last erupted in the early ‘60s. The Mother Temple of Besakih, a Hindu temple, is located on the slopes of the mountain.
That’s one way to put it: The narration says, on page 2, that the Hardys have infiltrated the Assassin cell through a “remarkable series of events.” Although the narration eventually fills in readers, such as me, who skipped the second book, I think I would have left it at that — actually explaining things doesn’t help at all. I prefer to take it on faith that I would find the explanation preposterous rather than to find out that I’m right.
One of the more idiotic aspects of this infiltration is that Frank and Joe don’t even bother to come up with aliases. Now, Frank and Joe have clashed with the Assassins before; in the first book, Dead on Target, the Assassins were even hired to kill Frank and Joe. Not all Assassin operatives will likely have heard of that utter failure, but you have to imagine that Frank and Joe are fairly well known in certain circles. It’s eventually revealed that the Assassins are playing with Frank and Joe — that they’ve known the entire time that Hardy boys are, in fact, the Hardy Boys — but it doesn’t make Frank and Joe (or the Network) seem any smarter.
Using their superpower of stupidity: Even beyond the idiocy of using their real names, I have, in my notes, many notations of Frank and Joe’s (mostly Joe’s) stupidity. When Joe is pursuing one of the Assassins on Mt. Agung, the Assassin invites him to come, unarmed, to fight him at the top of a ladder. Of course, the assassin waits and stomps on Joe’s hands when he gets to the top. When Joe’s not-girlfriend Gina reappears, miraculously alive, in the middle of an armed standoff in an Assassin camp despite being “killed” in the previous book by Assassins, Joe allows her to disarm him easily before he can get suspicious. Frank knocks a gun away from an Assassin and suddenly thinks he’s evenly matched with the man; the Assassin immediately begins kicking his butt until Frank’s final punch wins the fight.
Perhaps with Joe this is a priority of brainpower. When he’s pulled out of a canal with concrete boots, his first comment (on the escape of the Assassin who put his feet in concrete and tossed him in the canal) is, “Good riddance. The guy was nothing but dead weight anyway.” Not a great pun, but it is impressive when you consider how close to death Joe had just been.
Hail Mary bomb: Young supergenius (and nuclear bomb builder) Dr. Krinski is photographed in a Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt with the #12 on it. That’s probably a reference to quarterback Roger Staubach, who retired in 1979. However, since the Cowboys don’t retire numbers, it could refer to other, lesser players who have taken that number since.
The March of Technology: When Krinski says he needs to check some calculations for his project, Frank volunteers to help. When Krinski asks for his qualifications, Frank mentions some computer programs he’s worked with. Just out of curiosity, what programs, commercially available in 1993, would Frank have used and be useful for modeling dropping a nuclear bomb through lava or constructing a nuclear bomb? Perhaps more pressingly, why the hell would Frank have used them? Modeling the trajectories of bullets, perhaps? Or pieces of shrapnel? Other than extreme crime scene recreation, I have no idea.
Your case. Really: When the Network and the Gray Man sensibly try to send the Hardys home, Joe complains it’s their case. Never mind that competent agents don’t need a couple of teenagers mucking up their search for a nuclear bomb; it’s Frank and Joe’s case! And because it’s their book as well, they manage to slip their minders and return to the investigation. When they manage to pick up the trail of an Assassin agent, Frank declines to call the Network so they can investigate on their own. Hey, what’s a little nuclear annihilation compared to the glory of the Hardy Boys?
Do you really want an answer to that question?: When Frank and Joe find a dead body, a Network agent asks them, “You didn’t move the body, did you?” Joe indignantly responds, “What do you think we are? Amateurs?” Depends on the mystery, Joe — you usually do protest that you’re amateur detectives.
One MILLION dollars: When the Assassins threaten the world with their world-altering nuclear bombs, they make their ransom demands to the United Nations General Assembly. Because, yes, when you want quick action and results, the organization you go to is the UN General Assembly. They may have had better results by submitting their demands to the Girl Scout National Board of Directors — that cookie money does add up, I imagine.
There’s no racism like subtle racism: The Balinese lad who helps the Hardys (and saves the world by informing on them to the police) is named Haji. That sounds worse today than it did in 1993, given that “Hadji” is a derogatory term used for Iraqis by American soldiers during the Iraq War.
False dichotomy: When Frank is following Joe and Network agent Endang up Agung, he finds the motorbike they were riding. His immediate thought is either the pair were captured or killed. He fails to consider they may have abandoned the bike for noise or mechanical reasons or a dozen other reasons. And remember, Frank’s the smart one.
My girlfriend’s back: At the end of Pacific Conspiracy, Vanessa Bender wanders up to the Hardy home. I had no idea Joe was dating Vanessa at this point; I thought she was introduced later in the series. Joe’s behavior toward Gina and Endang gave me no indication he was going out with anyone.
