Friday, April 29, 2016

The Smoke Screen Mystery (#105)

The Smoke Screen Mystery coverI’ve read The Smoke Screen Mystery before, but I don’t remember it at all — not a plot development, not a red herring or stupid suspect, not a jot or tittle — and that surprises me. Yes, I read it more than a dozen years ago, but I think I should remember more of it, because I’m convinced it was written by the ghost of Dr. John Button (or maybe Dr. John Button, Jr.).

Button, for those of you who don’t know, wrote two of the worst books in the Hardy Boys canon: the original Disappearing Floor (#19) and The Mystery of the Flying Express (#20). He also wrote three others: The Secret Warning (#17), The Twisted Claw (#18), and The Clue of the Broken Blade (#21). Those last three were mostly mediocre, but Floor and Express … they were full of non-sequiturs and botched continuity. The digests aren’t big on continuity, but this one stretches the series’s approach to continuity from “relaxed” to “you’ll be happier if you don’t think about it.”

Examples? you ask. Sure!

  • Aunt Gertrude is a “heavy-set, middle-aged woman” the boys call “Aunt Gert.” Gertrude Hardy has been described as “slightly plump” (Disappearing Floor), “portly” (Flying Express and The Melted Coins), and “solidly built” (The Secret of Skull Mountain), but in almost every other books her weight is mentioned she’s “angular” or “bony.” When her age is mentioned, she’s almost always past middle age (or hinted to be), and she’d never let her nephews get away with calling her “Gert.”
  • Frank and Joe have become volunteer firefighters after taking a 16-week course. When would Frank and Joe have time to take a 16-week course?
  • They still have time to play pick-up hockey. Sure, they sound like aliens impersonating hockey fans — “These blue eyes need lots of rest so they can focus on winging that puck past you and into the goal net!” Joe says (16), his automatic translation protocols malfunctioning — but why hockey? It’s not a sport either of them has played in the canon.
  • Callie and Iola have jobs: Iola works in a real-estate developer’s office, and Callie’s a stringer for the Examiner. Sure, that’s fine — they should have part-time jobs. But neither of those jobs stick, and neither has shown any proclivity for those kinds of work.
  • The Examiner! Bayport has had a bunch of newspaper over the years, most prominently the Times, but never before has it had an Examiner. (See Maximum Challenge for a list of newspapers.) Why couldn’t the author have used one of Bayport’s other fishwraps?

Maybe I’m being too sensitive. I dunno. But Gert? Becoming firefighters on top of detectives, “students,” athletes, and all the rest? Hockey? A new newspaper? It … it’s a bit much for me. I’m going to go lie down for a while.

Back now. Anyway: Frank and Joe, volunteer firefighters. (I would have thought the movie Backdraft might have had something to do with the plot, but no: Backdraft came out in 1991, while Smoke Screen was published in 1990. No luck there.) During their training and brief time on the job, the brothers have become great at their job … well, maybe it’s more that their co-workers aren’t that good. At one point, for instance, Frank explains to a fire inspector what a Molotov cocktail is, and the inspector doesn’t slap him silly.

While Frank and Joe investigate, Joe is hoping to check out all the new pizza and burger places in Bayport. He and Frank manage to visit Pizzaworks (which all the kids agree is awful), Pizza Your Way, and Burgerworks. (No mention whether Pizzaworks and Burgerworks are affiliated in any way, other than authorial / editorial laziness.) The boys also meet Iola at the Bayport Diner, but that’s not new: it first appeared in The Jungle Pyramid (#56) before being mentioned in four more mysteries in the canon.

Iola works for Donald Pierce, the former White Bishop of the Naughty Hellfire Club and later leader of the cyborg Reavers. Pierce’s buildings are being burned to the ground, evidently while he’s busy trying to kill mutants; after the Examiner blames him for the fires, he “hires” (no money changes hands) Frank and Joe to find out who’s really behind the arson. The boys take the case, with Frank saying they haven’t handled an arson case in a while. I couldn't remember any arson cases in the canon, but firebugs have been involved in six cases in the canon — most recently The Swamp Monster (#83).

Strangely, Joe does not immediately want to blame Pierce for arson; perhaps even he realizes blaming Iola’s boss would not be healthy for his relationship or his body. Their friend and fellow firefighter, Kevin, is the chief suspect, mostly because Pierce fired him from his job as a super. Another piece of evidence against him is that he’s always late to fight the fires, which is strange: This might be evidence Kevin’s a poor firefighter, but why would an arsonist be late to fight fires? If he set the fires, he could be right on time — he could even be early, although he’d have to be a stupid criminal to do that.

When Joe falls through the ice while the Hardys and another friend, Scott, are playing hockey, waiting for Kevin, even more suspicion falls on Kevin. But they aren’t thinking straight; they have a very lax attitude toward hypothermia as well, allowing Joe to sit on the ice, wet and freezing, while Frank rubs his feet to restore circulation. They then leisurely stroll to the van — Frank takes the time to find the missing “Thin Ice” sign, show it to Joe, and debate who’s responsible — before going home to get a change of clothes for Joe.

They don’t suspect Scott, for some reason, despite the extravagant lifestyle he’s living on a grocery-store salary. Aren’t finances an area investigators are supposed to look into?

The arsonist takes a break from burning Pierce’s buildings to set fire to the Hardy garage. Well, kinda set fire to the garage: the arsonist hits it with a Molotov cocktail, and Frank puts out the fire with a fire extinguisher after riding home on a fire engine. Frankly, Gertrude should have been able to handle the small blaze, but she wilts in the presence of the fire, and she worries how Fenton and Laura react to the damage. (It seems mostly cosmetic, a blackening of the wall farthest from the house.) This is even more evidence that the Ghost of Button has replaced Gertrude with someone — something — else. Gertrude beat up intruders and sassed everyone; there’s no way she should be reduced to seeking comfort from a neighbor at a small fire. Besides, the Hardy property has seen much worse damage; I mean, the back of the house was gutted by fire in The Flickering Torch Mystery (#23), and Gertrude’s window was broken by a gas bomb in Tic-Tac-Terror (#74). This is negligible in comparison.

The flannel used as the Molotov cocktail’s fuse matches Kevin’s shirt, so he remains the primary suspect. Even a discussion with Kevin can’t clear him. But later, when Joe pursues an investigatory B&E at Kevin’s, he encounters a masked intruder who drives away in the arsonist’s van. Even the Hardys aren’t stupid enough to think Kevin would break into his own home wearing a ski mask. Still, Kevin bugs out of Bayport soon after, and the Hardys are unsure what to think.

Pierce fires the brothers — although what does “fire” mean, when you aren’t paying someone and they aren’t using your influence to gain access to anything? — but Frank and Joe stay on the case. They manage to find the arsonist’s van and link it to Scott, although they don’t understand his motive. The revelation that Pierce worked at a New Mexico bank at the same time as Dawson, the Examiner’s publisher, opens a new angle for investigation. Info gathered by Iola indicates Pierce has been blackmailing Dawson for years. The conclusion is obvious: Dawson hired Scott to burn Pierce’s buildings, which allowed Dawson to lambaste Dawson in print. Frank and Joe don’t confirm this until a tense confrontation at Pierce’s office, in which Scott and Dawson hold Frank, Joe, Iola, and Pierce at gunpoint. (Dawson started his campaign against Pierce because he was furious Pierce kept blackmailing him for embezzlement after the statute of limitations ran out. Like the revelation that you built your fortune on embezzlement wouldn’t be worth keeping secret!)

While Pierce’s skyscraper in a cornfield starts burning — Bayport’s town council refused to let him build the twenty-story building downtown, for some unfathomable reason — the kids and Pierce are rescued by a police helicopter, and Con Riley arrests Dawson and Pierce.

And the reason Kevin was always late and unwilling to talk about it? He was trying to get a job with the New York Fire Department, and he didn’t want to jinx it by talking about it. Good to know he was willing to risk jail for a jinx. It’s not the dumbest part of Smoke Screen, not by a longshot, but it’s still pretty dumb.

As bad as Smoke Screen is, it does have a bit of foreshadowing: Iola says, “If I didn’t have to work during vacation, I’d definitely take off for Florida” (2). The book’s conclusion pretty much guarantees the end of her employment, and Iola takes off for Florida over spring break in Panic on Gull Island (#107) — with disastrous consequences, of course.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Tricks of the Trade (#104)

Tricks of the Trade coverWarning: Somewhere in this article is an Arrested Development joke unsuitable for general audiences. If you’ve seen the pilot, you know which one I’m going to use.

In Tricks of the Trade, Frank and Joe have accompanied Chet to New York to watch a magic exhibition. Frank seems mildly interested in magic, but I can’t tell why Joe has tagged along — unless he’s there to crap on Chet’s enthusiasm, which is plausible and supported by the text. Magic is Chet’s new hobby; although Chet gets new hobbies every week, the narration notes his interest has lasted “two weeks” (2). Ha ha, Dixon. There’s no need for you to dump on Chet too, especially when you couldn’t remember Chet had already had magic as his hobby in The Secret Agent on Flight 101. That was a total dog of a book, Frankie W., but you don’t get to erase it from history — that’s a bigger trick than you or Tony Wonder could pull off.

Chet is thrilled to attend performances of (and workshops by) Lorenzo the Magnficent, a master magician and a devoted de Medici cosplayer. Chet is entranced by Lorenzo’s act and his beautiful assistant, the Mysterious Larissa. Frank finds Lorenzo’s act impressive, but I’m more impressed that Frank could stand magicians at all. Were I Frank, I would still be traumatized by The Billion-Dollar Ransom (#73), in which a rogue magician (Zandro the Great) kidnapped both Frank and the president of the United States. (Frank and Joe did receive a medal inscribed “To the two greatest magicians in the world” from the villain’s main rival, but given that Frank’s keen detective mind can’t figure out Larissa is using a “farewell kiss” to pass Lorenzo a key just before Lorenzo’s big escapology trick, I don’t think we can put much stock in that accolade.)

