Friday, July 22, 2016

Mystery on Makatunk Island (#125)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Robot's Revenge (#123)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Mystery in the Old Mine (#121)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Trouble at Coyote Canyon (#119)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Schedule / Prime Time Pirates / Loup Garou / real authors

As I mentioned in last week’s update, this week’s book will be Trouble at Coyote Canyon (#119) because I’ve already covered #117 (The Baseball Card Conspiracy) and #118 (Danger in the Fourth Dimension). The next book after Coyote Canyon will be #121 (The Mystery in the Old Mine), as neither my local library nor I have #120 (The Case of the Cosmic Kidnapping).

***

To help Frank prepare for Four O’Clock Scholar in The Prime-Time Crime (#109), Joe asks Frank who won the 1979 World Series. Frank guesses the Phillies, which is incorrect; the correct answer is the Pittsburgh Pirates. Twenty-five years after The Prime-Time Crime, 1979 is still the Pirates’ most recent championship. Coincidentally, the cover artist who took over with #113, Daniel R. Horne, is a Pirates fan and put a greeked version of a classic Pirates cap on the cover of The Baseball Card Conspiracy.

***

In Rock ‘n’ Roll Renegades, Chet tells Joe that he should play Loup Garou, which neither Frank nor Joe has heard of. (“Loup Garou” is a French phrase for a werewolf-type creature — or just a werewolf, if you like direct mapping of one culture onto another.) It could be a joke on the Hardys expense, making fun of their lack of musical knowledge, but I bet the author is referring to a real band. I can’t find any information on a musical group that would have existed at that time with that name. Anyone know who Chet’s referring to?

***

According to a site that bills itself the Hardy Boys Unofficial Home Page, Rock ‘n’ Roll Renegades was written by Chris Lampton. That site has Lampton down as the author of nine books, beginning with Danger on the Air (#95) and ending with The Case of the Cosmic Kidnapping (#120). Lampton himself, however, says he wrote ten digests. (Both Lampton and the Hardy Boys fan site above mention Casefiles #65 as well.)

The complete list of Hardy Boys books Lampton claims to have written are:

Looking at that list, it’s fair to say Lampton was a pretty good Dixon. Dungeon of Doom, The Secret of the Island Treasure, and Prime-Time Crime are excellent books, and the only real objection I had about End of the Trail was that it was so short. None of the others were bad, really, although they had their shortcomings.

Most of his books were set around Bayport, with much of the action set around some new interest / hobby of the Hardys or Chet. (That’s not exactly an unusual description of any Hardy author, really.) You can pick out some areas Lampton concentrated on: TV and radio broadcasting, computers and video games (his bio says both are interests), and sci-fi / fantasy fandom. He introduces the boys’ work at WBPT, but he’s not the only writer who used it: another (unknown at this time) writer picked it up for Spark of Suspicion (#98).

Also, this list shoots a hole in my theory that the same person wrote Video Villains (#106) and Mystery with a Dangerous Beat (#124). Since both books mention the video game Hack Attack, I thought the two probably shared an author. It turns out it was either an observant editor or writer who picked up the game’s name from Video Villains. According to the Unofficial Home Page, the author of Dangerous Beat was Frances [sic] Lantz. That should be Francess Lantz, who wrote many juveniles, including the first six Luna Bay surf series books.

At his blog, Lampton talks about writing Terminal Shock, which he mentions he originally titled The Computer Clue. He also mentions another article about Terminal Shock written less than three months ago.

Lampton has written a number of non-fiction books, mostly for the publisher Franklin Watts. His fiction includes three sci-fi / fantasy books under his own name (The Seeker, Cross of Empire, and Gateway to Limbo). He also wrote three books under the name Dayle Courtney, the pseudonym for the author of the Thorne Twins book series. The Thorne Twins was a series of nineteen books in which twins Eric and Allison used Christian principles to solve mysteries.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Rock 'n' Roll Renegades (#116)

Rock ‘n’ Roll Renegades coverSo Joe gets yet another “job” in Rock ‘n’ Roll Renegades: he’s a disc jockey at WBBX, which evidently plays classic rock.

Joe started out as a summer intern at WBBX, but he was promoted when a DJ, Keith Wyatt, proved unreliable. After getting the job, Joe immediately becomes insufferable, explaining such difficult-to-understand radio slang as PSA (“public service announcement”) to Chet and Frank. But he’s getting respect from the station management, as Joe’s show is the most popular in his time slot among listeners 12 to 25. (It’s an odd age range, mixing pre-teens with adults, but it’s one Arbitron uses.) Also, Chet is intimidated by the grade-school math Joe uses to make the music and pre-recorded segments, like the news, run on time.

On the other hand, Chet references Joe’s bout of stage fright in Danger on the Air (#95) to put the youngest Hardy in his place. Joe’s witty rejoinder is to call Chet a “spazzo,” and I have to admit, the boys’ verbal sparring here is excellent. Teenage boys always give each other crap, even if they’re good friends, and that’s what Chet, Joe, and Frank do here.

For those playing along at home, WBBX hasn’t been mentioned before; the only radio station that has been mentioned is WMC in The Mystery of the Flying Express (#20). In this book, WBBX has been around a while, but since its first record played was “I Am the Walrus” from Magical Mystery Tour, the station can’t be older than 1967. (Side note: “I Am the Walrus” was actually the B-side of “Hello, Goodbye.”) WBBX, in reality, is an AM gospel station in Kingston, Tenn.

The mystery begins when a pirate radio station, Skull and Bones, knocks WBBX off the air during Joe’s shift by broadcasting at WBBX’s frequency. While Frank discusses the situation with Bill Crandall, the station manager, a fake grenade crashes through the window. Frank rushes outside and finds Wyatt, who denies throwing the grenade and calls Joe a “wimp” (does being a DJ require a superabundance of masculinity? Do DJs have to engage in combat with other DJs and vicious callers? Perhaps toss control boards through windows?). Frank and the police are forced to accept Wyatt’s protestations of innocence. Crandall and the FCC ask the brothers to investigate so that they can jail the pirate leader, Jolly Roger.