Vanessa’s entrance line is, “Glad to see me?” Joe answers, “You bet.” I was almost waiting for him to ask, “You won’t blow up on me or get shot or get shot again, will you?” I like to imagine two different responses from Vanessa:
a) “No, I’ll be fine, but if I hear about you flirting with or kissing another girl again, even to save your life, I swear to God you’ll be dead.”
b) “I promise I won’t die. But some day the Casefiles are going to end, Joe, and then what will happen to me? It won’t be death, but I won’t even have generated the nostalgia that will bring Iola back to life, even in a limited capacity. In a way, that’s even worse — a kind of a half existence, not quite here but not quite gone either. Is that what you want for me, Joe?”
I find the former more realistic, but I’m affected more by the latter. I never completely adjusted to Vanessa, but I always found her role interesting in a sad sort of way — she’ll never be Iola, to Joe or the readers, and she’ll never get a chance to be anyone else. In this sense, Assassin cell leader Nwali has Joe pegged: “I do envy your skills with the ladies, Joseph. One girlfriend dies, and you find another.”
Opinions: The Pacific Conspiracy, I suppose, is like a Casefile forcibly mated with one of those late Grosset & Dunlap books, a world-trotting adventure where the world just could coincidentally end up getting exploded by a nuclear bomb. The too easily beaten Assassins and their Bond-villain antics are tiresome and predictable, and although I appreciate that the Assassins were more sadistically overconfident than incompetent, they should have known Frank and Joe’s success level and just poisoned them. I also believe Nwali should have had a better quirk than a fondness for Indonesian puppet theater, though I give a tip of the hat to Dr. Krinski having a komodo dragon for a pet. Again, kudos, Franklin W. Dixon!
It did amuse me, however, when Frank creates a panic using rubber monkey-fighting snakes to escape from a Monday-to-Friday plane. Samuel L. Jackson would be proud!
Grade: C-. I do envy your skills, Joe.
“Borrowing” from the past: Fake jobs! The Hardys have a long and distinguished history of getting jobs for a week or less so they can investigate some sort of skullduggery. This must leave them with the most checkered resumes in the history of Western employment, but it does get results. In Tagged for Terror, the first book in the “Ring of Evil” trilogy, Frank and Joe work as baggage handlers for Eddings Air. To solve cases, Frank and Joe have also worked:
Although he doesn’t step in behind the yoke, Frank mentions that he’s done some flying. His flying experience is chronicled in my post on Power Play (Casefiles #50).
Whee!: That is one boring cover — possibly the most boring of any book I’ve covered on this blog. There’s no danger, nothing interesting going on at all. It’s just Frank and Joe doing their fake job at Eddings Air. Not even Joe can convince himself it’s fun, even though he’s hanging off the side of the cart, getting ready to sidehack.
With Hank Forrester as “Ezra Collig”: The head of security for Eddings Air, Hank Forrester, is described as “a beefy, red-faced man in his fifties, with thinning salt and pepper hair.” He’s constantly denigrating Frank and Joe’s abilities and stealing their thunder. He reminds me of someone in these books, but I can’t remember who …
File under “good question”: Forrester may be a jerk, but he does have an interesting question: when Frank and Joe stand in as Fenton’s surrogates in investigating the missing baggage from the flights, he asks, “Private investigators? Where’s your license?” Usually, when they’re poking around on their own, it’s just a couple of kids being nosy — Encyclopedia Brown with higher stakes and a more literate audience. But on this case, they’re acting as Fenton’s surrogates, and presumably, neither Fenton’s time nor the boys’ is free.
There are all sorts of legal and liability issues to consider here; I mean, this isn’t the ‘60s, when you can send boys all over the country with minimal or no supervision. Life is more litigious and allegedly more dangerous (although I suspect the same number of childhood tragedies happened in each era, and today’s get more publicity). Back in the ‘60s and even the ‘70s, we could pretend that those sort of concerns didn’t matter. And we still can. But when a character points this out, it becomes a problem, and it would have been even when Tagged for Terror came out in 1993.
Ladies’ man: When the first pretty girl comes along, Joe starts flirting with her. That’s presumably why Iola was killed off at the beginning of the Casefiles series: to give Joe a chance to hit on whatever attractive girls the mystery brings along without guilt. He frequently did that anyway, late in the Grosset & Dunlap days, but no one ever thought it was strange he had a girlfriend and would flirt anyway — sometimes even in front of Chet, Iola’s brother. In this case, it’s Gina Abend, a ticket agent for Eddings. What’s strange is, she responds, despite a) having a boyfriend, and b) not being in high school. Looks like someone wants to rock the cradle of love. Frank tries to shut Gina out, but not even memories of Iola can keep Joe from following his heart (or other part of his anatomy).
To you kids all across the land, there’s no need to argue: adults just don’t understand: Forrester is always ragging on Frank and Joe’s investigation, and Eddings and his pilot, Solomon Mapes, treat them like kids. This the way the books should be: adults are, generally speaking, not all that bright or observant. It’s the way life feels when you’re in high school (and when you’re in grade school or junior high, for that matter); it should be reflected in the books, especially when the Hardys are on the road.
God help him, he’s not very bright: While talking to Gina and Solomon (her boyfriend), Joe muses about the case, thinking an earlier airplane accident might have been intended to kill him and Frank rather than Eddings. Frank covers for him, but Joe really needs to learn to have an inner monologue.