I’m sure Joe isn’t watching Lorenzo or Larissa or thinking about that time he saved the president from Zandro the Great; he’s more interested in denigrating Chet’s interest in magic. Joe talks during several performances (prompting a teenager to tell Frank to tell him to shut up), causes them to be late for the train to New York, gives Frank “a knowing glance” because “they would have to put up with Chet’s excitement for the weekend” (2), complains about testing out trick handcuffs (“the things you do for your friends” [21]). Frank and Chet think it’s the funniest thing in the world when the trick handcuffs don’t release, which makes Joe even surlier. He can dish it out, but he sure as hell can’t take it. (To be fair, Frank can’t pick the lock, so the handcuffs rank among the Hardys’ greatest adversaries.)

Lorenzo and Larissa emphasize that their act isn’t slight-of-hand tricks: it’s about illusion. Of course it is; a trick is something a whore does for money … or cocaine. One of their illusions is making the lights of Manhattan, shining out a hotel window, disappear, except they make the audience close their eyes while they perform the illusion. It’s very reminiscent of radio magic, which I assume was a thing, because radio ventriloquism definitely was a thing. Perhaps the better trick was making a teenager and Chet use ‘50s slang to describe the act: both call it “too much” (40, 118).

At Larissa and Lorenzo’s first performance, a diamond bracelet is stolen; because the hotel doesn’t want to cause a fuss, no one is searched, and the magicians steal away before the search is complete. The hotel management is informed, and they tell the police, but Joe is miffed by their perceived lack of zeal. It’s unclear what Joe would have them do, other than let Frank and Joe investigate. The hotel says that’s right out, although they offer to pay for the boys’ supper at the hotel diner. Joe, surly, says he’ll pay for his own meal.

The hotel is not the only organization reluctant investigate. The hotel has Lorenzo performing, in part, to entertain the board of the American Hotel Association, but even though the victimized woman was a board member, the association won’t question its own members. The board pays for that hands-off attitude when another board member’s emerald earrings are swiped during a later performance.

“Someone’s obviously using the magicians for cover,” Joe realizes (46). Of course they are, Joe. Or maybe the thief is a magician? I mean, stealing jewelry off someone’s body sounds like a sleight-of-hand trick — and I don’t mean an illusion.

Whoever the villain is, he or she tries to scare off Chet and the Hardys with a thrown knife and a weak threat: “You may be the Hardy boys, but we’ve got experience on our side. Go home before it’s too late” (64). Tricks start going badly for Larissa and Lorenzo: a misbalanced blade thrown by Lorenzo nearly hits Larissa, Lorenzo almost saws Joe in half when the trick box is tampered with, and Lorenzo gets the wrong key during his signature escapology trick, forcing Frank and Joe to save him. Someone sets a flash-paper-and-trash fire in Frank, Joe, and Chet’s room, which actually works to the boys’ benefit: they easily extinguish the fire, they get an upgrade, and no one mentions their clothes smell like smoke. (For some reason, the smoke alarm in their room is barely audible in the hallway, and it doesn’t alert the hotel management at all. I hope they mention this in their Yelp review of the hotel!)

Suspects? Sure, why not?

  • Nat Dietrich, assistant manager of the hotel. Lorenzo reacts violently whenever he approaches Larissa. Joe also doesn’t like him because Joe thinks he isn’t doing enough to investigate the robberies.
  • Clyde Spector, who works security at the hotel. The boys see him chatting with Larissa just after the first robbery, and they catch him with the diamond bracelet near the hotel’s safety deposit boxes. When they pursue him, he slips away — almost as if he knows the hotel better than they do! Although the Hardys seem disinclined to search for him, the police eventually find and arrest him. He maintains his innocence.
  • The Mysterious Larissa. Well, she is mysterious, and the boys saw her chatting with Spector. She has the dexterity needed to swipe the jewels and access to flash paper. Late in the story, after a third item of jewelry is stolen, the boys find it in her dressing room.
  • Lorenzo the Magnificent. He acts weirdly around Dietrich, and he has the magician skills to pull the thefts. Still, the Hardys seem reluctant to accuse him, partially because someone is sabotaging his act. He pulls a weird practical joke at his old mentor’s magic shop, swiping the money from the till, but Frank won’t ask if he did it, even when Lorenzo strongly hints that he did.

While Frank calls to ask the police to do background checks on the suspects, Chet and Joe go to accuse Larissa. In Larissa’s dressing room, Chet and Joe are knocked out by “poisonous” dry ice (128) — dry ice is poisonous: it’s carbon dioxide, which isn’t healthy to breathe in large quantities for an extended period — and tied up. They escape their chains by using a Houdini trick Chet remembered. (The trick is basically “wiggle until something comes loose.”) Joe realizes it must have been Lorenzo who tied them up, since Lorenzo’s handcuffs were part of the bonds, so when they get loose, the chase is on. With Frank, who wanders in about that time, they pursue Lorenzo and his associate, Dietrich. Frank reveals Lorenzo was a safecracker, and Dietrich blackmailed him into helping with rob the hotel safe — which the Hardys prevented.

This isn’t the only magician-gone-wrong the boys have caught. Besides Zandro the Great in Billion Dollar Ransom, the boys caught the Incredible Hexton, an agent of UGLI (Undercover Global League of Informants), in The Secret Agent on Flight 101. Poor Lorenzo doesn’t measure up to Hexton, who kidnapped Fenton, was part of an international criminal ring, and had his own Scottish castle; Lorenzo is just an illusionist who was blackmailed into returning to thievery.

Larissa says the jewelry was planted in her dressing room, and she had given Spector the bracelet he was caught with after another attempt to frame her. Spector, in an attempt to divert suspicion from Larissa, hadn’t turned the bracelet over immediately.

The Hardys bask in the thanks of the hotel and self-congratulations. Joe says, “I guess you’d call his robberies sleight-of-hand thefts!” (152). You mean “illusions” — no, wait, I guess you do mean “thefts.” Joe credits his brother with breaking the case open, with his brilliant decision to ask (demand?) the police run background checks on the major players in the case. The hotel gives the boys jack-all for saving its reputation. Better get something in writing next time, boys!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Million-Dollar Nightmare (#103)

The Million-Dollar Nightmare coverSo, while wandering the streets of San Francisco, hoping to take in the tourist spots, Frank and Joe run across a man who has been missing for three years, suspected of one of a well-publicized horse theft. This happens just a day after Frank saw a television series highlighting the theft and the missing man.

You have to admit, that’s extremely unlikely. I mean, it happens — America’s Most Wanted and Unsolved Mysteries found missing people, both criminal and not, and helped solved crimes — but it’s not something anyone can count on. Well, not unless you’re Frank and Joe Hardy, I guess.

Million-Dollar Nightmare starts with Joe marveling over wearing jackets during summer in the City by the Bay, although the brothers always wear jackets during the Bayport summers. (See the cover to Spark of Suspicion for an example.) They stumble across Julian Ardyce, whom Frank had seen on the brothers’ favorite show, America’s Most Mysterious Unsolved Crimes. (It’s a clever name, Franklin W. Dixon is saying. Get it? Get it? Geddit?) Joe had missed the show because he was packing — a weak excuse — but he’s just as hot to follow Ardyce, who was suspected of stealing the thoroughbred racehorse Nightmare. According to AMMUC, Ardyce went missing soon after Nightmare’s disappearance and hasn’t been seen since — until he wandered across Frank and Joe’s path.

Frank and Joe have searched for stolen racehorses before: They found Topnotch in both versions of The Sinister Sign Post (#15), although the criminals in the original version of the story were also arms dealers, saboteurs, and spies; the horse theft is a tacked-on distraction, a clear case of criminal overreach. Nightmare’s abduction is faintly reminiscent of the case of Shergar, an Irish racehorse retired to stud, who was kidnapped by the IRA in 1983. Frank and Joe were not involved with the investigation into Shergar’s abduction, so the ending was far different: Shergar was killed by his bungling captors, and the search for the horse ended up uncovering IRA weapon caches. Neither horse murder or IRA weapons are seen in Million-Dollar Nightmare.

Despite being “the two hottest teenage detectives on the East Coast” (2) — I can’t imagine there’s much competition for that title, although I’d like to see the brothers up against the West Coast contenders — the Hardys lose Ardyce after an earthquake. (Two San Franciscans argue whether it was a 3.0 or 3.5 on the Ricter scale, but “Frank felt the floor actually roll under his feet like a roller coaster” (7), plus glasses and plates fall off the tables, so the quake was probably somewhere around 5.0 — not even close to 3.5, which some people wouldn’t even notice.) Frank, in a burst of emotion, “slapped the side of his leg in disappointment” (9). Careful, Frank: If you let your emotions get the best of you, soon you’ll be shouting “fudge you all!” and “golly darn it!”

Frank and Joe are sure Ardyce is a criminal and not someone who, to avoid the adverse publicity, went into hiding. (Joe also theorizes Ardyce is racing Nightmare secretly in underground horse races, and he tucks his t-shirt into his jeans. When he orders room service, he gets nachos and a strawberry milkshake. It’s best not to pay attention to Joe.) Unable to find Ardyce, Frank and Joe head to Stallion Canyon, home of Nightmare’s owners, the Glass family. Why do the Hardys do this? For “leads,” but mostly they raise the hopes of the Glass family, especially their teenage daughter, Nina, and then dash them when Frank and Joe admit they have no idea what’s going on.

