Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Caribbean Cruise Caper (#154)

Caribbean Cruise Caper coverPlot: Frank and Joe are called upon to consult during the Teenway teen detective contest in the Caribbean, and of course it’s being sabotaged from within.

Borrowing: Both Hardy brothers are allegedly taller than six feet. I can’t find a concrete measurement of their height before, but as recently as 1985 (The Skyfire Puzzle, #85), Joe is supposed to be 155 pounds. In the original Great Airport Mystery (#9), Joe was only 125. I doubt he’s supposed to be that light today, but he’d be quite a beanpole if he were. At 125, he’d almost be emaciated.

Frank has generic martial arts skills, although he never really bothers to use them. He’s used karate, judo, and jujitsu in the past.

The boys make a stopover in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which they visited in The Ghost at Skeleton Rock (#37).

We can be heroes: There’s more music in this one than most. When Joe gets distracted by a boat, Frank paraphrases a David Bowie song to get his attention: “Ground control to Major Joe.” Joe tells a reporter about a previous case in which he and Frank went undercover as actors in a Broadway musical; even though the brothers have shown musical talent in the past (mostly guitar and drums, although Frank sings a “country and western duet” in Track of the Zombie, #71), they should have been stagehands. And while on a stakeout, Joe mentally recites the lyrics of his favorite golden oldies to stay awake. Of course it’s golden oldies; it’s the most controversy free music known to man.

Shut up!: Jason, the contestant who turns out to be very weakly sabotaging the contest, is tripped up when he says his hometown airport (Dallas-Fort Worth) is nothing special. If there’s anything I’ve learned from reading Encyclopedia Brown and the Hardy Boys, it’s that criminals would be better off just shutting up because there’s always a decent explanation for their slip ups. Joe says DFW is the size of Manhattan, which Jason should have known. Really? At age 17, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to compare airport sizes, nor would I have cared.

Frank and Joe should have busted her for fashion crimes: Bettina Dunn is introduced as looking as if she had stepped out of a fashion magazine, but her fashion sense is atrocious. No sooner does she get onto a boat than does she change into bell bottoms; later, she’s in a light green dress “decorated with sea horses and anchors.” Another contestant wears “bright orange jams,” but it is in a tropical paradise in the ‘90s, so I’ll let it slide.

Worst criminals ever: The adults make a big deal out of the pranks that disrupt the contest, but they’re minor stuff. Plastic spiders placed on a cake, ordering fifteen pizzas (an escalation Frank describes as “ambitious” and Joe thinks will “wreck the contest”) … if that’s the worst they can do, just ignore them. There is the syrup of ipecac in the sorbet, but it’s a very low dose. A prank in bad taste, a very noticeable prank … but man, that is minor-league villainy.

Of course, Frank and Joe are the perfect teens to find the prankster. When Frank embarrasses Joe in front of a girl, Joe’s idea of revenge — quickly discarded — is to short sheet Frank’s bed. Haw!

Wait until he tells his parents: In the harbor in San Juan, Joe instantly falls in love with … a 50-feet boat. I feel bad for the Sleuth; when Joe breaks the news about his true feelings, she’ll be crushed. Not to mention how Iola will react …

Bilocation is a difficult skill to master: For some reason, Joe thinks he’ll be able to keep track of four or more people in a tropical island market. Joe is fooling himself, or else his omnipotence is on the blink.

Opinions: There’s not much here. The pranks are less than dangerous, and the Dixon seems to be building mountains out of molehills. Frank makes sure to point out the most likely suspect is the one who’s probably guilty, which is only a news flash in a spectacularly dull-witted book. Frank sees a skull and crossbones painted on a bulletin board and comes to the conclusion of pirates rather than poison, even though the contestants had just been administered ipecac. Frank and Joe are foiled by a punk using a pitcher of papaya juice. A contestant is knocked out by a volleyball. A volleyball!

Two incidents show how low the stakes are and how desperate the author is to build tension. First, when the main villain, a crewman on the boat, is introduced, Frank sees him ignoring the contestants and thinks “the guy lived in another world that just happened to run side by side with the one” the passengers are in. Or else he’s not supposed to fraternize with the passengers. One or the other — a dangerous mental disconnect or obeying ship regulations.

Second, Joe waits in a closet to ambush a thief. He watches the thief come into the room … and then lets her escape because he got something in his eye. When he finally pursues her, she beats him senseless with a wooden stool. An unathletic teenage girl! That’s awful. Weirdest part? Frank says the stakeout “worked fine.”

Grade: D-. We don’t even get to find out who won the contest!

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