As Joe is about to end his shift, he gets shocked by a booby-trapped control board. He’s fine, of course — he has been shocked badly four times in the canon, including getting hit by lightning in The Disappearing Floor (#19) — and he waves away Crandall’s offer of an ambulance. That should teach Wyatt not to call Joe a wimp (if Wyatt had anything to do with the sabotage, which he didn’t).

Frank suggests they follow Wyatt to the Seven Thirty club, which Joe immediately remembers: “Oh, yeah … It’s a real dive, in a crummy neighborhood” (34). How do you think Joe knows about dive bars? Is he secretly a hipster who thinks it’s ironically cool to visit run-down bars? Does Iola crave the danger presented by the sleazy environs and rough habitués and insist Joe accompany her, flirting with thugs and lowlifes and forcing Joe to fight them?

Oh, sorry, drifting into fanfic again. I really should look into something that will stop me from doing that. Do you think electroshock would work? I mean, it has no effect on Joe, as we’ve established, but he’s a Hardy, impervious to tissue damage and learning.

You might think being underage would make my little Iola fantasy implausible, but Frank and Joe waltz in without opposition, so I see no reason why the Seven Thirty Club would get uptight about an underage girl. Anyway, Frank and Joe immediately spot Wyatt. He’s relatively forthcoming, telling Frank and Joe that Jimmy Collins hires DJs for Skull and Bones after Wyatt gets in a shot calling the brothers “Hardydum and Hardydee” (36). (The insult doesn’t make sense, but Joe still bristles.) The discussion degenerates into an insult contest — Joe wins on points — before Wyatt’s burly friends chases the Hardys away. Joe actually gets to use a karate kick during the escape, but the truth is they had to flee. Hopefully, they edited that part out when they met Iola and Callie at Mr. Pizza later.

The next day, the Hardys get a ride to the SS Marconi, the home of Skull and Bones, from the irritable and insane Capt. Steelheart. Collins hires Frank and Joe as the DJ combo of “Big Brother and the Renegade Kid” (57); when Wyatt shows up looking for a job, the Hardys convince him not to rat them out by promising to do Wyatt a favor. (I’m sure they will never pay off this favor.) While they work for a totally illegal radio operation, Chet fills in at WBBX with delightful radio incompetence; as a bonus, he receives a gas bomb on his first day.

Frank and Joe’s next step is to find out who owns the warehouse Capt. Steelheart uses as his base. For some reason, Frank and Joe are able to find property records at the library instead of the courthouse; the records and a friendly librarian tell them the warehouse is owned by former radio station owner Ben Harness, who now is a record producer. After Harness’s secretary stonewalls them, Frank and Joe track Wyatt instead. They find him heading out on Barmet Bay on a motorboat. Frank and Joe follow in … in … in …

A rented motorboat. No mention is made of the Sleuth. Honestly, I don’t think the Sleuth has been mentioned yet in the digests; looking over my notes, it seems the Hardys’ motorboat appears only in Crime in the Kennel (#133) and High-Speed Showdown (#137). (During a hovercar chase in The Secret of Sigma Seven [#110], Frank mentions his love of speedboat racing without mentioning the Sleuth.) Wyatt meets a mysterious man; when they follow that man’s boat to his estate, they are quickly caught and “frisked with professional efficiency” (91). (Which is more than Iola and Callie can hope for — zing!) The rich guy is Harness, who allows Frank and Joe to annoy him with questions for longer than I would have, but even his patience runs out eventually. Frank and Joe conclude Harness is working a payola scam with Wyatt.

Frank and Joe think they’re getting somewhere, but Crandall pulls the rug from under them: WBBX is going under, so who cares if they find out who Jolly Roger is? Station owner Charlie Horwitz, who just bought out his partner, promises to give Joe a recommendation if he ever applies at another station, but everyone — even the reader, especially the reader — knows that’s not going to happen.

Of course Frank and Joe soldier on; of course they’re in over their heads. After pulling all the circuit breakers at Harness’s offices, they pose as electricians to look at his records. They learn the Jelly Roll Corp. is renting Steelheart’s warehouse, but Jelly Roll is as fake as Chet’s latest diet plan: the only thing at the company’s address is a wrecking ball, which someone tries to use as a blunt object against them. They manage to escape, of course.

While working their shift at Skull and Bones the next day, Joe figures out who Jolly Roger is when he matches Horwitz’s signature to the address on the envelope the gas bomb was mailed in. Unfortunately, Frank doesn’t cut his mike while they’re talking; Collins stops the revelation from hitting the airways, but he calls his boss to take care of the Hardys. Horwitz and his bodyguard arrive on his yacht to take care of the Hardys permanently, then decides to eliminate Collins and Wyatt as loose ends as well. Just as the explanations end and the executions are about to begin, Steelheart and his men set off an explosion on the Marconi. Horwitz was using Steelheart’s smuggling operations — golly, it’s nice to have a smuggler in the books again — to blackmail him into cooperating, so Steelheart decided to blow up his own ship to spite his blackmailer. Steelheart isn’t all that stable.

A chase between Steelheart’s barge and Horwitz’s yacht ensues, with everyone including the bodyguard chasing Horwitz. (The bodyguard didn't appreciate being abandoned on a sinking ship, and he puts bullet holes in the yacht’s gas tank in retaliation.) Joe not only ends up knocking Horwitz out, but he also sneers at the unconscious man — sneering is what villains do, Joe — and calls him “cream puff” (146). Thus ends Horwitz’s brilliant plan to cheat his business partner out of half of WBBX (Skull and Bones would have gone off the air after the sale was final) while thumbing his nose at old rivals, like Harness and Steelheart.

Another successful mystery. But when Joe wants to return to his “job,” he finds that Chet and his malapropisms are even more popular than Joe was among the youth. Ah, the fickleness of the entertainment business! Also, the fickleness of Chet and Joe, because neither of them will ever talk about their radio careers again.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sabotage / Renegades / Coyote Canyon

So, bad news if you were interested in seeing a write-up of Hardy Boys #115, Sabotage at Sports City: I don’t have it, the local library doesn’t have it, and I ain’t spending $4 to buy it online. (Maybe I will in the future, but not now.)