The Glasses see the Hardys as half full of competence, though, and they give the brothers a run-down of the suspects:

  • Danny Chaps, Nightmare’s groom. He was buying a soda from a vending machine while Nightmare was taken. Police were able to narrow Nightmare’s disappearance down to a 45-minute window, which means Chaps took a long time to get that soda. (Nobody mentions that, though; they concentrate on the convenience of the alibi.) The Glasses fired him after the theft, which they were right to do: it turns out the thieves paid him $1,000 to buy that soda.
  • Buzz McCord, Nightmare’s trainer. He was with the Glasses when Nightmare was stolen, but after the theft, he left the Glasses and opened his own, more successful, ranch.
  • Billy Morales, Nightmare’s jockey. Morales arrived at the track four hours before Nightmare’s race. Since jockeys usually see their rides only a few minutes before the race, this is seen as suspicious; more suspicious is he went home before Nightmare’s disappearance. Billy tells Frank and Joe he was suffering from dizzy spells and couldn’t shake his fear about what would happen if he became dizzy and fell from his horse during the race: “It’s a horrible thing, fear … once you get the fear, it’s all over” (50). Poor guy.
  • Julian Ardyce, of course. He was seen in the stables around the time of the disappearance, and his horse Spats was substituted for Nightmare to give the thieves extra time to get away.

While sorting out the suspects, Frank trots out a Fenton aphorism: “If you’re not sure a suspect’s telling the truth, you’re better off thinking he’s lying … at least at first” (51). Joe’s way ahead of you, Fenton: not only does he not think everyone’s lying, he’s willing to accuse everyone too.

When the Hardys and Nina visit McCord’s ranch to ask what he remembers, McCord diverts them into a horse-riding tour of the ranch. Frank is immediately thrown from his ride, Blackbeard, and knocked unconscious. Although the horse appears difficult to ride, McCord assures the teens Blackbeard is gentle. Given that Frank and Joe are excellent riders, having shown their equestrian abilities in at least ten books, readers know who to believe. (This scene is reminiscent of The Sign of the Crooked Arrow (#28), in which a malicious ranch foreman gives Joe a bucking bronc that throws the teenager. The foreman, Hank, wasn’t a villain, though — he just didn’t like Frank and Joe.)

A stablehand tips Frank and Joe that a nearby ranch, Wind Ridge, is actually owned by Ardyce. When they investigate, they are turned away at the gate; a bit of trespassing reveals nothing. While driving back to the city, Frank falls unconscious, and the brothers are forced to take his concussion seriously. Well, sorta — Frank gets checked out by Nina’s mom, who’s a doctor, and he rests for a few moments before returning to the case.

The usual shenanigans ensue, with a bit of San Francisco flair. Frank is pushed in front of a cable car. Joe goes undercover at Wind Ridge, but even though he lets himself get baited into fighting his supervisor, he manages to find sketchy evidence Ardyce has visited the ranch and learns of a mysterious, hidden horse-breeding operation at the ranch. (For criminals, their hiring practices are shockingly lax.) Joe escapes on Blackbeard, although Joe rides him bareback. After hitching a ride to a phone, Joe’s picked up by Frank, and they eat at a burger joint called Clown Alley, which is (was — it’s closed now) a real place. The boys are ambushed in their hotel room; the villains tie up Frank and Joe on an Alcatraz to let the tide drown them, then check them out of their hotel and steal their stuff to make it seem like the brothers left town on their own.

Frank and Joe escape their bonds, of course, although they are arrested by the Coast Guard for trespassing on government property. This isn’t their first arrest for a federal crime: They were arrested for robbing a mail plane in the original Great Airport Mystery (#9). Unlike in GAM, where Frank and Joe had to get bailed out by a pair of rich men, Fenton’s word — over the telephone! — is enough to spring the boys. Fenton tells the boys their case is “getting out of control” (86). He makes no attempt to help or rein the boys in, though. Have fun fighting against desperate criminals three thousand miles from home, boys!

Having nowhere else to go and for some reason being unwilling to leverage the hotel’s complicity in the theft of their belongings into new accommodations, the boys impose on the Glasses. Mr. Glass and Nina immediately take Frank and Joe to a barbecue. There, they decide to take a balloon ride — of course there’s a hot-air balloon at the barbecue; isn’t there always? — but while the pilot’s getting a lemonade, the balloon is cut loose. Joe acts like a total newb during the flight even though the brothers have flown in balloons in The Secret Agent on Flight 101 (#46) and The Clue of the Hissing Serpent (#53). While floating through the air with the greatest of difficulty, they think they spot Nightmare at McCord’s ranch.

The balloon’s owner’s lawyer threatens to sue them for theft, but Joe threatens to sue them right back. The threats of lawsuits go out the window when the lawyer realizes he’s talking to the Hardy brothers, and he helps them get back to the mysterious horse. (When they try to figure out whether it’s really Nightmare, they realize they don’t know the ID number tattooed inside its lip. They don’t ask for it later, though.) After returning to the ranch with the Glasses, they find the horse has been moved. Frank realizes it has been moved to Wind Ridge, but even though they confirm Ardyce owns that ranch, no one crumbles at their accusations.

After their failures, Frank and Joe stick around for the Santa Rosa Cup, where the Glasses spot a horse owned by McCord that looks exactly like Nightmare. To secure a blood sample to prove the horse’s paternity, Frank, Joe, and Nina steal the entire horse, using the same method that was used to swipe Nightmare. The plan goes off without a hitch, and with the threat of exposure looming, Ardyce tells reporters McCord stole Nightmare to sell its breeding rights, which Ardyce paid for. (The story of Alydar gives an idea of how lucrative breeding rights can be and how that money can drive people to criminal acts.) Ardyce also gets a dig in at the reporters who hounded him: “‘You don’t know [who stole Nightmare], do you? …’ Ardyce was mocking them. ‘It took two young detectives only a week to discover the truth” (146).

McCord is arrested, and Nightmare is restored to the Glasses. As a reward, Ardyce gives them his signature ebony walking stick, which is topped with a solid-gold horse’s head. The Glasses? They give Frank and Joe nothing, although Nina, riding on Nightmare, gives Joe a chance to use the “riding off into the sunset” line.

Frank and Joe will return to San Francisco in Skin & Bones, and Joe will even rent a horse to ride after a car thief in that book. But of course they will never see the Glasses again — they have truly ridden off into the sunset.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Terminal Shock (#102)

Terminal Shock coverIf you’ve read my recap of Dungeon of Doom (#99), you will not be surprised that I enjoyed how Terminal Shock begins: with Joe being a recalcitrant jerk and someone — Phil Cohen, in this case — calling him on it. Joe wants nothing to do with computers, both because he enjoys his ignorance and because he’s on Spring Break and has declared an embargo on learning: “I think it’s illegal to learn anything over vacation” (2-3).

“If you don’t take [computers] seriously, you’re going to be useless as a crime fighter,” Phil says (2), later adding, “Don’t blame me if your detective career goes down the tubes.”

“Hey!” said Joe. “I’ve been great without a computer until now, and I’ll continue to be great.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” said Phil (3). Man, that’s menacing — especially how he leaves it unclear whether he thinks Joe will continue to be great or whether he’s ever been great.

When Joe goes inside, Frank is using a “microcomputer” — ah, don’t ever change, 1990 — and a modem, which emits a “harsh, roaring sound” as it connects with a local BBS. Joe, always someone who will mock what you like, is deliberately obtuse, not understanding any of the technical information Frank tells him and sounding proud of it. When Joe pronounces sysop as “size op,” Frank corrects him: “sizz op” (6). It’s neither, of course: the second s is soft, and it’s “siss op.” I’m beginning to think Frank might be a newbie too, despite his lectures to Joe about BBSs (bulletin board systems) and modems and CPUs. However, he’s right to call Joe “a font of ignorance” (7), and Joe sounds like a fuddy-duddy: “Why can’t you just pick up the phone and talk?” he shouts at his brother when Frank wants to chat with the sysop (10).

Joe’s technophobia is pushed into the background when the mystery actually begins: the BBS’s sysop, Jim Lerner, sends a chat message to Frank that he’s dying. The Hardys rush to Jim’s home, only a few blocks away, and find him unconscious. In his hand is a note saying, “ShE IS ILL” in block letters. (You can see it on the cover.) When the cops arrive, the boys are pushed aside: when they try to tell a cop they’re detectives, he tells them, “And I’m an astronaut. See you on Mars, boys!” (17). You’d think the Bayport Police Department would give their officers a briefing about what to do when they see Frank and Joe; maybe they have, and sarcastic dismissal is their official policy. But you’d think with all the crimes Frank and Joe help the BPD solve, the cops would be a bit more accommodating …

Frank and Joe aren’t dissuaded, though. The next day, they return to ask Jim’s mom and girlfriend, Becky, if they know anything. As they pull up, they see a man sneaking out of Jim’s second-story room. Joe gives chase, and even though the thief trips over a convenient rake — classic slapstick — he still escapes Joe. However, Sideshow Bob did drop his ill-gotten goods: a box with two 3 ½" floppy discs. Ah, floppy discs, I remember thee. But I don’t remember them holding much information, and these two discs contain the entirety of Jim’s BBS, including the private e-mails between BBS users. The private info is encrypted, and everyone — including Phil — is impressed by Jim’s cryptographic skills. I, however, am impressed by whatever compression algorithms managed to get everything onto two disks, when the capacity of a floppy in those days was 1.44 MB. Not even a megabyte and a half! How did we run anything in those days?

At Bayport General, a doctor tells Frank and Joe that Jim has been poisoned by an experimental toxin, and probably only the person who administered it knows the antitoxin. (Joe naively says, “I thought a poison was a poison,” which is stupid; he surely knew some snakes had more potent venom than others.) Frank and Joe give the discs to Phil to crack, but when they get home, they find a note demanding the discs “or your lives are in danger!” (46). C’mon, dude: you have to make specific threats, or the Hardy Boys won’t take you seriously. (They might not even know what case you’re talking about.) While they and the cops are waiting to make the dropoff, Phil’s workshop is set on fire. Because of his ultra-cool, super-duper fire suppression system, it does no damage, though.