Play to your strengths: It’s a running joke in the Casefiles: when Frank has a plan, Joe complains that Frank’s plans involve him doing something stupid. I’m not sure that’s actually the case, but I have to say, Joe is portrayed as being a little dull-witted, so at least those who have been watching the boys will feel the stupidity is in character.
Later in the book, Joe sarcastically suggests Frank’s plan will involve him dressing “up like a girl and [having] me bat my eyelashes at him until he tells me his deepest secrets.” This is the kind of plan Bugs Bunny devises, so I think we have an idea what Joe’s doing when Frank’s studying.
Mr. Architectural Snob: When Frank and Joe head to an area of Atlanta that’s a little run down, Joe notes the size of the houses; Frank immediately wonders how long it will be before the houses are knocked down (or fall down), just because the porch sags a little and the paint is faded and chipping. Not every place can be High and Elm, Frank. Geez.
Atlanta, still reeling from being burned to the ground during the Civil War: After Frank and Joe are ran off the road and one of their tires shot by a drive-by gunman, the boys tell their new acquaintances — “friends” would be too strong a word — about the incident. The big-city residents are blasé about attempted vehicular homicide and random gunplay on city streets during broad daylight, calling it “big city problems.” I don’t think I want to hang around with people who don’t at least say, “Sorry to hear that,” when they hear you’ve been shot at.
The March of Technology: Danny, an impoverished student who works at Eddings Air to put himself through college, uses an old manual typewriter, which shows how poor he is. Today, what would the equivalent be — a broken-down laptop? Going to the computer lab to do homework? An old IBM? I don’t know.
Also, for some reason, Frank and Joe don’t have their cell phone with them in Atlanta. Avoiding roaming charges, perhaps? In any event, when they have to call the police at the end of the book, one of them actually has to knock on a neighbor’s door and ask to use his phone.
Sorry, Mr. Hick, sir: Frank wakes Joe up at 4 a.m. before traveling two hours to Danny’s small hometown, his explanation being that people get up early in the country. Well, yes, some do, especially farmers, but those that work in offices (and some factories) won’t be up until later. And even the farmers won’t appreciate being interrupted at 6 a.m. by a pair of smart-assed kids.
And of course, rather than waiting until they’re off work and can visit these poor rural dwellers at a reasonable time, Frank and Joe skip work. That is, they don’t report to the work they need to keep to investigate the luggage thefts. They run the very real risk of getting fired, and no one who knows their mission could interfere without revealing their undercover mission.
Matters of the heart: At one point, Frank remembers his girlfriend, Callie, often helps them investigate crime. He also thinks he “often told Callie things that he would never tell anybody else.” What on earth would that be? What would he tell Callie that he would not tell his father or Joe? Frank and Joe are close, as close as any two human beings can be. Does Frank confess his secret insecurities to Callie? Does he tell her that he can’t maintain the constant investigations, that he will crack sooner or later?
Or does he tell her that he’s creeped out by Chet’s constant eating (suggesting a betting pool for his first heart attack?), or that Aunt Gertrude’s food really tastes like old person and disapproval?
We don’t need no stinkin’ proof: Near the end of the book, Joe doesn’t want to confront a suspect because they have no proof that he’s done something wrong. Constrast this to Joe’s behavior in Open Season (Casefiles #59), when he will accuse anyone of anything at any time.
Opinions: The Network and the Assassins are the Casefiles overlying storyline, and their appearance in Tagged for Terror is what gives the book the impetus to be the start of a trilogy. I admit, I’ve never warmed to Network vs. Assassins or the Hardys’ Network contact, the Grey Man; it seemed like it was stretching the suspension of disbelief much too far. Much of the Hardys’ adventures can’t stand too close examination, and really, the Hardys investigating superspies vs. contract killers can’t even be mentioned before snapping my belief. The later Casefiles moved away from this, and I appreciate it; I preferred the Casefiles to be the mysteries where the Hardys can investigate murders.
I was surprised by the sudden switch to the Casefiles mythology. Tagged for Terror starts as a normal investigation into a theft ring. And because it’s a Casefile, the bodies start to pile up. (I have to admit, it’s strange that getting shot at and forced off the road does not distinguish the grittier Casefiles from the more reserved canon and digests.) And in that light, it’s a pretty standard mystery, perhaps a little above average. But then the Grey Man shows up, and the Assassins are mentioned, and the Network has an interest … but Frank and Joe still do all the work. Is the Network what Reagan was thinking about when he complained about the inefficiency of government?
Grade: B-. I am amused by Joe’s plucky pick-up attempts.
“Borrowing” from the past: When Joe and Frank are menaced by a mountain lion, Becker saves their lives by shooting the big cat with a tranquilizer dart. Back in the old days, Frank and Joe could have taken care of it themselves — mowing down wolves in Hunting for Hidden Gold (#5), successfully hunting a fox in The Mystery of Cabin Island (#8), or just bonking a tiger in the head with a rock in The Disappearing Floor (#19). Frank was hardcore in The Short-Wave Mystery (#24), killing a lynx with a radio antenna.