That means the book I’ll be writing about for Friday is Rock ‘n’ Roll Renegades (#116), a story of pirate radio and Joe Hardy’s career as a disc jockey. Riveting! Trouble at Coyote Canyon (#119) will come after that, since I’ve already written about The Baseball Card Conspiracy (#117) and Danger in the Fourth Dimension (#118).

If you’re wanting a little peek into the future after that, I’ll be covering:

  • The Mystery in the Old Mine (#121)
  • The Robot’s Revenge (#123)
  • Mystery on Makatunk Island (#125)
  • Day of the Dinosaur (#128)
  • The Treasure at Dolphin Bay (#129)

That will take me up to Sidetracked to Danger (#130), which I’ve already covered. Since I’ve written about all the books from Sidetracked to Desert Thieves (#141) as well, I’ll be taking a break after Dolphin Bay, and I’ll start up again in late September / early October. I realize that the many hiatuses this blog has taken might lead you to be suspicious that it won't start again, but I promise it will return in the fall.

Probably.

I mean, why wouldn’t it?

I suppose something could get in the way — a life-changing event, the return of Osiris, a good sale at my local bookstore, a really serious hangnail …

But the chances of something like that happening are really slim.

Really. Cross my heart, even.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Case of the Counterfeit Criminals (#114)

The Case of the Counterfeit Criminals coverAt the beginning of The Case of the Counterfeit Criminals, we are supposed to accept the proposition the Hardy Boys series has long insisted was true: that Frank and / or Joe could be defeated in an athletic competition.

Bayport High’s track team is set to take on Holman High, another of the revolving rivals Bayport has competed against. Outside the track facility, Joe almost gets in a scuffle with Holman’s Eric Dresser, who, like Joe, competes in the 100-meter dash. In fact, according to a Holman teammate, Dresser “almost” set the state record in the event. Someone should tell him “almost” counts only in hand shoes, horse grenades, and thermonuclear war, but it unnerves Joe as he goes into the locker room the two teams share. Wait — they share a locker room? Bayport’s athletic department is not making enough money off the Hardys.

Joe slips into his brand-new Wombat athletic shoes … listen, “Wombat” is an awful name for a shoe company, but if I go into why, we’re going to be here all day. Suffice it to say wombats are not fast animals, and if you’re going to name anything after a marsupial, it’s going to be the Tasmanian devil (although Warner Brothers would probably sue you) or the extinct thylacine. Frank is doing well in his event — the long jump — and has a chance to win, but before his competition ends, he watches Joe run. Joe is neck-and-neck with Dresser until his Wombats blow out and give him a twisted ankle. Joe wants to accuse his rival because Dresser was messing with Joe’s shoes before the meet, but it’s obvious he didn’t do it; Dresser’s name might as well be “Red Herring.” The problem must be with the shoes.

The narration never says how Frank finished in the long jump, but Holman High wins the meet. It’s likely that this has happened before, but I can’t remember it. Even more remarkable is that Joe resists Dresser’s needling and lets Bayport teammate Fred Tolliver call Dresser out on his lack of class.

Joe still believes Dresser is the culprit, and he bristles when Frank thinks the accusation has no merit. “Logic … That’s all I ever get from you is logic [sic]” (14). Joe knows, subconsciously if not in a way he can enunciate, that the Hardy Boys never get anywhere using logic. Cases are solved by random blundering and the ineffable machinations of chaos, not through logic.

After a brief stop at Benlow’s, where other shoe buyers nearly riot over their defective Wombats, Frank and Joe head home. Gertrude and Fenton make a brief appearance, then are heard of no more in Counterfeit. Back in the family cellar crime lab, the brothers notice an ultraviolet quality control mark in Frank’s genuine Wombat sneaker but not in Joe’s; on Monday, they head not to school (because why would they do that?) but to the Wombat corporate offices in Holman Heights, about twenty miles from Bayport. After a brief misunderstanding — one which Joe apologizes for — Frank and Joe gets Karla Newhouse, the head of customer relations, and Winston Brinkstead, VP of national sales, to “hire” them to investigate the counterfeit Wombats. Well, no money changes hands, but Brinkstead and Newhouse do loan Frank and Joe their authority, which is as good as Frank and Joe get in the digests.

Almost immediately, Frank and Joe get a baseball with a threatening message written on it thrown at them. I appreciate that someone has decided to use an aerodynamic object with a writing surface to deliver the message, but the threat is lacking: “Back off, or you’ll be out of the game for good” (40). The “game” pun just isn’t good enough. Also, the baseball is Wickford brand (Ted Goring model), which sounds like a line of cricket goods, not baseball.

While Frank and Joe are poking around local Wombat retailers, Frank gets a chance to use his martial arts skills to beat up a pair of attackers. (“Martial arts” in general, not any specific one.) Unfortunately for him, he was attacked by three guys, and he ends up unconscious. After he regains consciousness, Frank and Joe decide they’ve questioned enough shoe sellers and decide one of them — Joe, in this case — needs to go undercover at Wombat’s factory. The standard discouragement follows: someone drops a stack of shoes on Joe, someone tries to poison Frank, a gang tries to road haul Joe … you know, the usual stuff. (Joe does meet Norm Weiss at the factory; Norm’s a cool guy who loves Wombat shoes and gives Joe a cover story when Joe takes too long investigating. Frank and Joe don’t meet too many helpful, nice people in the digests.)

Frank and Joe go to Con Riley, who has “mixed feelings about taking help from” the Hardys (96). I’m sure I would, too — on one hand, they make things easy, gift wrapping investigations, but you’d also have to wonder about your competence after a while. On the other hand, if Frank and Joe are more competent than the crooks, that’s all that matters. Con suggests Frank and Joe were attacked by a criminal from a previous case, but that’s stupid: Frank and Joe’s enemies never come back. They get thrown into the Black Hole of Bayport and never return. No one asks about the Black Hole, lest they end up there as well.