After a brief meeting with Becky at Mr. Pizza, “a favorite hangout for Bayport teenagers” (57), they head to Digital Delights, a computer store where Jim worked. (Digital Delights conjures up a different sort of image in the Internet Age.) There, the brothers meet Jim’s bosses, their only real suspects: the pleasant Larry Simpson and the sour Jerry Sharp. (Larry says Frank and Joe are “celebrities,” while Jerry claims never to have heard of the boys.) Jerry’s prickly personality makes him a suspect; the brothers’ suspicion is increased when they see Jerry talking with the thief, who is posing as a deliveryman. Jerry gives them the wrong name for the thief, which they take a measured response to; usually, they would breaking into his office or home, but for some reason, they don’t.

Probably because Larry keeps helping. He lets them paw through Digital Delights’ invoices — they’re selling computers to Canada and Eastern Europe, to the brothers’ amazement — and he explains user names by comparing them to CB handles. This isn’t the only time the Internet has been compared to CB, I think, but it’s strange to think of 21st-century technology being linked to ‘70s culture.

Becky, Phil, Frank, and Joe try to guess Jim’s password, trying social engineering first and then asking other BBS sysops what his password is on their sites in case he reused a password. In a shocking lack of security, many sysops comply, but it doesn’t help. Then Phil realizes the scrap of paper with “ShE IS ILL” really means “711 51 345,” which, duh.

That’s the password, of course. In the e-mails, they learn of a “drop” at Cabot Hill; they and the cops foil the handoff, capturing the receiver and recovering a Workwell computer. (The person dropping the computer, who was in a helicopter, escapes.) The BPD asks for Phil’s help looking at the computer and Jim’s disks, showing we weren’t at risk for a BPD: Cyber spinoff. Phil notes new chips have been installed.

Frank and Joe poke around at Digital Delights, where a van is loaded with Workwell computers. Frank is pistolwhipped, and the van takes off. Joe and the concussed Frank follow, but they are run off the road. Continuing on to Jerry’s house, they find the van concealed nearby; while they are in the middle of accusing Jerry, Larry interrupts them with a gun. He tells them the entire story: a Canadian lab has developed super computer chips, and he’s using Digital Delights’ orders to smuggle those chips into Eastern Europe. He and his supplier used BBSs to coordinate their movements — poor, na├»ve, unimaginative Frank calls it “the ultimate in privacy” (128) — until Jim accidentally read one of their messages.

Rather than shooting his hostages, Larry hands the poison to Joe and tells him to drink it. Joe instead splashes it into Larry’s mouth. While he’s sputtering and spitting, the brothers overpower him. Still, Larry escapes after Frank reaches into Larry’s glove compartment and gets a mousetrap on his finger for his trouble. That’s some planning from Larry: trapping your glovebox with a mousetrap on the off chance someone is poking around in it.

Expecting Jerry to call the cops — they never ask him to — Frank and Joe pursue in their van; when a helicopter tries to force them off the road, Joe climbs from the speeding van onto the helicopter’s skid and from there into the cockpit. He knocks out the pilot before realizing he can’t land the helicopter. The pilot regains enough consciousness to make a hard landing, and the car chase ends nearby when the police show up. (It takes place near Interstate 78, according to Con, which puts Bayport in northern New Jersey, near New York — Newark, Jersey City, Elizabeth, or maybe even as far south as Perth Amboy.)

Everything ends happily: Jim gets the antidote, Joe agrees to take computer lessons from Phil … but with innuendo: “When Phil’s not looking, I’m going to stick a computer game in his disk drive” (152). Whatever turns you on, Joe — hopefully it turns Phil on as well.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Money Hunt (#101)

 coverSo after Dungeon of Doom, a pretty good (if drawn out too long) book, The Money Hunt is a letdown. I mean, I literally fell asleep while reading it.

Money Hunt begins with Frank and Joe planning the route they will take on their fall vacation trip to Florida with Chet and Biff. I’m not sure how many schools schedule a lengthy fall vacation, but Bayport High School certainly seems like the kind of school to do so. Perhaps they even instituted Fall Break in consideration of the Hardys! Or maybe Frank and Joe aren’t in high school; they don’t mention their education at all.

But their vacation plans are hijacked. Fenton gets a phone call from Steve Johnson, a former police colleague — a lot of Fenton’s old pals are mentioned in this book — who’s having trouble at his Maine lodge. Fenton can’t go because he’s injured his ankle, so he volunteers Frank and Joe without asking them if they want to help. Of course Frank and Joe do, but it is inconsiderate for him not to ask first. Just as Fenton doesn’t consider his sons’ opinions, Frank and Joe don’t consider what Chet and Biff want. For Frank and Joe, mysteries are the most important thing in life. Perhaps they could even establish a mystery-based religion, which would allow them excused absences for mystery-related holidays … the Dixonian Mysteries? No, too meta. The Fentonian Mysteries, perhaps. Mystery religions are well established the world over, although this would take the concept in another direction.

Fenton was injured, not in a life-and-death struggle or because a malefactor got the better of him but because he “lost the suspect … when he tripped over a flower pot and severely sprained his ankle” (3). That’s just sad, Fenton. It’s not like you were running from a tiger, like in The Disappearing Floor (#19), or shot in the leg with a poisoned arrow, like in The Sign of the Crooked Arrow (#28), or even stabbed by Ranse Hobb, like in The Blackwing Puzzle (#82). (He did sprain his ankle in The Short-Wave Mystery, #24, as well.) C’mon, man.

Fenton describes Maine by quoting from the first line of Longfellow’s “Evangeline” — “murmuring pines and the hemlocks,” not the better known, “This is the forest primeval.” He’s trying to get across the idea that he wishes he could go, but it’s not hard to imagine that’s he’s happier in his own home, lying in bed, napping and reading mystery novels, rather than working at a remote hunting lodge. Especially since Steve Johnson’s troubles are so trivial; someone’s setting animal traps that almost hurt Steve’s lodgers, who have also heard mysterious chainsawing during the night. There are also minor thefts and an ATV-riding ghost, but the latter is too stupid to go into. Also — and this is an aside, not important at all, no no no — thirteen years ago, before Steve bought the lodge, four bank robbers from Boston hid out at the lodge while it was abandoned. Three were caught, but only the fourth knew where the loot was hidden.

No mystery is too trivial for Frank and Joe, as they head to Maine to dive head-first into the Fentonian Mysteries. (Chet and Biff can’t go, for some reason.) They fly over Moosehead Lake — which is a real lake in western Maine — on their way to Mirror Lake, which is not. (Well, a few Mirror Lakes exist in Maine, but none of them are near Moosehead.) As Steve drives them back to the lodge in his jeep, the brakes fail, although rather than cutting the brake line, someone’s removed the brake lining. Certainly a twist on a classic, which I appreciate.

They survive, of course, and Steve’s sure one of his guests is behind his problems. Joe tells him they’ll solve the mystery if he can keep his cool: “A happy innkeeper …” Joe starts, and Steve finishes, “Keeps his head?” (38). Is that a proverb? I’ve never heard it, and Google shrugs when I ask it. In fact, Google doesn’t find any proverbs beginning with “a happy innkeeper.”

Let’s keep our heads as well — let’s examine … the suspect pool!

  • Mr. Burns, Mr. Brown, and Mr. Buckley: The Three Bs are “middle-aged businessmen from Providence” (38), but they’re evasive about what their business is.
  • Arthur and Adele Ackerly: She’s a champion trap and skeet shooter, trying out hunting live game for the first time. She’s also a talker; her husband rarely gets a word in edgewise.
  • Len Randle and Mike Mallory: Len says he’s a writer for Outdoor Life magazine on his first assignment, while Mike is his photographer
  • Mr. Peters and Mr. Fletcher: Peters is an elderly man who has come to Maine to watch birds. Fletcher is his assistant and caregiver.

The usual shenanigans occur. The ATV ghost, a figure in white joyriding on the lodge’s ATV, rides by Frank and Joe and scares them into falling into the shallow end of Mirror Lake. Someone throws a hunting knife at Joe, and Adele Ackerly seems the only reasonable suspect. A dummy is left in the fridge with a note warning the boys off. When the boys dispose of it, Len Randle thinks it’s a body and calls 9-1-1. (Joe calls 9-1-1 back and cancels the order for police, which is exactly what a murderer would try to do while he murders more people.) Randle then admits he’s trying to sell an article to a supermarket tabloid, In the Know, rather than an outdoors magazine.

Frank and Joe summon Biff and Chet, and for some reason, the chums are now available. (It’s Frank and Joe’s first full day at the lodge, just 24 hours or so after they left Bayport; why couldn’t Chet and Biff have traveled with them?) While Frank and Joe are poking their noses into everyone’s cabins and the grounds, Frank is locked in a burning shed and is saved by Steve’s handyman, Willy.

When Frank and Joe try to follow the Three Bs, the brothers notice someone has moved the trail markers. More importantly, they literally run into a net trap, and they are saved only by a Chester ex machina: the helicopter Chet and Biff have rented to make it to the lodge flies near them, and Joe uses his red scarf — a not-very-well-made gift from Iola — to flag them down. Fenton managed to get Chet and Biff to Maine quickly by calling on one of his old friends who runs a commuter service, so the two arrive in time to save Frank and Joe’s bacon. Fenton also sends information on the bank robbery, dug up by another old friend at the Bayport Times.

Chet and Biff pretend not to know Frank and Joe. Chet takes on the persona of a worldly hiker, telling everyone about his walking tours in Africa and the Canadian Rockies. His friends give Chet stick for his tales, but he has been to sub-Saharan Africa (in Revenge of the Desert Phantom, #84), and he has been to the Canadian Rockies (in The Mystery at Devil’s Paw, #38). He’s not lying, fellows. But when he and Biff dress up for hiking later, Joe says Chet and Biff look like “an ad for L.L. Bean” (104) in their new hiking gear.