In any event, Frank and Joe faced off against pumas / cougars / mountain lions in The Clue of the Screeching Owl (#41) and
the only time Frank and Joe dealt with a cougar is in The Mystery of the Flying Express (#20), although the creature is shot before Frank and Joe see it in Express. However, what the various Dixons mean by “wildcat” is sometimes in doubt; occasionally it seems to be larger than the small, wild feline the term usually refers to. The Hardys were confronted by wildcats in The Secret of Wildcat Swamp (#31), of course, and in Mystery of the Desert Giant (#40) and The Voodoo Plot (#72).
This is not the first time the boys have gone cross-country skiing. The previous times include the most famous winter mysteries, The Mystery of Cabin Island and The Yellow Feather Mystery (#33), although they were skiing across the Bayport countryside rather than the Rocky Mountains. Frank and Joe are also described as “able” skiers in Cave-In! (#78). Open Season is set during the Hardys’ two-week Christmas vacation. Previous mysteries that have taken place during the Christmas holidays include The Cabin Island Mystery, The Mysterious Caravan (#54), and Cave-In!.
One of the suspects in the case has a shortwave radio in his cabin. It’s been quite a while since Frank and Joe have come across one of those. Their most famous encounter with the short waves was in both versions of The Short-Wave Mystery, but they also had shortwaves in the original What Happened at Midnight (#10), The Secret of Skull Mountain (#27), Mystery of the Chinese Junk (#39), The Viking Symbol Mystery (#42), The Mystery of the Spiral Bridge (#45), The Secret Agent on Flight 101 (#46), The Mystery of the Whale Tattoo (#47), Tic-Tac-Terror (#74), and The Blackwing Puzzle (#82) and revised versions of The Shore Road Mystery (#6), A Figure in Hiding (#16), The Secret Warning (#17), The Twisted Claw (#18), The Disappearing Floor, The Secret of Wildcat Swamp, and The Ghost at Skeleton Rock (#37). Really, it seems like it was a craze in the 1960s.
Feels like he’s wearing nothing at all: At the beginning of Open Season, Joe describes his “tight-fitting, one-piece, insulated ski suit” as “the cutting edge of ski technology and fashion. It’s lightweight, gives me room to move — and it matches my baby blues.” Which reminded me of this scene from the Simpson, where Homer is distracted by a memory of Flanders in his skin-tight ski suit: “Stupid sexy Flanders.”
Rocky Mountain high: Gunnison National Forest, where the story is set, actually exists in west central Colorado; it’s not incredibly far from Aspen, to throw out a name of a ski town that you’ve heard of, but there are other wilderness areas that are closer. (Such as White River National Forest, which is just to the north.) Gunnison forms a larger unit with Grand Mesa and Uncompahgre forests, which combine for more than 3 million acres in the Rockies in west central and southwestern Colorado. (Uncompahgre is near Telluride, another ski town.) The forests have the unattractive acronym of GMUG.
The Hardys drift into and out of the small town of Elk Springs. There is an Elk Springs in Colorado, but it’s not in or adjacent to Gunnison National Forest. Elk Springs is in northwestern Colorado, closer to White River National Forest and Routt National Forest.
He who breaks the law shall be punished back to the House of Pain: The sheriff points out their “investigation” is actual grand theft, since they swiped a snowmobile to get away from a bunch of cattle hands while the boys were trespassing. Although the owner of the snowmobile owner declines to press charges, the sheriff has another chance to use the law against the boys, when they’re helping a fugitive evade the law. The sheriff threatens to charge them as accessories, while Frank counter-threatens to sue for wrongful injury since he was knocked out by shrapnel while being shot at by a deputy.
Poor, poor pitiful us: While Frank and Joe are challenging one another to push themselves while cross-country skiing, Frank silently complains that others don’t see the boys’ best qualities: “Other people saw only a couple of teenagers. They didn’t see the serious, dedicated detective team.” There’s a reason for that, exemplified by this book: Frank and Joe frequently don’t do much detecting, unless you count random accusations, trespassing, and breaking and entering as “detecting.”
While confronting a cougar poacher, Frank and Joe are momentarily stopped by the hunter’s assertion that he has permission to hunt on the land. A bystander, however, points out the owner is Becker, who is a wildlife researcher unlikely to give permission to someone killing cougars. Joe complements him, saying, “Nice piece of detective work.” Given that Joe’s idea of detective work was to barrel into an armed man on skis, that’s damning with faint praise, although it’s not meant to be.
Frank also criticizes the sheriff, asking him, “Do you solve a lot of cases by eavesdropping?” Given how many cases Frank and Joe have cracked through that technique, I don’t think Frank has anything to complain about.
Ha!: After Joe’s only plan to gather more information on a poacher is to burst into his hospital room and grill “him relentlessly for hours,” Frank accuses him of reading too many cheap detective novels. “They don’t come much cheaper than us,” Joe says, which is true — you can’t find mysteries much cheaper than the Hardy Boys. Later, when Frank needs a distraction to use the library’s computer (it has a modem!), Joe ends up checking out a stack of paperback whodunits.
Who are you, and what have you done with Frank?: While staying at the cabin of one of the suspects — a very accommodating suspect — Frank makes “ a conscious effort not to snoop around the cabin.” This behavior is inimical to the Hardy Boys and everything they stand for. When a suspect is out of his home, and you’re in it, you snoop! Dammit, what is wrong with kids these days?