Joe realizes his foreman is part of the counterfeit shoe ring while playing a pickup baseball game during lunch. Frank, back at Benlow’s, is attacked in a dark storeroom and uses a “rabbit punch” (106) that he hoped hit his opponent in the throat. (I’m not sure what Frank and Dixon think a “rabbit punch” is, but it’s a punch to the back of the neck or head. It’s illegal in boxing because it’s too dangerous.) The attacker is either the owner, Benlow, or Dresser, who works for him, but Frank doesn’t know who.

But Frank and Joe are making progress! Since the only one they know who is in on the conspiracy is the foreman, Lincoln Metairie (really), the boys head to the warehouse, where they hear about something happening that night. (The gang also disposes of its paperwork by tearing the evidence into pieces, as if they hadn't heard of paper shredders.) When the brothers return that night, they are fortunate the gang is punctual, as the boys are about to fall asleep at around 10 o’clock or so. Frank and Joe sneak in and find Metairie and three others wrapping up the operation; the boys are discovered, and in the tussle afterward, Joe is captured and Frank knocks himself out on a handtruck.

Metairie and one of his co-conspirators take the trussed-up Hardys in their own van, planning to sink them in a deep pond. But Metairie decides to add a co-conspirator to the body count — one who was in favor of sparing the Hardys — and knocks him out, planning to split his $62,500 among the others. ($62,500 in 1992 is the equivalent to more than $100,000 today.) But of course no knot can hold the Hardys; Joe springs free, and after he surprises Metairie, Frank kicks him into the pond. Saving Metairie has to wait until Frank is freed of his ropes, though; it wouldn’t do for Joe to rescue the villain single handed. The Hardys then call the BPD, which calls the Holman Heights police (because that’s where the Wombat factory is).

At the police station, Joe obliquely references the stateroom scene (“the scene where everybody ended up in a small room”) from A Night at the Opera (“that Marx Brothers movie we saw a while back”). Why can’t he just say the stateroom scene from A Night at the Opera? No one’s going to get mad. It’s a hilarious scene, and more young people should know about. Anyway, Frank and Joe reveal retailers (like Benlow) are involved in the scheme, and they out Brinkstead as the mastermind. Brinkstead blusters, but Metairie promises to testify against him. The criminals in the Hardy Boys books are always running a weird version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, except instead of making their choices isolated from the other, one prisoner always confesses in front of the others so everyone loses. It seems like a low-reward strategy, but what do I know?

The boys’ reward is a new pair of Wombats for Joe, but it doesn’t help him defeat Dresser in the rematch. (Although Wombat’s return policy should have resulted in him getting a new pair anyway.) Dangit, Joe, what’s the point of solving these mysteries if the rewards don’t help you become more famous and more accomplished? You did all that work to save a large corporation some money! Corporations aren’t your friends — they’re just taking advantage of you.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Radical Moves (#113)

Radical Moves coverYou know, Chet gets laughed at for his numerous hobbies, but no one says anything about all the avocations Frank and Joe pick up for a mystery and then never refer to again.

Take, for instance, Radical Moves. Frank and Joe start skateboarding; Joe, in particular, is pretty good at it. Will this be referred to again? No. No, it will not. Just like Joe playing video games in Attack of the Video Villains (#106) and both brothers firefighting in The Smoke Screen Mystery (#105), skateboarding will be forgotten. And how many hobbies has Chet had in that same eight-book period? Two, if you count his attempts to win a costume contest in The Secret of Sigma Seven (#110). Well, three, if you count him playing video games with Frank and Joe in Video Villains, but frankly, Chet didn’t expend enough enthusiasm for the video games or the costume contest to qualify, and in neither case was he completely blind to his incompetence.

So Radical Moves is based on the idea that Frank and Joe are skateboarders now, and Joe’s pretty good. The narrator explains skateboarding to the readers, often using Frank’s thoughts, and yes, it sounds exactly like a middle-aged guy explaining the latest hip youth craze to aliens. By page 40, I was thoroughly sick of the word “thrash” and all its variations, and I despaired that I still had more than 100 thrashin’ pages left to go.

While at the Bayport skatepark a few days ahead of the Bayport (*ugh*) Thrashathon, the Hardy brothers meet Zach “the Hawk” Michaels, whom Joe immediately recognizes as a great professional skateboarder. Frank embarrasses himself by asking about skater lingo (“Hey, just what is a thrasher, anyway?” [3]), and Joe embarrasses himself with his adulation of the Hawk. Zach emulates the Hardys’ stilted speech, and I’m sure he’s making fun of them without them knowing it. But after Frank and Joe foil an attempt to steal Zach’s skateboard by a motorcyclist all in black, Zach decides they’re all right and takes them up on their offer to investigate the attack, even if he’s not willing to tell Frank and Joe about his past.

If you’re wondering: By the time this book was published in 1992, Tony Hawk had been a professional skater for a decade, and he’d been winning championships for almost that entire time. (We have always had Tony Hawk with us.) That’s obviously what the author is referencing with the “Hawk” nickname; when Zach performs a “pop off” — going up over the edge of a half-pipe, then descending — Frank “could see why his nickname was ‘Hawk’” (9). Given that actual hawks can get quite a bit higher (Frank doesn’t seem all that impressed by Zach’s altitude) and aren’t that good at skateboarding, I have to think it’s a reference to Tony.

Zach introduces Frank and Joe to the skateboarding world gathering in Bayport: Rick “Rocket” Torrez, a competitor who is Zach’s ex-best friend; Barb Myers, who sponsors Rocket, used to sponsor Zach, and now doesn’t like Zach very much; Maggie Barnes, a skateboarding reporter “on cable” (18; Joe repeats “on cable” throughout the book, as if skateboarding is equally likely to be found on C-SPAN, The Nashville Network, or ESPN); rival Danny Hayashi, who Zach says “leaves a bad taste in my mouth” (28; I just bet he does, wink wink nudge nudge); and Chris Hall, president of Scorpion Boards and Danny’s sponsor.

Zach is evasive about the root of his bad blood with Barb, Rocket, and Danny, and he won’t tell the brothers about secret deals he’s making with skateboarding companies; Frank and Joe find this extremely suspicious, although why should he trust Frank and Joe with intimate details of his personal life? And why would he divulge information about deals that could net him a fortune? (He eventually tells the brothers about his plans to sell his skateboard design to Hall, and Frank blabs it to Rocket like a total Chet.)

