Thursday, October 16, 2008

Double Jeopardy (#181)

Double Jeopardy coverPlot: Student reporters Frank and Joe investigate sabotage at a Formula One race in Indianapolis.

“Borrowing” from the past: Frank and Joe are sent to the race as representatives of the Bayport Herald: Frank as a reporter, Joe as a photographer. The Herald has appeared, among several other Bayport papers, in The Mystery of the Samurai Sword (#60). This is the first time Frank and Joe have worked in journalism. Which is surprising, given that sailor, elephant tender, and cowboy are among their one-week careers.

Although Frank claims to be very big into bicycle racing, he’s never really cared about it before. (Although a bicycle race made up part of the Speed x5 race (#173).) The Hardys have used bicycles to get around during The Flickering Torch Mystery (#22), which was during the gas rationing of World War II, and The Mystery of the Samurai Sword (#60).

Joe mentions working in the pits in the Indy 500. Although neither should be on pit row in an actual competitive situation, both boys are accomplished mechanics, with many instances of repairing automobiles. The most famous feat was restoring a lemon of a roadster bought in The Shore Road Mystery (#6) into something to be proud of. Joe has been described as “mechanically minded” (revised Hidden Harbor Mystery, #14) and as liking “nothing more than a mechanical problem” (A Figure in Hiding, #16). He also fixes a sabotaged car in The Mystery of the Flying Express (#20). Frank hotwires a truck in the revised Secret of the Old Mill (#3) and repairs a carburetor in The Arctic Patrol Mystery (#48).

The Brickyard: Although the author goes out of his way to not say it, the track the story takes place at is the fabled International Motor Speedway. It’s the site the Indianapolis 500, although the track is reconfigured for Formula One and only uses part of the best-known Brickyard track. The race itself is almost certainly the United States Grand Prix, which has been held in a half dozen other sites in the past century and has been had many spans when it was discontinued; we’re in one now, as the last USGP was last year, and there is no next date scheduled, although Formula One and the IMS leave the open the possibility the race will resume in the future. It is, as a fellow reporter notes, the only Grand Prix in America.

Formula 409: Americans are familiar with NASCAR and to an extent Indy cars. Joe himself mentions he and Frank have attended an Indy 500 and a few NASCAR races. Formula One doesn’t make as big an impact on the American sporting consciousness. But the some of the claims made in Jeopardy that might seem surprising are accurate. The F1 circuit is made up of 18 races or Grands Prix. Frank refers to Kellam Martin as “the American driver”; it seems strange, but there are actually no American drivers in F1 in 2008. Noah notes each team has a budget of a quarter billion dollars; although he makes it sound as if it were for just that race, that is in the estimated range of a team’s annual budget.

And now, coming out of nowhere … : In the middle of the race coverage, in the middle of the mystery, Frank enters a bike race in a velodrome in Indianapolis. For heaven’s sake, why? What drama can a throwaway storyline like this possibly generate? For additional ludicrousness, Frank brings his “prized bike” that had won “a couple” races to Indianapolis with him.

You said “screw”: Becky, a PR woman, uses the word “scrutineering,” meaning the verification that the team is following the rules. The term is used correctly, but any teenage boy with a working sense of humor would giggle like a ninny at the word. Needless to say, Frank and Joe are stoically silent.

Competence!: When Becky reveals she knows the Hardys are usually investigators, not reporters, Joe wants to know how she found that out. Becky basically says she looked it up. Frank and Joe didn’t have a cover identity, but they seem a little off balance that someone can find out about them by, you know, being good at what they do.

That’s how it works, Joe: While Joe sneaks up on a suspect’s isolated house, the narrator says, “Every step brought him closer to the house — and farther from safety.” I get the second part of the sentence, but the first: of course every step brings him closer to the house. Unless he’s wandering in a random direction, that’s where he’s trying to go.

Stylin’: Frank and Joe work as servers at a charity function dressed in cargo pants and sweaters. Stay classy, F1 and Indianapolis!

Opinions: The setting isn’t quite right for the Hardy boys, and I question the wisdom of dropping Frank and Joe into a world-class racing event allegedly crawling with reporters and then making them the best investigative journalists ever. The Hardys should be part of smaller events you’ve never heard of, the ones just starting up or about to die out, visiting battlefields whose claims to fame are minor. They aren’t international men of mystery, after all.

The central mystery comes across as interesting, one of those rivalries escalating into violence scenarios that predominate a certain kind of Hardy Boys story. And there are some fun moments. The isolated house in the woods is nice, and the villain attacking Frank with a dinosaur skeleton is a unique touch. If only there hadn’t been so many distractions — a velodrome? Who cares about a velodrome?

Frank and Joe come across as spoiled — as if having Fenton for a father hasn’t already allowed them free rein (Joe picks a lock and does some major-league hacking in Jeopardy). Joe mentions he has driven an Indy car at IMS, and he gets to take a spin in an F1 car during Jeopardy. (Remember just how much the budget for an F1 team is, and you’ll realize how much a privilege that is.) Joe also says he and Frank worked the pits in an Indy 500 “a few years” before. And they get to go to the only American F1 race instead of, you know, experienced reporters. I’m sure the Herald has a sports editor or reporter who’s just waiting in a dark alley for Frank and Joe to return, slapping his palm with a 2x4, muttering, “I’ll show them my byline …”

Grade: D+. Vroooom!

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