Rural decay: Frank says the small mountain town of Elk Springs is his kind of place: “Most of these stores look like they’ve always been here and always will be. There are no instant neon fast-food minimalls. No highrise office complexes.” Joe also chimes in, saying the lack of development is charming. The local they’re chatting with has a more realistic point of view: what they’re praising is a general lack of economic development caused by the lack of tourism. For Frank and Joe the economic isolation and general lack of development is quaint. For the locals, it’s a slow economic death sentence.
Plan and plan! What is plan?: Frank uses a “clever” subterfuge to get close enough to a suspect to question him. Joe turns the questioning into a series of accusations, because in Open Season Joe is an idiot. After the failure of the interview, Frank criticizes Joe, saying, “The plan was to draw him into a conversation and see if anything slipped out, not hurl accusations in his face.” Good general rule, perhaps, but Frank didn’t see fit to actually fill Joe in on the plan before the interview — the extent of his instructions to his brother were, “Leave this to me.” More polite than “Keep your mouth shut,” perhaps, but what intelligent person is going to think that’s going to work with Joe?
Are they blind?: After a perilous climb that ended with them falling several feet in a pickup truck that flipped over as an avalanche started, Frank and Joe drive to the hospital to see Becker. The ER nurses think the boys are there for treatment; Frank is amazed that he and his brother look like they need treatment. Didn’t they see each other after the dust from the avalanche settled? Or while they were driving back to Elk Springs? I swear, they have to be the least observant detectives in the history of ever.
Opinions: I don't know why it bothers me so much that Frank and Joe don’t do any detecting in Open Season. They often trespass, break and enter, and randomly accuse people in other books; why is it so bad here? Perhaps because they encounter a sheriff who is actually willing to enforce those laws against the Hardys; perhaps because I’m just getting fed up with it. Their techniques have the subtlety of a brick wrapped in burlap, although their shadowing skills are generally pretty good given the lack of cover.
Open Season does get points for its underused setting. Winter in the mountains — the isolation, the closed pool of suspects, the potential for “accidents” … it’s a good setup. Open Season fails to make full use of it, but it’s a good idea.
Grade: C. A dull “adventure” in which Frank and Joe’s atrophied detecting skills are helped by the target-rich environment.
Plot: Ezra Collig is accused of corruption from his time in Millerton, a quarter of a century before. When the Hardys and others investigate, the police commissioner and a TV reporter are nearly blown up.
“Borrowing” from the past: Beyond the Law really takes the time to fill in Ezra Collig’s past in a way that hadn't been done before. In the original canon, Collig’s life was a blank slate; he’s an old acquaintance and occasionally friend of the Hardys who professionally serves as anything from a hindrance to a lackey. Other than being afraid of bad publicity, being in his late 40s, and gaining the office of chief of police fewer than five years before, Collig has done little but sell Frank and Joe the supervan they use in the Casefiles and Digests. But Beyond the Law fills in the gaps. He dropped out of school to earn some money, joined a road construction crew, then made it onto the Millerton Police Department. After a brief term of service — he quit after exposing his partner’s graft — he returned to high school in Atlantic Heights, married his teacher Bea Cowan after graduation, and then joined the force in Bayport, rising all the way to the top. Bea passed away shortly before the beginning of Beyond the Law.
Collig also reminisces about how the increasing awareness of the legal rights of criminals has put a crimp in crimefighting. It’s amusing to hear Collig talk about how gunning a man down used to get you medals and a promotion but now gets you fired or that whacking suspected thieves on the calves was just prudent; it’s somewhat worrying to hear Collig complain about having to have sufficient cause to search a suspect, what with the Constitution and whatnot. Although on one hand this is a reminder that the past is a foreign country — they do things differently there — it’s also a reminder that the Hardy Boys canon, while ostensibly less violent than the Casefiles, had a lot of dodgy rights stuff going on within them that had nothing to do with racism. It’s also clear that the Hardy Boys can ignore the constitutional rights thing, as long as they don’t kill people or whack them in the calves.
Joe repairs the van, adjusting its timing. Joe has done a lot of mechanical work over the years, repairing the roadster and his motorcycle with his brother in While the Clock Ticked (#11), souping up a dirt bike in The Mystery of the Samurai Sword (#60), and tuning up the car in The Billion Dollar Ransom (#73). In A Figure in Hiding (#16), it’s said he liked “nothing more than a mechanical problem”; in The Crimson Flame (#77), the narration mentions he and his brother often work on their car.
Fenton’s sartorial advice for the mystery: “Wear a good suit, and you’re bound to get mud, crud, or blood on it. Only cops who stay in offices can dress up for the job.” For more of his pearls of wisdom, see Last Laugh (Casefiles #42).
Frank and Joe give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The boys have always been good at first aid, and both have given mouth to mouth before: Joe in The Secret of Pirate’s Hill (#36) and The Viking Symbol Mystery (#42), Frank in The Clue in the Embers (#35), The Mystery of the Spiral Bridge (#45), and The Arctic Patrol Mystery (#48). Probably the most challenging first-aid work that either has ever done was in The Mystery of the Flying Express (#20), during which Frank attended the victims of a train derailment.