The attacks / attempted thefts keep coming. At Zach’s house, the mysterious rider pushes Zach into an empty pool, then drives off with Zach’s board; in the ensuing chase, Joe tries to run him off the road — total villain behavior from Joe — and the motorcyclist tries the half Ghost Rider, swinging a chain at the Hardys van. (Not a flaming chain, unfortunately.) The chase ends in the Bayport Mall parking lot when the motorcyclist takes a spill going around a delivery van. The rider beats up Frank and Joe but loses the board before he flees. The motorcycle is stolen, which closes up the lead the Hardys bade Lt. Con Riley to follow up on. While the Hardys and Zach were chasing the thief, Zach’s workshop is trashed.

Zach eventually reveals his secrets. Rocket hates him because they used to work together, but Zach robbed the place for skateboard components, and Rocket was fired; Zach then quit Myers’s team out of guilt, which caused Myers to hate him. Zach apologizes to Rocket and says he’ll get Rocket’s job back, even pay back their former employer, but he doesn’t admit he stole Rocket’s idea for a skateboard. (He does say he’ll split the profits 50/50, though, after Frank spills the beans.)

Frank and Joe are left home alone for the second straight mystery; this time the adults are on vacation. It’s a good thing, though, because someone turns on the gas in the Hardy home to … discourage Frank and Joe? No, it seems more likely that someone was trying to kill them, since they were asleep when the gas was turned on and no vague threat was issued, as the villains so often do. Frank and Joe are not concerned, though. I mean, they survived, after all, and the house didn’t explode. Why should they care?

Well, perhaps because Joe at least is left with a “fuzzy feeling and … [a] throbbing at his temples” (77) the next morning. That suggests there might be lingering effects they might want to get checked out, but whatever — that’s not the Hardy way. Frank uses the gas as an excuse to laugh at Joe’s suggestion that someone is watching Zach’s home from the vacant house across the street. Joe’s right, though, and they find food wrappers and a cup with lipstick on it when they finally investigate. Immediately Myers becomes a suspect. Frank and Joe even let the police know about the break-in … eventually. But they don’t visit Riley to tell him what’s going on; they don’t want to get caught up in his “questioning” and “investigating” and “documentation.” The Hardys have to be free to fly and “carve large” (78), just like the Hawk, dude!

Later, Zach cracks his shoulder after someone pours silicon lubricant at the bottom of the pool he uses for skateboarding practice. Zach asks Joe to compete in his place, but after another failed attempt to steal Zach’s board, the Hardys, Zach, and Rocket construct a decoy board. (Frank cannibalizes “an old shortwave radio that had been gathering dust in a closet” [116] for some of the electronics, in case you wondered what had happened to their shortwave sets.) They let the board be stolen and follow the thief to the Bayport Arms Hotel, and they hear the thief’s first name — Danny — before the tracker and bug are destroyed.

After they figure out who the thief is, Frank and Joe are stumped at what to do next. Although it’s true that they might not have much evidence against Danny, they have two weapons in their arsenal they never use, despite how effective they would be: they could accuse Danny of the many crimes that went along with his mugging attempts (fleeing the scene of an accident, assault and battery, and attempted murder), and they could call upon the Bayport Police Department to use its full majesty and authority against him. I mean, this guy attempted to gas Frank and Joe to death! He’s more than a petty thief or even an industrial spy — he’s a menace! Well, really, it was his employer who broke into the Hardy home, but they could still say that unless Danny gave up his boss, Danny was the one who was going to go to jail.

While Joe competes, Frank uses library resources to discover Myers’s company is great shape, so she could pay for Zach’s board design if she wanted. Hall’s company, however, is about to go under, so he probably couldn’t pay Zach anything, despite what Hall promised Zach. Frank is so excited by this discovery he “almost [forgot] to return the volume … to the periodical room” (136). My God, Frank — you’re a monster!

At the competition, Joe battles Danny, but Danny uses his board to knock Joe down. Danny is DQed, and Frank advises having Danny arrested while he investigates Hall. Frank picks the lock on the back of Hall’s truck and finds lockpicks, silicon lubricants, and a black motorcycle riding costume. Hall smacks Frank upside the head and drives away, but Frank rallies the skateboarding community, who pursue Hall. Joe and Rick grab onto the back of Hall’s truck — bad example for the kids! — before vaulting onto the back of the truck. Frank, following on a borrowed board, chases down Hall when he abandons his truck.

Oh, that lipstick on the coffee cup? Total red herring. Myers previously dated Hall and hoped to be cut in on his new skateboard deal (or theft). So … she watched Zach’s place from the vacant house with Hall, witnessing his attempted larceny, vandalism, and bodily harm? Geez. And she gets away scot-free, despite her horrible morals.

The bad guys are arrested; Zach gets Rocket his job back and convinces his old employer to produce his radical board design. Joe, despite his high-intensity training with Hawk and relatively good showing at the *sigh* Thrashathon, decides to give up skateboarding and thrashing.

Thank Odin for that, at least.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Schedule / Notes on Fear on Wheels

The next digest I’ll be writing about is #113, Radical Moves. I don’t have #112, Demolition Mission, and neither does my local library. If I ever get my hands on a copy, I’ll fill in this blank later.

After Radical Moves will be The Case of the Counterfeit Criminals, #114. Unfortunately, I’ll have to skip #115, Sabotage at Sports City, when its turn comes up because, again, I can’t easily lay my hands on a copy, and I’m not going to spend $4 or more to buy a book on eBay or Amazon every time this happens.

If you want to send me a copy, though, let me know in the comments.

***

Some stuff I’ve been meaning to post but just keep forgetting:

The back cover of Fear on Wheels has some odd copy. The description ends like this:

“The only way the Hardys can put [the blackmailer] out of business is to ride straight into the mud pits of his raging diesel-powered bulls!”