After an attack on Burns by “a ghost,” Frank and Joe use the information Fenton provided to figure out the Three Bs are the paroled bank robbers. Once they reach that conclusion, the real villains — not the Three Bs — move quickly, cutting off the lodge’s radio and telephone communication with the outside world. The kids follow various suspects into the wilderness, but Biff and Chet lose their quarry quickly, and Joe has to turn back when Frank is menaced by a bear. (Bears were common threats in the canon, appearing in seven books. Seven! And the Hardys were threatened by all sorts of bears: black, brown, grizzly, and polar. This one’s a brown bear.)

One thing Franklin W. Dixon has never before tried to pull off as a threat to the Hardys was a deer, but that happens in Money Hunt. After recovering from the bear attack, the Hardys and Biff find Chet tied to a tree, with a buck with a “magnificent rack” (121) standing near him. (The buck is described as a six-pointer; I’m assuming the writer is from a state that counts only one side of the rack, which means the deer could have also been described as a more impressive 12-point buck.) Fortunately, the Hardys, Biff, and the Ackerlys frighten it away by using the advanced wilderness technique of “moving closer.” Before it flees, everyone except Fletcher and Peters gathers around, lured by what is evidently the only deer in Maine. Pooling mental resources, they figure out Peters is the remaining bank robber in heavy disguise.

Now, Frank and Joe have been slow on the uptake not to realize this; that’s not unusual. But Frank … he’s supposed to be the smart one, and he’s been frequently wrong in Money Hunt. He misidentifies the capital of Maine as Portland. He believes the sun sets in the northwest in autumn in Maine. (The book doesn’t correct him on this; that he believes this is supposed to be part of his wilderness lore, and it helps him get his bearings.) He doesn’t realize the musical scale doesn’t include “H.” C’mon, Frank: you’re supposed to be better than this!

When the Hardys return from their forest powwow, they find Peters and Fletcher (an electrical engineer and poacher who found the dying Peters thirteen years before) stealing a float plane. Frank and Joe are kidnapped, of course. Once aloft, Fletcher attaches a device to the plane that will aim it right at the lodge and kill everyone inside (plus Frank and Joe). The two villains, who have the stolen bank loot, will escape to Canada in the confusion. After the villains abandon ship, Frank and Joe loosen their bonds enough so that they can nudge the controls, and the plane miraculously makes an uneventful water landing. (Well, it would be a miracle in the real world. Frank expects it.)

Everyone goes back to the lodge for dinner for a celebratory dinner. The criminals aren’t caught, although Frank and Joe are sure they will be: their electrical boat engine wasn’t charged, and the authorities have been alerted. After all, what are the chances that two men who eluded a search thirteen years ago in the Maine woods could do it again?

Interestingly, Peters might be in the clear for the original bank robbery; the federal statute of limitations is only five years, and the Massachusetts statute of limitations is only 10 years. However, there’s a catch: the statute of limitations is paused (“tolled”) if the accused is not a resident or is in hiding within the state. So depending on how Peters spent the time, he might have been untouchable for the crime!

I kinda hope he gets away with everything. Good luck to you, ATV ghost!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Doom / Hunt / Treasure / Panic / Demolition

So after Dungeon of Doom is digest #100, The Secret of the Island Treasure, a fitting book for such a momentous number. It features the return of Hurd Applegate, a hidden treasure (obviously), and numerous allusions to one of the most famous treasure hunts, Oak Island. If you want to know more, click the link.

So The Money Hunt (#101) will be the next entry. I don’t own a copy of this book, but I will be able to check out a copy from my local public library. Most of the rest of my spring posts will feature the books in order, skipping Panic on Gull Island (#107), which I’ve already covered. The next book I’ll have to skip entirely is Demolition Mission (#112), which won’t be a concern until summertime.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Dungeon of Doom (#99)

Dungeon of Doom coverI started reading Dungeon of Doom worried that it would miss the point when it came to discussing role-playing games. I ended it wondering why Joe was my favorite Hardy.

First, the role-playing game aspect. Chet invites Frank and Joe to watch him and the Greater Bayport Area Wizards and Warriors Club. Why would Frank and Joe want to spend an afternoon off watching a role-playing game? Playing an RPG — sure, I could get that. I do that. But watching? I dunno. If the game is exciting enough that Frank and Joe are interested, they should play; if it isn’t, they’d be bored either way. I suppose watching an RPG makes more sense than going shopping at the Bayport Mall with their girlfriends (also an option), but only a hairsbreadth more.

A role-playing game, for those who are unfamiliar, is a game without a board. Instead, a narrator of sorts tells a story in which the players are also characters. These characters are often heroic personas; at the very least they have abilities that exceed most people’s. The players influence the course of the story by the decisions their characters make. When something happens that involves some degree of chance and / or skill, like diving out of the way of a sudden attack or firing a weapon under duress, players and the narrator (generically called a game master) roll dice. The dice can be the standard six-sided dice everyone is familiar with or dice with more sides: eight, ten, twelve, or twenty are the most common.

The most famous role-playing game is Dungeons & Dragons, a fantasy-themed RPG. In Dungeon, Chet and his new friends are playing Wizards and Warriors, an obvious analogue. (Wizards and Warriors was also the name of a 1987 Nintendo game, a 2000 Windows video game, and a short-lived 1983 TV series.) The game master is called the Wizard Master (in D&D, the role is called a Dungeon Master). The description of the game play is largely within the realm of what you’d expect a fantasy RPG to be like. Each character has stats — in this case, stamina, strength, and intelligence — that determine how well he does things. Some characters swing swords; others use magic. Standard stuff, really. There’s even a rule lawyer: someone who knows every rule and is willing to use them to get the most out of the game.

Other aspects are unusual at best. The Wizard Master rolls dice for everyone, which is unusual but not unprecedented. All the players are dressed up as their characters; today, that’s called “cosplaying,” and it isn’t unusual, but few people do it when the only people who see them are a small group of fellow players. Chet’s character uses karate, which is dumb for a European-type setting, but even the original D&D had a class of characters who used martial arts. The only spell used has the stupid name of “Fribjib” and turns people into frogs; most spells have names that relate to what they do, poetically or literally. One of the teens is described as a “champion” W&W player (5), which is strange — RPGs are cooperative, not individual, and rarely does anyone win.

So the RPG is OK. But Joe — Joe’s the worst.

I have that written down a lot in my notes, although usually it’s expressed in saltier language. (I may have compared Joe to a specific bodily sphincter.) When Chet greets the brothers wearing his costume, Joe says he looks “even dumber than usual” (2). When the GBAWWC starts playing, Joe asks Frank, “Is this weird or what?” (8). After being pressured into playing W&W because of a player absence, Joe’s character dies almost immediately because he didn’t bother getting other players’ input, and he whines about it. (He almost resorts to fisticuffs when another player razzes him about it.) Later, when one of the players is enjoying the game-turned-real the villain has put everyone into too much, Joe says, “Maybe you should get out more … Stop playing so many games. Start living a life” (75). This paints the picture of a person who doesn’t want you to like something because he thinks it’s weird — a classic jock bully.

Later, Joe tells Chet he wouldn’t fit through a hole that is “only wide enough for a small Buick” (18). He accuses one of the other players, Derek, of being the villain before there’s any evidence, just out of personal animosity. He assaults Chet to get him to stop singing because “the echoes in this room make it sound like there are four of you … and one of you sounds bad enough” (49). Whenever Derek trades insults with Joe, Joe responds with violence; when Derek meets Joe’s challenge and defeats him, Derek apologizes for the violence, but Joe says, “That and a handful of quarters will buy me a soda” (74) When Derek offers good, constructive ideas on how to get Frank out of a partially triggered death trap, Joe says, “Get lost … I don’t want your help!” (79).

He’s really the worst! If a secondary character acted like him, we’d suspect that character of being the villain. We’d expect him to be the villain.

In contrast, Derek’s a delight. It’s amusing to see Joe fall apart in front of someone as accomplished, in his own way, as the Hardy boys. Derek is the county swimming champion and a football player. He has scholarship offers from MIT and Harvard, where he will study physics or molecular biology. When he tells the others this, Joe says, “I think I’m going to be sick” (37).

Derek needles Joe repeatedly, but he’s funnier than Joe, and he never tries to escalate the situation into assault, which is Joe’s default setting. When Derek finally snaps and challenges Joe to a duel with (fake) swords, he apologizes for thrashing Joe, who’s a sulky dink after being outclassed. (Why didn’t you remember your fencing lessons from the revised Clue of the Broken Blade [#21], Joe?) Derek’s gibe about Chet’s weight is gentle. When he and Frank boost Chet into a hole, Chet says, “Here goes nothing.” Derek’s reply is, “I’d say you’re a little more than nothing, Morton. How much do you weigh?” (62). (Frank’s rejoinder is funny, if a tad crueler: “That’s a state secret … if the Russians found out, they’d build an army of Chet Mortons and eat the rest of the world into submission.”)

Derek has two bad moments: the first is when he says a girlfriend he broke up with “was hardly [his] intellectual equal” (37), which sounds snooty at best and sexist at worst. But he’s a teenage boy; it’s not like he’s probably going to be that good at expressing his emotions. Besides, she might not have cared for intellectual exploration, for all we know, and he’s bad at expressing his opinions of that.

The second bad moment is when he decides to be friends with Joe, the worst person in the world. He even offers Joe tickets to “the big game” in New York (148). He’s even willing to ditch his current girlfriend to go with Joe. What sport is the big game? Who knows! Whatever it is, Frank’s jealous. Stupid, Derek, stupid. You’re going to regret this.

So that’s about it … oh, wait, that’s right. There’s a mystery here.