Where is Bayport?: After Frank and Joe have a few sticks of dynamite lobbed at them while on the interstate on their way back to Bayport, Joe asks, “Hey, you’re not going to try to catch the Mad Bomber of Route I-forty-nine, are you?” Although I don’t know what Route I-49 could mean other than Interstate 49, Bayport is nowhere near that road. I-49 runs between I-10 in Lafayette and I-20 in Shreveport, entirely within the state of Louisiana.
When Joe looks for Millerton on the map, he notes that it’s as far away from Bayport as one can get and still stay in the same state. Later, when the boys head to Millerton, the narration says it took a couple of hours. That leaves New York and Connecticut out of the running for Bayport (at least for this book); from New York City to Buffalo is more than six hours, and nothing in Connecticut is even close to being two hours from anything else in Connecticut (traffic permitting). But two hours works out about right for New Jersey; both the southeast and southwest corners of the state are about two and a half hours from the New Jersey part of the New York metropolitan area. If you move away from New York, say to Long Branch, Keansburg, or Asbury Park, the time works out about right.
Idiot’s Affairs: Obviously, when the scandal about what Collig might have done in Millerton comes out, the publicity conscious Bayport PD kicks him to the curb and starts their own Internal Affairs investigation. Why they do this is beyond me; the allegations were more than a quarter century earlier, and it has nothing to do with Bayport. (The Millerton PD seems uninterested in the allegations.) The IA detectives turn up nothing, of course; it takes two motivated teenagers to get something done. Like notice that a bunch of cops quit at about the same time as Collig. Frank and Joe don’t actually talk to any of these cops, but hey, they took the first step.
The new top of the police bureaucracy is portrayed as the villains in this book, but it’s hard to dispute two of their points: Kid vigilantes have no business in modern crime control, and if the entire city government was corrupt, it’s a reasonable assumption that Collig or someone on his force was also corrupt. Of course the investigation is shoddy and wrongheaded, but they at least started from the right point.
The March of Technology: While using the Millerton Police Department’s equipment, Frank finds their link to state databases is a “nearly obsolete computer.” I (barely) remember computers in 1991, and I’m having trouble figuring out what could be both nearly obsolete in 1991 and could still uplink with the state servers. A TRS-80? An Apple II?
When Frank and Joe announce on live radio they are going to Millerton to investigate the allegations against Collig, nearly everyone seems to hear the news. In a town with its own TV station, would everyone really be listening to the radio for an update on the Collig “corruption” case?
When Frank and Joe go with Callie to visit her friend Liz at the Bayport Times, they find her working on a typewriter. When I worked at newspapers, a half decade later at newspapers not much bigger than the Times, no one used typewriters — everything was computerized, although sometimes clunkily. But in 1991 … is Liz’s typewriter an anachronism, or is it a possibility? I don’t know.
I’ll take Forced Metaphors for $400, Alex: In a bit of deathless prose, Frank muses, “They’ll figure Collig left Millerton under a cloud … I just hope that cloud doesn’t rain on the chief’s parade.”
The Eagle: According to Beyond the Law, Bayport’s TV station is WBPT. There is, of course, no television station with that call sign; however, since 2001 it has been the call sign of a radio station in central Alabama: 106.9, the Eagle — “Birmingham’s home for classic hits.” When Beyond the Law came out, the station was WBMH, a country station. That iteration lasted about a year.
Modesty will get you nowhere: Frank mentally complains about the media always using the phrase “famous private detective” to describe Fenton. I know it must get monotonous — Fenton might as well change his name to Famous Private Detective Fenton Hardy, FPDF Hardy for short — but he is a famous private detective. Again, Frank and Joe have been using his name across the country as a get-out-of-logic-free card for years.
Separation of Frank and Joe, Part II: Like in Panic on Gull Island, Joe has a friend independent of Frank. Unlike in Gull Island, this cryptozoological specimen has a name: Johnny Berridge, a cameraman at WBPT. Berridge is obviously not a chum, which means he’s a … a … (I can hardly bear to say it) … a source.
In the old days, of course, the Hardys didn’t have sources — at least not consistent ones. They would come to town, pump you dry of information, and go about their business, never to see you again. If you were lucky, you might get to be a chum for a book, serving as extra manpower or as a sort of guide. But a consistent source? That suggests the Hardys have some sort of plan about their sleuthing, and that’s just un-Hardylike. On the other hand, it probably fits the Casefiles better.
Taking the wrong notes from Collig: After replacing Collig, acting chief Parker Lawrence tells Frank and Joe they are “finished on this case”; like Collig in Power Play (Casefiles #50), he forgets Frank and Joe have no real standing to be on the case, so there isn’t really a “case” where they are concerned, and they don’t work for him, so it’s not like he has the power to order them off the case. Threaten them with arrest, yes; order them like a boss, no.
Yee-haw!: This Dixon notes Joe uses the high beams on the way to the Morton farm. This is not noteworthy. If you live on or travel to a farm at night, chances are you will frequently get to use the high beams.