I understand “diesel-powered”; I assume some of the trucks and hot rods involved in the show use diesel fuel. But I’ve never heard monster trucks, classic cars, or dragsters referred to as “bulls.” (None of the vehicles drive through mud pits in the book, although I have seen that in truck / tractor pulling contests.)

Using “diesel” and “bulls” so close together concerns me. The only connection I can see between those words is that they are both used, with another slur, to rudely describe certain masculine lesbians. (From what I saw on the Internet before writing this, those terms are sometimes used within the LGBT community but are still seen as insults when used by those outside the community.) But the book only has one female character, Jessica, whose sexual identity is unexplored in the book … although it does describe her as having a “tough, boyish look” because of her black jeans, t-shirt, and boots (17). (That’s her on the cover, although she doesn’t look boyish to me.) That description kinda fits with those slurs, and her career spent on motorcycles would emphasize that masculinity to some people. But you have to squint to make those terms fit well — especially when the next sentence says she has a “childish” face when viewed up close, and her makeup “made her dark eyes look huge.”

And Jessica isn’t the blackmailer, which means puts us back at the beginning: I have no idea why whoever wrote the copy used the word “bulls.”

***

If Fear has a major weakness, it lies in the idea that people are interested in what Grant Tucker is selling. Well, let me rephrase that: obviously people are interested in attending auto shows and auto stunt exhibitions; there’s a reason I know a monster truck named Bigfoot exists, after all. But the ghostwriter (or editor) seems to think the auto stunts can find a place on TV in the early ‘90s, and I’m not sure that’s true. Tucker sold the rights for a live television broadcast of his show, but it’s never stated what kind of television station it is. Is it a local channel airing the show? Maybe, but setting up for an entire TV show — you have to figure it’s going to be an hour broadcast at least, maybe two or more — is beyond a lot of local affiliates’ capabilities. It’s definitely not one of the major networks; they would have much better things to air than a regional stunt show. It could be a cable network, but it’s doubtful any of those (like ESPN) would air it live; the show would benefit greatly from editing.

And then Jessica is rumored to be trying to make a stunt-show pilot for TV. It’s easy to envision a reality show featuring stunt motorcycle riding being successful (or at least being plausible enough to make it to pilot) today, but in 1991? That’s difficult to believe.

Also: Tucker thinks the threats of violence will cause the TV people to back out of the broadcast. Yeah, because TV people hate spontaneity and the prospect of being live at the scene of a tragedy / news event.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Three-Ring Terror (#111)

Three-Ring Terror coverIn 2016, it’s kinda sad to read about the Hardy Boys working a circus mystery.

In the Hardys’ heyday, circuses and the Hardy Boys series were extremely popular. But by 1991, when Three-Ring Terror was published, neither had the cachet they previously held. The Hardy Boys were still popular, of course, but with the original series up to #111 and a dozen titles being published per year across two series, none of the individual books felt as special as they once had. At the same time, the number of circuses was shrinking as their costs rose and ticket sales fell. Today, more than a decade and a half into the 21st century, the Hardy Boys have had their second reboot in less than a decade and seem to be looking for a hook that will attract young readers, while ethical concerns (like the treatment of animals) are chipping away at what little appeal the modern profusion of entertainment options have left circuses.

I believe I’m going to try to forget about that line of thinking and start talking about what happens in the book.

Anyway: Three-Ring Terror. The cover makes it look like some sort of cloning and / or time travel book, with Frank and Joe fighting in the background while Frank and Joe perform on the trapeze in the foreground. But that’s not what the story is about!

Chet wants to be clown, and when the Montero Brothers Circus hits the Bayport Arena with their circus training program, he has his chance. He gets a “clown internship” (4), and he’s planning to spend the entire winter vacation learning the trade; when I was a kid, that would have been extremely unimpressive, as winter vacation was usually about ten days long if you counted Christmas and New Year’s Day. Anyway, Chet’s so eager that Frank and Joe don’t remind him of his numerous hobbies or his propensity for dropping them. In fact, they’re sold on his enthusiasm being more or less permanent: “Boy, you’re serious about this clowning thing,” Frank says after letting out a whistle (26).

Actually, Chet’s already been a clown before, performing as Chesterton the Great for Solo’s Super Carnival in The Mystery of the Whale Tattoo (#47). The last time Chet worked for a circus, in Track of the Zombie (#71), he manned the refreshment stand for the Big Top Circus, which seems like a step back. On the other hand, he planned to stick with the circus for the entire summer, along with Biff Hooper, Phil Cohen, and Tony Prito, so who knows what he got up to? OK, he probably quit after two weeks, either because something else caught his fancy or the Hardys needed his help, but the possibility remains he might have performed in some capacity at the Big Top Circus.

When the Hardys first are introduced to Montero Bros. Circus, Frank and Joe are amazed by the tiger act, although whenever tigers pop up in a Hardy Boys book, I can’t help but remember the boys bringing down a tiger by winging rocks at it in the original Disappearing Floor (#19). The tiger is forgotten when a mystery gets its hooks into them: a juggler drops a ball covered with rhinestones and gropes through Chet’s bag for it, and when Frank confronts the juggler about him rifling through Chet’s stuff, the juggler pushes Frank into the refreshment table and makes a break for it. The juggler escapes easily, while Frank is soaked with soda and punch — ha! — but the boys find a secret code inside the ball: CN / 1220, JL / 103, GU / 214.

The boys are on their own, as Fenton is in Philadelphia “to run a check on someone” at police headquarters (perhaps calling in a favor from Commissioner Andrew Crawford that his boys earned in Shield of Fear [#91]), and Gertrude and Laura are in New York to visit friends (23). They can’t consult ask their father for help, then, or even get a hot meal when their simple secret code mystery is superseded / confused by sabotage at the Montero Brothers Circus. OK: Paul Turner, dean of Circus U. and a member of the circus’s board of directors, doesn’t want to believe the series of accidents is anything malicious, but listen, all y’all, it’s sabotage.