The plot gets going just after Joe’s character (Sir Joe) dies and he (the real Joe) tries to assault Derek. Tim Partridge, one of group’s members, says another member, Barry, is probably trapped in the Dungeon of Doom. It turns out the Dungeon is where they play sometimes; it’s located on the outskirts of Bayport, in a mine abandoned because it was partially flooded by the Bayport Reservoir. This reservoir must have been built to replace the Tarnack Reservoir, which was new in 1948 when it appeared in The Secret of Skull Mountain (#28). The Tarnack Reservoir, located 20 miles from Bayport on Skull Mountain, replaced the Upstate Reservoir as Bayport’s water supply.

All I can say is that I’m glad the Dungeon of Doom has nothing to do with steam tunnels under a university.

Anyway, Barry suspected something weird was going on around the Dungeon, and he arranged to meet Tim near it. But when he got there, he found a note warning him away. Frank and Joe want to go to the police immediately, but the GBAWWC doesn’t: if the police are called in, they’ll lose their Dungeon, and it would be a shame to do that if it’s a false alarm. Derek says they’ll check out the dungeon, then call the police if anything is wrong. Frank and Joe reluctantly agree to this sensible compromise.

Once they arrive, though, a cave-in traps them in the Dungeon. You have to expect that when you go underground with the Hardy Boys! (See The Flickering Torch Mystery, #22; The Submarine Chase, #68; Cave-In!, #78; The Roaring River Mystery, #80 … that’s not as many as I thought. I must be missing a few.) The dungeon / mine has been set up to serve as a real physical / mental challenge for the kids by a “Secret Wizard Master.” Traps include such classics as the carpet-over-the-pit trap, which Joe falls into immediately, and the shifting-room trap, in which a room is balanced so that when enough people shift to one side, the room tilts and dumps everyone down a shaft. Classic RPG traps, both of them. (The Secret Wizard Master also uses the no-key trick: the kids reach a door they don’t have a key for, so they sit down to figure out the “trick.” The trick is that the door isn’t locked.)

They also have to deal with morons within their ranks. When they find food left by the Secret Wizard Master, Frank makes the unilateral decision to drop it into a mine shaft on the off chance it’s poisoned. Chet lunges at the food and drops the group’s only light. Only by luck does the lantern not fall into the shaft as well.

The Secret Wizard Master, it becomes apparent, is one of the GBAWWC. So now we’ll dive into the suspect pool!

  • Pete Simmons: He’s the real Wizard Master, and according to Win Thurber, he had access to the published adventure the Secret Wizard Master based everything on. Pete says the adventure was stolen before he could see it. More damningly, Pete is a psychology student at Gates College; he’s writing a paper titled “The Role-Playing Game as Adolescent Bonding Ritual.” I admit, with a title like that, I thought he was engineering everything to get more material.
  • Win Thurber: A small kid who attends Bayport High School, although Frank and Joe don’t remember him. (Win says everyone knows the Hardy Boys, though.) He works at Bergmeyer’s, a department store in Bayport Mall, and gets stuff to outfit the Dungeon at a discount. He enjoys games more than anything else, and Frank and Joe accuse him of enjoying their predicament too much. He explodes at Frank and Joe when they condescend to him about his love of games and lack of friends. “Maybe you just haven’t tried,” Frank says. “Try some clubs at school. Make some friends” (76). Joe offers to throw Win a pizza party at Mr. Pizza with their friends: “Maybe you’ll get along with them.” Ugh, popular people have no idea how hard high school is.
  • Derek Hannon: He’s delightful — witty, an athlete, and a brain. He’s only on this list because Joe hates him. If Joe hates him, though, that must mean he’s awesome.
  • Tim Partridge: The 14-year-old who warned them something was wrong. Since his mother was expecting him home, he didn’t go into the Dungeon.
  • Barry Greenwald: Tim’s classmate. He disappeared before the story began — or maybe he only wanted people to think that.

It turns out the Secret Wizard Master is Win, who is really a high-school dropout who is much older than he appears. He has been stealing consumer goods from Bergmeyer’s and storing them in the mine. He and his two goons capture the GBAWWC when the fun of the Dungeon of Doom runs out. Win’s plan is to make the kids swim in the cold waters of the reservoir until they drown, which will keep their bodies hidden for a long time. Despite Joe’s “nasty personality” (129) — hey, Win might be a murderous crook, but he’s not wrong — he accepts Joe’s offer of a sword duel before the executions. He handily defeats Joe, just as Derek did, but he’s not prepared when Joe kicks him in the knee. He stumbles backwards into a strut keeping water at bay. The strut fails, and it’s a race against time to get out.

Well, the characters are racing against time. The readers will likely be checking their watches as the ending is drawn out. But everyone manages to swim to safety, and the good guys catch all the bad guys. Win’s goons are put in jail, Win is released to his mother (despite him being a legal adult), and Chet raids the police snack machines.

The story ends with Chet suggesting a new hobby for himself — spelunking — now that role-playing games have proved too much for the couch warrior. But spelunking isn’t a new hobby; Chet spelunked his way into danger in The Mystery of the Chinese Junk (#39). Joe tells him to “keep his ideas to himself,” although I’m not sure whether that’s because he has cave-related trauma, because he’s sick of Chet’s hobbies, or because he remembers Chet was a spelunker before, even if Chet doesn’t. In any event, it’s nice to know Joe remains consistent to the end: a jerk.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Few More Notes

Wipeout (#96) has a character named Emil Molitor, who turns out to be the book’s villain. The name made me think of Paul Molitor, a baseball player who played most of his Hall of Fame career for the Milwaukee Brewers in the ‘80s. I have a feeling another Hardy Boys book mentioned a few members of those ‘80s Brewers teams, but I can’t remember which, and I can’t find it in my notes. Can anybody help me out here?

***
You may have noticed I included the price tag on the image of Wipeout’s cover. That’s my copy, and I like those little reminders of the book’s past. I had no idea what “Hills” was, but I like knowing the book was sold by Hills at a discount. (Hills was a discount department store chain founded in Ohio in 1957; it was regionally successful, but it was bought out by Ames in 1999. Ames went out of business in 2002.) I also appreciate that Hardy Boys books were, at that time — a time I remember! — sold at full price for $3.50. (I also like previous owners’ names printed or carefully signed inside the front cover or on the front flyleaf; it gives the book a bit of history. But former library copies are right out; those things are used and abused.)

***
Early in Spark of Suspicion (#98), the previous book, Cast of Criminals (#97), is mentioned. I bring this up for two reasons: 1) most of the digests don’t mention the books preceding or succeeding them, and ii) because it’s taken only a dozen books for that to become strange. Is Cast of Criminals mentioned in Spark because the two books share an author, or was it because of an editorial mandate to tighten references between the books? Spark doesn’t go so far as to mention the next book (Dungeon of Doom) at the end like the books in the Stratemeyer Syndicate days did.

***
Whoever wrote Danger on the Air (#95) may have also written Spark of Suspicion (#98). Besides WBPT being in both books, Mr. Pizza appears as well. More superficially, both books take place in Bayport. It’s possible the editor tied two books close together in sequence together, but I think it’s more likely that a single author is the link.

But perhaps I’m jumping to conclusions. The narration also mentions the Liberty Bell Diner. The boys and Fenton stayed in the Liberty Bell Inn in Shield of Fear. I linked that book’s authorship to Vincent Buranelli because the author named motels after obvious points of reference for tourists. (Buranelli did the same in INSERT HERE.) The use of “Liberty Bell” for a place for travelers to stay makes Buranelli a suspect for the authorship of Spark of Suspicion. But Spark calls Phil Cohen “lanky”; Buranelli knew he was “slight” in Danger on Vampire Trail. On the other hand, he called Phil “wiry” in The Witchmaster’s Key, and “slight” could be considered a synonym for “thin” rather than “thin and small.” Also, almost twenty years separate Spark and Danger … Hmm. This isn’t as far-fetched as I thought.

On the other hand, none of the evidence I mentioned rules out a decent editor’s involvement.

***
I didn’t want to mention this in my post on Spark because it seemed to demand more seriousness than that post could carry off, but the book’s ending reads much differently after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. The parallels are undeniable: a bomber with a badly thought-out grudge decides to explode a bomb that will hurt random people at a public celebration of a local patriotic holiday. The differences are that the Boston Marathon attack was real and that Hardys, being fictional, were able to wrap up things cleanly without anyone being harmed.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Spark of Suspicion (#98)

Spark of Suspicion coverIn Spark of Suspicion, it’s nearly Founders’ Day in Bayport, which would lead you to expect an explanation of who Bayport’s founders were. Or maybe when Founder’s Day is. (Summer, maybe? The kids aren’t in school.) No, we get none of that, and Bayport’s history is just as murky as ever.

In Spark, which was published in 1989, it’s the 300th anniversary of Bayport’s founding. That puts Bayport’s founding in 1689. Who founded it? Well, it wasn’t pirates, who Laura says came along in 1728. Pirates are a big motif in Bayport’s history, the few other times anything about the past has been mentioned. The Secret of Pirates’ Hill (#36) dwells on a 1756 battle between a pirate ship and two merchantmen near Bayport. One merchantman was sunk, while the other slipped away. (Frank, Joe, and their chums found the sunken ship and a cannon hidden by the pirates in that book.) In The Secret of the Island Treasure (#100), we learn Europeans discovered Barmet Bay in 1574, and a shoddy archaeologist tells the boys (and readers) pirates patrolled the coast near the bay in the 17th century.

That’s irrelevant, I suppose. I don’t think we can pretend anyone cares about Bayport’s history. There are saboteurs to catch and fireworks to blow up!

As Spark begins, Frank and Joe get an anonymous note that someone’s going to cause trouble at the Founder’s Day fireworks celebration, and the brothers immediately suspect the source of the problems is at Old Glory Fireworks. (The boys don’t delve into the insurance side of Old Glory, although they could probably use the robot insurance.) This is convenient, as Frank and Joe have to film at Old Glory for a segment they are creating for WBPT on Founder’s Day celebrations. Did you remember they work at WBPT, producing a Crimestoppers segment for the station’s morning show? Neither did I, although that’s partially because it’s been two years since I’ve read Danger on the Air (#95) and partially because it’s very forgettable.

