Plot: Frank and Joe accompany Fenton to Paris for a symposium on sports-venue security, and soon find themselves investigating sabotage at Le Stade de France. What are the odds?
“Borrowing” from the past: Frank and Joe go to Paris, which is a venue they’ve seen surprisingly rarely. They hit Paris on their way to war-torn Zebwa in The Revenge of the Desert Phantom (#84). As for the rest of France, they visited Provence in The Castle Conundrum (#168); Fenton was in Paris for a symposium then too. (Perhaps Fenton is a bit of a junket junkie.) Frank and Joe can get by with their command of French, although Frank seems to be a bit better at it. The only time they’ve had to deal with French is in The Ghost at Skeleton Rock (#37), when they could both read the language. Their only other trip to a Francophonic part of the world is when they go to Canada, where they meet French-Canadians even when they’re not in Quebec (especially then, really).
The villain nabs Fenton while he’s away from the symposium. Fenton’s been captured a few times before: most famously and effectively in The House on the Cliff (#2), but also in The Mark on the Door (#13), The Twisted Claw (#18), The Clue of the Broken Blade (#21), The Ghost at Skeleton Rock, The Secret Agent on Flight 101 (#46), The Bombay Boomerang (#49), The Clue of the Hissing Serpent (#53), and The Infinity Clue (#70). He was roughed up pretty thoroughly in The Mystery of the Spiral Bridge (#45) as well.
Huh. That’s a few times more than I figured a top-notch detective with ties to the federal government would be abducted by criminals (and survive).
Despite the claim that soccer is one of Joe’s favorite sports, it hasn’t ever been mentioned in connection to either Hardy. And why should it have been? In the days of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, soccer would have been seen for what it truly was: Communist kickball.
Good to be outstanding in your field: For the second book in a row, Fenton is called overseas to tell those foreign policemen how to do their job. This time, rather than exclusive cultural tours and exotic retreats, Fenton gets all sorts of free electronic gizmos and gadgets: night-vision goggles, tiny concealed microphones / recorders, a pseudo iPhone. Fenton also gets a car and driver to and from the symposium.
Frank and Joe, world tourists: In Paris, a foreign city renowned for its cuisine, what do Frank and Joe make a beeline for? Burgers. French fries. (Although Passport claims fries were created in France, their origin is disputed.) Pizza. Later, the boys make a token effort — croque monsieurs, sausage rolls and pastries, crepes — but you know their hearts aren’t in it.
Not to perpetuate a stereotype ...: Some of the French, including their new acquaintance Jacques, use the phrase “how do you say” or its equivalent. It smacks of laziness on the part of the author. Having Jacques aspire to the awkward title of “King of Computing” does the job much better. On the other hand, none of the English or French assault Frank for calling their national sport “soccer” instead of “football,” so perhaps it all works out in the end.
Remember to hit the tourist spots: Frank and Joe get to not only see Le Stade de France, the Louvre and Les Catacombes, but they get to see them after hours. Sure, they’re left to die in Les Catacombes, but they discover a secret passage in the Louvre. A secret passage in the Louvre! It’s like something out of a Dan Brown novel. Fortunately, neither “da Vinci” or “Code” is mentioned.
Hacking for the public good: When Jacques claims to be a hacker, it raises no red flags with Frank and Joe. Why should it? It might be technically illegal, but they do it, and they frequently convince their friend Phil Cohen to do it. It’s all in the pursuit of justice, much like the lockpicks they frequently use to break and enter.
Finally: practical advice from Fenton: Frank handcuffs a large, violent man using the techniques Fenton had taught and drilled him on. I can honestly say I can’t remember a single instance of Fenton ever teaching his sons the physical side of detecting. On the other hand, I also don’t think he’s taught his sons concussions are serious business, as Joe refuses to go to the doctor after sustaining a head injury.
Opinions: Passport starts intolerably slowly, and it threatens to get bogged down with the French and soccer. Thankfully, it develops into an old-school story: there’s a secret panel and passage into the sewers, Fenton gets captured, and there’s extensive use of gadgets (including lockpicks and penlights). And Frank and Joe use technology without using it to replace actual detecting, so it comes off as a successful book all around.
Grade: B+. It would be an A, but it still has an awful lot the French and soccer in it.