Turner’s job is endangered as more “accidents” occur (such as short stilts being sawed partially through, causing Chet to fall *gasp* five feet), and Frank and Joe are stumped by the both the sabotage and the code. But that may be because their brains had a bad reaction to clown white or something: they find “Bo Costello” and “Clown Alley” remarkably funny names, for instance, and after Turner is stuck in a cannon, the opening of the barrel pointed out of reach above their heads, their rescue is delayed for the minutes it takes them to recall the ladder Turner just used to climb into the cannon. Their work ethic is also top-notch again: when they have an indication that something important, perhaps another act of sabotage, will happen at the circus the next day, they decide to take a night off and watch the circus instead: “One night’s not going to make a difference … we need some R and R [after less than two days of work],” Joe says (97).

Eventually, Frank and Joe link the letters in the code to three people: trapeze artists Carl Nash and Justine Leone and Turner’s assistant Georgianne Unger. Nash and Leone are just performers, but Turner thinks Unger might want to oust him in a circus coup so she can take his job. Turner also says Bo Costello, the director of admissions, would be a better choice to take his job.

(Note: “Circus coup” is one of the coolest things I’ve typed in a while.)

The revelation about the initials doesn’t shed any light on the code itself, so the brothers argue about the code’s purpose and meaning. Joe comes up with a cockamamie theory, but he defends it against his brother’s reasonable objections; when Frank comes up with his own hunches, Joe gleefully punches holes in them. It’s the rare sort of not-nice brotherly interaction between Frank and Joe that rings true while maintaining their partnership, and that’s very much to Three-Ring’s credit.

The only progress they make is to ID the juggler who dropped the ball, Ralph Rosen. The boys spot and chase him a couple of times, but he eludes them. The second time he escapes because Frank and Joe are in clown costumes, but they discover Rosen has just handed another rhinestone-encrusted ball to Leone, who admits she’s supposed to give the ball to Nash. There’s no code inside the ball, but one of its rhinestones does turn out to be a real diamond — so add jewel thefts to the crimes in the book.

Oh, about the clown costumes … early in the novel, Joe is adamant that he will not be a clown: “No way will I put on a clown costume,” he says (41). But he already has performed as a clown, as part of the Big Top Circus in Track of the Zombie. (He was also a clown for the school variety show in the same book.) When Chet invites them to the circus, Joe is afraid Chet will show up in his clown getup: “You wouldn’t embarrass us like that, would you?” (89). When Frank suggests wearing clown costumes to blend in, Joe says, “No way are you getting me in that [costume]” (106). Of course he wears the costume; he protests the wig and clown white separately, but gives way both times. Unfortunately, the comedy of the situation is underplayed, with the author not really referring back to Joe’s embarrassment after he dons the costume.

Back to the mystery: Nash is definitely implicated, as he also was the best suspect for a break-in at the Hardy home; the burglar fled through a window in a very trapeze-like move, and the thief roared away in a car with Texas plates. (Nash is from Texas.) Nash showed up to relieve Chet at the refreshment table the first night, after Rosen lost his juggling ball, so Frank and Joe surmise that might have been a botched handoff between Rosen and Nash. Since Costello assigned workers to the refreshment table, Frank and Joe use a safety pin to perform an investigatory B&E to Costello’s office. (Not even lockpicks! I’m disappointed Frank and Joe didn’t come prepared.) They note dates that correspond to numbers in the code — December 20, January 3, February 14 — marked on Costello’s calendar, and then the realize the letters correspond to appreciations for each city the circus is in on those days; Bayport is abbreviated BP, which becomes CN by moving the first letter one forward in the alphabet and the second two back, while Indianapolis goes from IN to JL and Fort Worth is transformed to FW and GU.

As soon as they make this revelation, Frank and Joe are discovered by Costello and Nash. They tie the two up while they admit the code refers to handoffs of stolen jewels; Costello fences the gems in a different city from the handoff. To get rid of the boys, Costello rigs a fireworks explosion in his office, then he and Nash take off. Frank and Joe manage to escape before the pyrotechnics go off, of course, and they easily find Costello and Nash, who aren’t even trying to hide.

The criminals make a break for it, and they climb onto the trapeze to … well, it’s not really clear what the two are going to do after making it onto the trapeze platforms. The narration hints they’re going to try to escape on a catwalk, but that’s not clear. The brothers climb up the trapeze after them and manage to subdue the crooks. This sounds absurd — two newcomers to the trapeze being able to work at such a height and outfight experienced trapeze artists — but Joe and Frank worked the trapeze in “Big Top” Hinchman’s circus in the original Clue of the Broken Blade.

Rosen isn’t captured at the end, most of the evidence the boys needed was in Costello’s office when it blew up, and no one explained why Costello’s gang needed such complicated handoffs, but other than that, everything’s wrapped up neatly. Great job, kids!

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Secret of Sigma Seven (#110)

The Secret of Sigma Seven coverThe title for #110 is The Secret of Sigma Seven, which in the book is also the title of a movie stolen from a Hollywood director. But the story might as well be Frank and Joe Go to a Science Fiction Convention.

After Frank and Joe mock Chet’s attempts at cosplay (although they don’t call it that — the term hadn't been popularized in America yet), the boys meet Brian Amchick, a guy from Frank’s trigonometry class. Frank deigns to remember one of the little guys who flit through his life, and Brian agrees to introduce Frank, Joe, and Chet to the ins-and-outs of science fiction conventions and their terminology.

BayCon is being held at the Bayport Inn, which has showed up when Chet worked there in Spark of Suspicion (#98). No one brings up Chet’s previous employment in this book, though. Chet is excited about BayCon’s costume party because the prize for the best costume is “a trip to Florida to watch a space shuttle launch” (2). That’s a nice prize, but it shouldn’t be that big of a deal to Chet since he HAS BEEN TO SPACE in a space shuttle.

Let me repeat that: he, along with Frank and Joe, have been in space. They were able to go in The Skyfire Puzzle (#85), the last digest before the year-long hiatus of 1986. But no one mentions this; no one even remembers it either. Joe even says, “Maybe the shuttle will take you along. Then you can become a real space cadet” (3).