At Old Glory, they meet Clinton Lamont, the head of security. He gives them a stern lecture on safety within the factory, during which Joe tries “hard not to crack up” (9). I can almost imagine him making the “jerk-off” motion when Lamont isn’t looking. On a tour of the plant, Joe spots one of the safety doors cracked open. The emergency alarm is supposed to go off when that happens, so Lamont immediately dismisses Joe’s claim rather than investigating. When the boys find a lit fuse in a box of firecrackers, Lamont tosses the boys out of the factory as troublemakers. Frank and Joe are immediately suspicious of Lamont — anyone who doesn’t like them is potentially a crook and not someone who hates having their time wasted by a couple of teenagers — but Con Riley at the BPD says Lamont was a good cop in the Twelve Pines police. (Twelve Pines? Is that close to the Pine Barrens?) “I don’t like to jump to conclusions,” Joe says (25), immediately before jumping to the conclusion that the note was warning them about Lamont.

Along with Phil — somehow described as “lanky” (26) despite being called “slight” (Danger on Vampire Trail and The Clue of the Hissing Serpent, “lightweight” (The Mysterious Caravan), and “diminutive” (The Secret of the Old Mill) in the canon — Frank and Joe head out to Old Glory to do a little night shooting while Lamont isn’t around. They don’t learn anything, really, but they meet Lamont’s assistant, the much friendlier Lew Collins, and the semi-disgruntled researcher Don Munder, whose name I kept reading as “Mulder.” Unfortunately for them, Lamont is still hanging around the factory, and he — accompanied by a one-armed man whom I assume he’d hired to teach employees to always leave a note — orders the Hardys and Phil to vamoose. They do.

Frank and Joe reach out to Munder, who agrees to meet them at a restaurant called Abe and Mabel’s. “I wonder what kind of place Abe and Mabel’s is,” Joe says (33), which is strange; obviously it’s going to be a diner or a family-run casual dining establishment. It’s going to serve cheap food either way. Sure enough, they find Abe and Mabel’s is a run-down diner in an industrial area. Mulder — Munder, sorry — doesn’t like Lamont but stops short of accusing him of anything. He doesn’t think Old Glory’s chief rival, Northern Lights in Massachusetts, is to blame. (A Northern Lights Fireworks exists, although it’s a more recently established company in England.) He does give Frank and Joe a list of former employees to talk to so they can do their own snooping, though.

Using their TV story as a cover, Frank and Joe call up former employees. One of them, Anna Siegel, offers to dish, and she arranges to meet the Hardy brothers at the video store in the Bayport Mall. A video store in the mall! Ah, how times have changed. After finding a thermite bomb planted in their van (and tossing it before it any real damage), the boys meet Anna. She tells them she was unjustly let go from Old Glory for someone else’s incompetence. Plus, she identifies the one-armed man: Kevin Bailey, whom readers of the Brixton Brothers series will recognize as an analogue of one of the Hardys. Is it time travel? Is it synchronicity? A melding of universes? A coincidence? Yes, that last one. Anyway, Anna tells the Hardys that Kevin works for Northern Lights, and Old Glory and Northern Lights executives never mix. What was he doing with Lamont?

Frank is suspicious of Anna’s information: “She seemed a bit too eager to finger this Bailey guy. She doesn’t sound as though she’s in love with Old Glory. On top of that, she seems to have it in for Lamont. No, I don’t think we can take what she says at face value” (49). Frank: she’s an employee who says she was unjustly fired. She’s the definition of “disgruntled.” It doesn’t mean she isn’t right … I mean, she isn’t giving them any information that helps, but she’s not wrong, either. (Also: “a bit too eager to finger this Bailey guy” made me laugh. I’m an eighth-grade boy at heart.)

Munder gives the boys Anna Siegel’s personnel file, which says she took a settlement in return for not suing Old Glory. For some reason, this makes the boys suspicious of Anna rather than the company. Frank and Joe return to Lamont, who’s happy to talk about safety procedures but tosses the boys out when he realizes they’re still investigating. On their way home from Old Glory, they find a canister of volatile potassium chlorate hidden in their van. When Joe tries to slow down so they can get rid of it, he finds the brake line has been “nicked” (60). By downshifting, Joe furiously tries to slow the van down … from its blazing speed of 30 mph. Whew! My pulse is pounding just thinking about it! But Frank gets impatient and just tosses it out the window instead. Turns out it wasn’t all that explosive!

Because the weak explosive was planted in the van while they were inside Old Glory’s secure perimeter, Frank and Joe should suspect a current employee of Old Glory — although not Lamont, whom they were talking to. Instead, they direct their suspicions more intensely on Anna. Geez, guys. Obviously this should make you think of Collins or Munder — or maybe Kevin, if you thought he was at Old Glory at the right time. But Anna …

Chet, in his new job driving the airport shuttle for the Bayport Inn, happens by at that point and gives Frank and Joe a ride. Airport shuttle driver is a pretty good job for Chet: low responsibility, with requirements well within his skill set. (Any kid who grew up farming will have no trouble driving an oversized shuttle van.) He informs them that Kevin is staying at the Bayport Inn. Frank and Joe offer him a steak dinner at the restaurant of Chet’s choice if he helps them gather info — way to risk bankruptcy, boys — and he comes through, giving them Kevin’s room number and telling them how to break in. Although they’re almost caught in Kevin’s room, they don’t learn anything interesting.

Iola stops by, taking a break from making a Founder’s Day float with Callie. She gives Joe a book on fireworks that her father had. Joe gives her a kiss on the cheek — such unrestrained sensuality in a Hardy Boys book! — but although Joe likes the book’s pick-churs, the text puts him to sleep, and he doesn’t learn anything.

Joe and Frank decide to follow Anna and Lamont that evening. What follows is five pages of painful radio chatter as Joe trails Anna on his motorcycle. (They pick the handles “GI Joe” and “Fearless Frank,” if that gives you any idea about the quality of the dialogue.) Joe’s radio goes dead, so Frank abandons his surveillance to find his brother. It’s not a big deal; Joe just took a tumble and evidently forgot how to work his radio. Joe reveals that Anna picked up a guy — we’ll call him Mr. Goodbar — that he didn’t recognize. Afterwards, the boys find both Lamont and Anna are safely at home when a report of a break-in at Old Glory comes over the radio. A few offices had been broken into, including Munder’s.

The next day, a blast at Old Glory seriously injures Lamont, eliminating him as a suspect. As he’s wheeled away, he tells Frank, “You were right” (102) before mouthing a word. Frank thinks it’s “murder,” which isn’t that helpful. Frank and Joe are more concerned about losing a suspect than the harm that was caused to a fellow human being, even one they unjustly thought was responsible for a serious crime. They try to talk to Lamont after he’s admitted to the hospital, but the staff won’t let them; however, because Lamont suffered a concussion, the staff is “waking him every few hours to make sure he doesn’t slip into a coma” (107), which is totally a thing medical professionals do and not something made up for TV and movies.

(Wait: Lamont knows who blew him up. Can’t he tell the police? Surely they could get a few minutes with him. But if the police knew what was going on, we wouldn’t get our “thrilling” ending …)

Frank and Joe spy on a meeting between Anna and Kevin using a parabolic mike supplied by Phil, but they learn only that Kevin was asking Lamont for a job recommendation and that Anna thinks she should let bygones be bygones with Lamont. (Side note: They meet outside a restaurant called “Kelp’s.” A vegetarian seafood restaurant, perhaps? “Kelp” is not an appetizying word, in any event.) Frank and Joe celebrate their failure by taking Callie and Iola to Mr. Pizza, where they order the Killer Pizza. What’s on the Killer Pizza? Who knows! It’s a specialty of Tony Prito’s, though.

On Founder’s Day, after finally putting together their story for WBPT, Frank and Joe look over the footage of Lamont being hauled away after the explosion at Old Glory. Frank realizes he’s mouthing “Munder,” not “murder.” They contact Collins, who tells them of course it’s Munder — Collins knew, but Munder has been blackmailing him. Frank and Joe check the last shipment of fireworks for the show, but Munder gets the drop on them. Calling his plan to detonate all the munitions simultaneously at the show “elegant” — not quite “sheer elegance in its simplicity,” but it will have to do — he ties up the brothers, leaving them alive to tell authorities who blew up the marina and why (because his brother died while working at Old Glory).

Frank and Joe escape the ropes — the rope that can hold the Hardy Boys hasn’t been made — and manage to alert Collins in time to defuse Munder’s bomb. Barely in time, too; Munder planned to blow the bomb when the town supervisor began his speech, but the bomb was still active while the supervisor’s limo arrived at the festivities. This raises two questions: a) the town supervisor rides in a limo? A real limo? Is that a good use of city funds? and II) why didn’t Frank and / or Joe and / or Collins contact the cops and have them delay the supervisor until they were sure the fireworks wouldn’t detonate?

Also: is Joe going to catch hell from Iola for not watching the parade to see the float she and Callie worked so hard on (and so many azaleas gave their lives for)?

Frank and Collins head to Munder’s boat. Collins is useless, getting pistolwhipped immediately, and Frank is unable to stop Munder from aiming his yacht at the fireworks boat in a suicide run. Frank is, however, able to stop the boat before she gets up to ramming speed, and the harbor cops arrest Munder.

The fireworks display starts on time, and without a hitch. Why would anyone cancel a celebration because of a failed terrorist plot, anyway?