Don’t give Joe any ideas: After Collig tells Frank and Joe that (in a non-creepy way) he married his high school teacher, Joe muses that it’s “one way to get good grades.” Joe, I know you’re single, what with Iola being reduced to particles, and the book learnin’ is sometimes a challenge, but there are laws against that sort of thing. I know you don’t care about laws when they apply to you, but they’re there for your protection. Trust me. The short-term gain isn’t worth it.
Now, your brother — he’s 18. He can do what he wants.
Opinions: This is the book that should have been #50 for the Casefiles. It uses the series’ continuity, referring to Frank and Joe’s work in See No Evil (Casefiles #8) as the impetus for the anti-corruption drive that ends up with the reform candidates seeking to drive out Collig. It also features Collig, a long-time supporting character. It’s also nice to see Ezra Collig’s backstory get fleshed out, although a random Casefile is an odd place for that to happen.
As for the mystery itself … Well, it’s better than Power Play, but that’s not saying very much. The reform party’s attempts to dig up dirt on Collig are feeble — actually, calling it feeble is an insult to all the feeble people out there, especially the feeble minded. Forget the technology of the computer, which Frank understands but the Internal Affairs cops do not; they don’t quite get the combination of telephones and personnel records. Or, when it comes down to it, talking, something Frank and Joe mastered quickly. Frank and Joe even found the right guy to talk to immediately.
Also: Tossing dynamite at the Hardys while both are driving down the interstate. I can’t tell if that’s completely mental or completely awesome, but either way, it has no part in a Hardy Boys book, and it’s quite telling that Frank and Joe drive away from the bombing as quickly as possible so that they don’t get caught up in the mentalness / awesomeness or the justice.
Grade: C. When you balance the highs and the lows, it’s completely average.
Plot: Frank and Joe are hired to check the security at Bright Futures, a company that makes solar cells. However, before their investigation can get underway, one of the company’s top researchers is murdered.
“Borrowing” from the past: In Power Play, Frank mentions he recently got his pilot’s license, certifying him for single-engine planes. Frank first flew a plane (under supervision) in The Mystery of the Flying Express (#19). In The Short-Wave Mystery (#24), both he and Joe get instruction from a pilot named Stewart, but Jack Wayne — Fenton’s personal pilot — doesn’t start teaching them until The Ghost at Skeleton Rock (#37). He even makes an emergency landing in that book. He and Joe get their license in The Mystery of the Chinese Junk (#39). By The Viking Symbol Mystery (#42), he can perform loops, banks, and rolls in a seaplane, and he passes the FAA proficiency test for float planes. In The Arctic Patrol Mystery (#48), he lands a twin-engine plane … on a glacier. The Stone Idol (#65) mentions he has flown helicopters at the Bayport air field; in The Blackwing Puzzle (#82), he and Joe build an ultralight with their friends.
That last is important, because in Power Play, Frank rides in and briefly flies a solar-powered ultralight plane. Now, I kept track of how the Hardys get around, but I don’t think they’ve ever used a solar-powered ultralight plane. In The Blackwing Puzzle, they do fly an ultralight called the “Silver Falcon,” but it wasn’t solar powered. In fact, I don’t think they ever traveled in something solar powered in the first 85 books. (There was an electric car in The Skyfire Puzzle, #85, but that doesn’t count.) That’s surprising, since the Hardys have flown in hot-air balloons and a space shuttle, used parachutes, skimmed across the bay in ice boats, swum powered by porpoises, trekked with mules, even used a hand car. But never a solar-powered ultralight.
Frank and Joe get extra time to investigate because of Spring Break. I expected the boys to have experienced Spring Break about forty times before the Casefiles, but during the canon, they used it to get out of school only three times: The Arctic Patrol Mystery, The Firebird Rocket (#57), and The Voodoo Plot (#72). They also used Spring Break to track down Iola in Panic on Gull Island (#107).
The March of Technology: Oh, 1991. Computers were so exciting then — even interoffice electronic mail (“e-mail” not being a common enough usage) and 300 megabyte optical “disks” (the ones I have sitting by my desk, made for CDs, hold 700 MB) are breathlessly reported as exciting advances … even though you had to have a special drive for the 8-track like optical disks. Some technological plot points are relevant, however; the murdered researcher smuggled sensitive information out of Bright Futures by switching the label from a rock CD to the optical disk. This is similar to how Private Bradley Manning smuggled sensitive information off a secure Army intelligence server in Baghdad to give to Wikileaks; he brought in a CD-RW labeled “Lady Gaga,” erased the music, then copied the information onto the now empty disc. (I’m still not sure how the researcher switched the label, however; were the labels on early CDs stickers?)
Frank and Joe have a cellular phone (again, “cell phone” is not in common enough usage in 1991), but when they try to use it, there’s too much static. Their provider must be AT&T. Zing!
You’re slipping, old man: Fenton … I worry about the old man. In Power Play, all those concussions seem to be catching up with him. In the beginning, when a client calls him a “famous detective,” he says, “I don’t know about the ‘famous’ part.” That could be him being humble, but I don’t think you can be humble about your reputation when your sons use your name as a “Get out of jail free” card from coast to coast.