Putting aside the undeserved nature of Joe’s putdown, why does no one remember the chums going into space? If I had gone into space, I would never stop talking about it. I’m loathe to hold up The Big Bang Theory as any indication of reality, but after engineer Howard Wolowitz traveled to the International Space Station in that series, he hasn’t shut up about it. Chet should be like that.

Frank and Joe aren’t there for the costume party, though. They have come to BayCon to see The Secret of Sigma Seven, the fifth movie in a sci-fi epic. Sigma Seven is scheduled to make its debut at the convention, and the movie’s director, Simon Devoreaux, has even come with the movie, to give it a brief introduction and serve on a few panels. Frank, Joe, and Chet have enjoyed the previous four installments of the film franchise, and they can’t wait for #5. They end up disappointed, however, as the print of the film that was to be shown at BayCon is stolen before it can be screened.

Frank and Joe decide they aren’t going to investigate unless Devoreaux asks them to, and he’s not interested in talking to them at all. Fortunately for Frank and Joe, Linda Klein, the convention’s organizer, wants them to find the film, so they agree —

Wait. Why is it fortunate for them? They aren’t getting paid, and the person who would benefit the most has no interest in them. Before Klein asks for their help, Frank says, “Maybe we’d better leave this for the Bayport police” (15). He’s right! Well, he would be right, if the Bayport Police could be bothered to do anything, but they don’t appear in the book. In the 21st century, the FBI would probably be called in, either because of the movie studio’s clout or because of copyright infringement concerns, but we don’t see them either. The field is clear for Frank and Joe!

They get their first suspect: someone roaming around Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con wearing different costumes and a green medallion. (Why keep wearing something that identifies him, when he’s in disguise? The answer: He didn’t think it would matter.) The suspect tries to kill Devereaux by giving a real but fake-looking gun to a con-goer and telling him to shoot at Devereaux; he almost tricks Joe into falling down an elevator shaft as well. The suspect seemingly aims a driverless hovercar at Sigma Seven’s special effects director, Jack Gillis. (Gillis tells Chet he has no plans to mass produce the hovercars because he’s “already rich” [39]. If that’s not a reason to suspect him of something, I don’t know what is.)

Frank and Joe wend their way through the convention, accumulating a meager pile of suspects. Acerbic writer Richard Feinbetter hates Devoreaux because he believes Devoreaux’s movies ripped off one of his stories. Feinbetter’s friend, fellow author Arlen Hennessey, hates Devoreaux’s movies in an artistic sense, but he too believes Devoreaux ripped off Feinbetter. The brothers also suspect George Morwood, a “huckster,” as Brian says, who sells video cassettes of movies at the con. He seems shady, and since the Hardys suspect the movie was stolen for the bootleg market, they keep an eye on him. (The author does nail how surly dealers at cons can be, almost like they are reluctant to sell stuff to you.)

I don’t have a suspect for who Hennessey is supposed to represent, but Feinbetter sounds like Harlan Ellison, a cantankerous sci-fi writer who has a propensity for suing those he thinks have wronged him or stolen his intellectual property. (Ellison has claimed the TV show Future Cop and the movie The Terminator were based on his works, and he won damages in those suits. He sued over the movie In Time but later withdrew the suit. He has been involved in numerous other lawsuits and has been extremely critical of how others, like Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, have treated his scripts.)

The fit isn’t exact, though; Feinbetter is a writer from the Golden Age, back in the ‘40s and ‘50s, while Ellison is recognized as part of the vanguard of the ‘60s New Wave. Also, the story Devoreaux is alleged to have stolen from him involves “the Federation of Worlds series of novels”; Ellison has written few novels, and the Foundation / Empire series of Isaac Asimov seems more likely what was being referred to. Of course, “Federation” also calls to mind Star Trek, but that existed as a TV show before it engulfed all media forms.

Also: Feinbetter shoots Frank, Joe, and Brian with a gag gun with a flag that says, “ZAP! You’re star dust!” (55), which I bet Ellison would not do.

Frank and Joe’s detective ethic is less than sterling. They go to lunch without Chet after agreeing to rendezvous with him before the meal, and they don’t even remember him until after they pay the check. Fortunately, Chet’s not in danger; he’s just buying a new costume. After lunch and a panel session, they decide to “take a few minutes off” (65) and visit a sci-fi prop exhibit. When they break into Morwood’s hotel room, they don’t even use their lockpicks: they use a Swiss army knife. In an attempt to get more investigation opportunities, they stay at the Bayport Inn overnight and are introduced to another con tradition by Brian: sleeping on a hotel room floor. (Brian also says staying awake for the con’s full 72 hours is also a tradition; he’s right about both.) Frank and Joe, who are apparently middle-aged, have a rough time sleeping on the floor; Joe even falls asleep during surveillance the next day. (And almost gets stepped on by an elephant, but that’s not important.) With time running out to find the film on the last day of the con, Frank and Joe decide to take a break and watch a movie.

Still, the boys have a high opinion of themselves; Frank says they can perform miracles, although perhaps not on schedule.

After a spear is tossed at Frank, both boys are threatened by a motorcycle gang (not the Flying Skulls from Fear on Wheels, though), and two attempts on Devoreaux’s life, the brothers figure out who did it: Gillis. They aren’t sure why until the FX man tells them he resented Devoreaux; the idea for the movie series was Gillis’s, but Devoreaux relegated him to special-effects director. Gillis paintballs Frank and Joe in the face, which is hilarious to me but should have been painful to Frank and Joe, before fleeing in a hovercar. They recover quickly and pursue Gillis on a low-speed chase in a hovercraft of their own; both vehicles eventually go over the Barmet Cliffs. Somehow, the hovercrafts’ fans take them from terminal velocity to floating on water, and the chase ends when Gillis’s hovercraft is run over by a motorboat.

Brian is impressed by Frank and Joe’s detective work, which Joe claims was, like usual, fueled by “logical thinking and a few brilliant deductions”; Chet cuts him down by saying, “I thought it was usually dumb luck” (147). Joe gets him back on the book’s exit line, though, when Klein insinuates Chet’s about to eat the convention into a financial loss. “‘Chet cut down on his eating?” Joe said with a grin. ‘Now, that’s science fiction!’” (149). I admit: I laughed.