Friday, March 11, 2016

Cast of Criminals (#97)

Cast of Criminals coverAccording to my records, I read Cast of Criminals in 2003. I don’t remember the book at all, although I don’t know why. It’s a decent enough mystery, and like many of my favorite Hardy Boys stories, it’s set in Bayport. It also touches on an issue I’ve written about before: namely, that Frank and Joe are awful friends to Chet.

In Cast of Criminals, Chet is acting in Homecoming Nightmare, a play from the ‘50s that the Bayport Players are putting on. (It sounds more like an ‘80s horror movie than a play from the ‘50, although it amuses me to think of Edward Albee or Tennessee Williams writing Homecoming Nightmare. In any event, the plot is more of a slasher movie than Broadway drama.) Being the male lead in Nightmare seems like just another new hobby for Chet. But Joe undercuts him immediately; when Chet has trouble learning his lines, the director asks Frank and Joe whether he’ll be able learn them. “Eventually,” Joe says. “It just takes him a little longer to learn things. He didn’t walk until he was seven” (5).

Everybody laughs. I don’t think making Chet sound developmentally disabled is funny, but eh, people laugh about that if it’s in the right spirit. Later, Joe makes another joke about Chet being the kind of guy who’d show up to pick up a homecoming date shirtless, which gets another round of yuks. But when Iola jokes about Chet — her brother — suddenly it’s not OK. “You’re giving Chet a pretty hard time,” Joe says, and Iola says it’s because Chet doesn’t care about acting. He only wanted to be part of the play because Frank and Joe were. Frank counters that she’s mad at Chet for telling the director he knows what goes “though a killer’s mind because he had a kid sister” (15).

Everybody laughs. Maybe it’s something in the delivery I’m not getting. Some people, like me, can’t tell a joke. Some people can make reading the telephone book funny. And some comics are like licorice: either you love them or you hate them. There’s no middle ground. I think that’s where Frank and Joe fall. I don’t think they’re funny, but the writers (and possibly editors) and characters do.

Whether he’s funny or not, Joe is a jerk; I don’t think there’s much doubt about that. When Callie doesn’t want to give up a tiara that a costume store clerk has erroneously sold her, Joe says, “What’s with her?” (8). God forbid she want to keep something she liked and paid for. After he sees the mess Callie has left after searching her bag for a missing tiara, he says, “I’m not surprised you can’t find something in that mess … Have you ever considered calling in a wrecking crew?” (12). He gets into an argument with Jeffrey LeBeque, a kid Frank and Joe find annoying; they trade insults, and Joe gets the worst of it. (Joe makes physical threats, which is a rung below the lowest form of wit.) Joe even decides he’s willing to assault his brother on the off-chance a shadowy figure isn’t the hidden intruder they’re looking for. (He also knocks Iola down in a similar situation, but to be fair to him, he doesn’t admit to liking that. Of course not: he’s got a hiding from Iola to look forward to.) Later, after Callie endures a series of attacks, Joe tells Frank, “Going out with a girl like that could be hazardous to your health” (63).

You dillweed: you got Iola blown up in the Casefiles, and Iola and Callie would have had much saner lives without the pair of you. You saying this — and Frank not calling you on it — makes me extremely happy both boys were taken out by one of the Shaws’ coffee tables.

Cast of Criminals begins with Chet attempting to kill Callie in Homecoming Nightmare. Nobody thinks Chet will be good at acting, but I think the role is right. He has to have a well of suppressed rage he can tap, given how much Frank and Joe — his supposed best friends — torment him. They’re rehearsing at the Grand Theater, which is a new venue for Bayport live theater; well, it’s new to the reader. Other theaters were mentioned in The Billion Dollar Ransom: a live magic competition was staged at the Bayport Palace Theater, although the Community Arts Association was planning to use the old opera house, which was being restored, for future productions.

While they are rehearsing, Harry Hill (of Hill Costume Supply Company) shows up and asks Callie to return a tiara she bought from her store. (Hill? Hill! Never heard of any salesman Hill.) She was sold it erroneously, and if it’s returned, he offers a lavish discount for the Bayport Players’ costumes. I’m not sure why the theater group is wedded to shopping at Hill Costume Supply, as Hill’s shop is the fourth Bayport costume shop mentioned in the books: Schwartz Masquerade and Costume Shop (79 Renshaw Ave.) in the revised Tower Treasure (#1), Mr. French’s costume shop in the revised Missing Chums (#4), and the Bijou Costume Shop in Tic-Tac-Terror (#74).

Anyway, Callie can’t find the tiara, and no amount of searching turns it up. It’s not even at the stupidly named fast food places (Ice-Cream Kid, Burger Bonanza, and Potatoes Iz Us) she stopped at on her way to the theater. After that, she is harassed and attacked: the Shaw home is broken into, as is the theater; she gets phone calls telling her to drop out of the play; the Grand Theater’s fire curtain almost falls on her; she’s stabbed with a rigged prop knife; a smoke machine spews toxic chemicals while she’s on stage; a player piano’s roll is splotched with red, and “CALLIE’S BLOOD” is written on it; Callie’s replacement tiara is stolen. No one threatens to take her back to Potatoes Iz Us, which sounds like it was named by an entrepreneurial hillbilly (“Would you like to supersize your order to get a large moonshine and side order of meth?”) or someone trying to emulate a hillbilly (“Would you like to supersize your order to get a large Mountain Dew and a side order of … ‘meth’?”)

Standard villain menacing, really, although labeling the red blotching “CALLIE’S BLOOD” is awkward. If your threats are any good, they shouldn’t need explanatory notes. (The smoke-machine trick was used to better effect in Reel Thrills.) Frank and Joe investigate relatively competently, but they get nowhere. When they look into who dropped the fire curtain, no one saw anything, and Chet is particularly unhelpful: “I saw angels … They were all wearing hip boots and they were singing.” Chet was stoned, but he retained the presence of mind to try to play his flighty language off as describing dreams.

The brothers’ competence is only relative to other mysteries, since Frank and Joe get locked backstage at the theater twice. The second time, Joe pulls a lever, opening a trapdoor that drops an unconscious Callie on Frank. There’s a joke here about Frank not knowing what to do with a woman, even when she falls into his arms, but Callie’s unconscious, and I feel uncomfortable about making the joke. It’s there, though, if you want to follow it through; I mean, the author just left it there. Take it if you want it.

For the second mystery in a row, the criminals throw the Hardys a curveball: all the crimes aren’t being committed by the same people, and two different sets of malefactors are acting at cross purposes. The person who keeps threatening Callie to get her to quit the play should be obvious: Lyla Spring, who auditioned for the same part and is serving as Callie’s understudy while also working as the assistant to tyrannical director Paul Ravenswood. “I’m sick of Callie getting all the breaks,” she says after confessing. “I’m an actress too, you know. I’m good, I’ve studied, but I’m just not as pretty as she is. You all just take me for granted” (135). She is a decent actress — Frank and Joe don’t consider her as a suspect — and it has to be frustrating watching those in the Hardys’ orbit getting all the breaks. I feel for her.

Especially since the Hardys couldn’t help her when she needed it. Lyla has a sister who disappeared two years before Criminals. According to Lyla, “You think I forgot how you and Joe jumped into action when Deirdre ran away — even when the cops told you to lay off?” Frank apologizes and says, “We tried.” Deirdre’s disappearance is put early in Frank and Joe’s career: “two years ago,” which would have happened at the same time as the earliest Hardy Boys books. As far as I can tell, this is the only book in which Lyla or her sister is mentioned, so why use them to hang a failure on Frank and Joe? Deirdre Spring’s disappearance is placed in the very select list of Hardy Boys failures, right next to their inability to find Harry Tanwick from the original Disappearing Floor. Hey! Maybe Deirdre ran off with Harry … or was done in by him. Or maybe she did him in and fled — I dunno.

Still, however much I feel for her, Lyla put Callie’s life in danger several times, and she stole the tiara, which put Callie in even more peril. She’s not innocent. She’s just up against the Hardy-Industrial Complex, and no one can defeat that. To dare to overcome it is to risk madness — or prison time. Lyla doesn’t seem to have been arrested, so surely insanity is in her future.

Some of the rest of the cast are briefly suspects, mainly because they’re actors. Joe quotes “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” from Showboat: “Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly,” but instead of saying he can’t help lovin’ that man (or girl) of his, he ends the quote with “actors can be weirdos” (71). He’s not wrong, but it’s a strange way to end the allusion. The weirdest is Amelia McGillis, who is a kleptomaniac. She says things like “primo straight-arrow guy” (67) and “How did a nice duck like him go swimming in this quicksand?” (149). She also fakes attacking Frank and Joe with a bread knife. Still, Frank and Joe can’t pin anything on her because she didn’t do anything.

The break-ins are also easy to unravel, although it takes Frank and Joe a little too long to figure that out. Since Harry Hill is abnormally interested in that tiara, making ridiculous offers for its return, he should be an obvious suspect. Frank and Joe eventually investigate, and a trip to a New York jeweler reveals the tiara was full of real diamonds, not paste. Hill is a fence, and his nephew, who briefly replaced Chet in the play, is his accomplice. Frank and Joe trap the nephew after he follows them to New York the day of the play’s opening, all but getting him to confess. He gets revenge on the Hardys by posing as a terrorist Frank Hardy in a call to the police, but even after Frank and Joe are put in handcuffs, one phone call to BPD officer Con Riley springs them, and they make it to the theater in time.

When Hill and his nephew try to steal the tiara during the play, Frank and Joe go on stage dressed as policemen (their actual roles) and use props and stagecraft to knock the villains down. The police show up and arrest the pair. It was a dumb plan, and Frank and Joe knew it; their planning involved phrases like “Hopefully, [Con Riley] will show” (140) and “‘Maybe … [Con]’s on his way.’ It was more a wish than a statement” (143) and “It was a risky move, but then their whole plan was risky!” (145). Still, they avoid getting shot, and the villains are caught. With a final Chet joke, said by the brothers in unison, the mystery is over … until next time.