Later in the book, Fenton tells his sons that a researcher for Bright Futures has been arrested. Two pages later, he says, “[The researcher] could be home by now — if she has a good lawyer. She doesn’t have an arrest record, and there’s probably not enough evidence to charge her.” Not enough evidence to charge her? She’s already been arrested! That means she’s been charged! Do you even listen to yourself, Fenton?
Halfway through the book, Fenton goes jogging in a mesh shirt. Putting aside how smart I think jogging is, I keep getting an image of Fenton in an open-mesh shirt that is pretty much see-through (been watching too much anime, I guess). That’s not a pretty picture. In any event, in this picture of parental authority, he tells his sons that he wants to pull them off the murder investigation because they were only hired to investigate security, and murders are dangerous. Neither of these considerations have either bothered Fenton before; I don’t know if this is how Fenton is portrayed in the Casefiles, but it does fit in with the worrywart who founded ATAC in the Undercover Brothers series.
Speaking of slipping: Frank and Joe suffer the indignity of the “cut-the-brakes” trick. Frank later says it wasn’t a murder attempt; they shouldn’t have made it out of the parking lot. That seems an awful chance to take; I think, under New York law — as given unto us by DA Jack McCoy on Law & Order — that it shows a reckless indifference to the boys’ life and therefore would be classified as attempted murder, but what do I know?
In any event, Joe, who is driving, tries to use the parking brake to slow the van first. Only after that does he downshift. He should have tried it in the other order, which would have been more effective.
Speaking of ‘off the case’: At one point, Chief Collig — who has been antagonistic to Frank and Joe the entire book — tells them, “You’re off the case.” Firstly, he has no real authority over them, except when they break the law. (Which admittedly is all the time in this book, so perhaps I’m selling him short.) Secondly, a “case” suggests an official investigation of some sort, but Frank and Joe have no official standing — not even a private investigator’s license. For the Hardy Boys, there’s no case for them to be on. In fact, by telling them they are off the case, Collig implies they were either on the case before or had some sort claim to be on the case. I think Ezra just wanted to say those words to a couple of loose cannons, and whether the words made sense be damned.
Asking for trouble: Weirdly, Bright Futures hires Fenton’s sons just to check security. That is, the company had no idea there were no problems before Frank and Joe came along. Of course, afterwards, there’s a murder, the company is revealed to be rife with industrial sabotage, and the company’s remaining researcher is poached by a competitor. Nice job, boys.
The new math: After the head of Bright Futures tells Frank and Joe about a dispute between his top researchers — one of whom is now dead — Frank “filed this information with what they already knew. According to his math, none of this added up to murder yet.” I would really like to see what that equation looked like: Motive + death ≠ murder?
So there’s a … “Superb Bowl”?: God knows I am not a big fan of American football. I prefer baseball by far, and I agree with George Will’s contention that football combines the two worst aspects of modern American society: violence and committee meetings. But dammit, why can’t Dixons ever get the game quite right?
In The Crisscross Shadow, Chet is listed as a center, which is an offensive position, but he’s shown only as a defensive player. Even if there is a defensive center — and there isn’t really, although perhaps a defensive tackle in on a three-man line could be considered a “center” because he’s between two other players — he wouldn’t cover receivers on pass plays, as Chet tries and fails to do. (Maybe he’s a middle linebacker, which would fit the criteria.) Joe is said to be a left halfback — “halfback” is usually as specific as it gets — but he throws all the passes for Bayport, which is the quarterback’s job. Frank’s supposed to be the quarterback, but he functions as a receiver. At one point, the teams are locked in a defensive duel which forces each side to run two plays, then punt; each side gets three plays before they need to decide whether to punt. I’ve already gone over the ludicrousness of everything in Foul Play, which had no clue about football.
In Power Play, the offense is much lesser: Chet is said to have the “wide, massive frame of a football linebacker.” There are many other positions that could be better said to have a “wide, massive” frame; offensive or defensive linemen are prime candidates. Linebackers are large but have to be more athletic than linemen since they not only have to overpower people but also cover receivers. In fact, if you want a stereotypical description of linebackers, it would be quick and powerful rather than wide and massive.
It’s a small detail. But it’s a small detail about the most popular sport in America. Is it that hard to get right?
Opinions: Frank and Joe are at the nadir of their investigative abilities in Power Play, with Frank and Joe’s investigative techniques alternating between random accusations and breaking and entering, with a bit of bullying Chet thrown in to keep things from getting too predictable. They antagonize all the authority figures they can find, and Chief Collig and Fenton decide to finally draw a line and rein in the boys for reasons I can’t quite discern. Child endangerment laws catching up with Fenton and Bayport, maybe? Perhaps other municipalities giving Collig hell for using teenagers to solve his crimes? I don’t know, but neither Collig nor Fenton seems to want Frank and Joe on the case despite their results and their ability to avoid death.
I also find it odd that the Casefiles would hit their fiftieth book and not do some sort of anniversary stunt. Then again, the series was less than five years old at the time, so perhaps it was considered too early to do something like that.
And as I mentioned before, I really don’t like the cover. That it superficially resembles something that happened in the book is irrelevant.
Grade: D. Not very good. The optimistic “unlimited promise of solar power” angle and technology dates it more than perpetual teenagers Frank and Joe ever could.