Borrowing from the past: Frank and Joe have their pilots’ licenses, although Frank hints they got their certification via ATAC. Frank and Joe start learning to fly in The Ghost at Skeleton Rock (#37) and get their licenses in The Mystery of the Chinese Junk (#39).
Frank and Joe are part of the swim team at Bayport High; Joe swims short sprints and relays, while Frank holds the school record in the 4x400 medley. The boys have been swimmers since the beginning but have never been described as part of the swim team; the closest, really, was in the revised Figure in Hiding (#16), where Frank and Joe were described as “expert surf riders.” (EDIT: In Revenge of the Desert Phantom (#84), Joe is the captain of the swim team and holds the “best time in the hundred-meter freestyle.” Not sure how I missed that.) Frank claims Joe is a black belt in aikido and “a pretty fair hand” at tae kwon do. These are newer disciplines for Joe, who has used judo, jujitsu, and karate numerous times (as well as boxing and wresting) to subdue crooks.
Just as in the old, old days, Aunt Trudy seems like a meddling biddy, acting as a drill sergeant for household chores and complaining about Girl Scouts.
Hip or not: I’m going to stop mentioning “bro” soon, but it still bothers me too much to let it go here, as Joe calls Frank “bro” as they’re about to be drowned in corn. This comes a half page after Frank travels to the ‘80s and uses “No duh” non-ironically. A suspect profile notes there’s “no cheese like bling-bling,” which makes me want to hurt someone very intensely and very personally.
Mission difficulty: Low. No undercover operations, no death threats (attempts, yes). Frank and Joe don’t even bother to hide their investigation this time. Actually, why this is an ATAC mission is beyond me; jewel robberies in Atlantic City — sorry, Ocean Grove, N.J. — is not exactly a youth-oriented crime. “Q.T.” — the director of ATAC — says Ocean Grove has increasingly attracted young people, but I’m not buying it.
Threat assessment isn’t exactly Frank and Joe’s strong suits. In the action scene that starts the book, Frank mentions he called the sheriff to set up a roadblock so the drug-smuggling farmer wouldn’t escape — “just in case we were walking into a deathtrap.” If I’m worried about walking into a deathtrap, I want the sheriff to rescue me. Avoiding being buried beneath several tons of corn is more important, I think, than catching some dimwit who allows random teenagers near his smuggling operation. He’ll turn up, probably telling some fast-food worker who catches his eye that he can score some dope, easy.
Frank and Joe also believe using a banner from an advertising plane as a parachute is a good idea. It is, to use a technical term, not. Frank and Joe should have been turned into sticky red Hardy jam after trying this one.
Once a cop: Fenton drives a Ford Crown Victoria, the most popular cop car in America.
Is making no sense a criminal trait? When Frank and Joe ask “Bump” Rankowski how he got his nickname, he points to his tricked-out private airplane and says, “She’s good for a bump or two!” Maybe it’s an embarrassing story, but I have a feeling Mr. Rankowski just doesn’t want to have to be the one who explains certain realities to Frank and Joe.
Language!: A Russian selling taffy in Ocean Grove says “boychick” is Russian for “boy.” It is not; it’s Yiddish. It’s an affectionate term for a boy or (less often) man. Another immigrant telling the boys, “You shut face, okay?” is much better.
That’s more like it!: Joe gets kicked in the eye by a cow, which somehow emasculates him, but when the chips are down, he shows he’s still got it: when a drowning girl is being menaced by a shark, he tells Frank to save the girl while he fends off the shark. It doesn’t matter that the shark turns out to be an overturned surfboard; that’s some Hardy courage and a damn sight better than being scared by coyotes.
Joe’s pick-up line of the book: After a woman saves them from drowning in the tide, she wants to know what the story is. Joe says, “How about we tell you all about it over lunch tomorrow?” She shoots him down because he has two black eyes, but it’s fairly smooth.
Opinions: Other than persistent references to ATAC and Frank and Joe lying to the Hardy womenfolk about what they’re doing, this is much like the digests that come before it in tone and plot. Unfortunately, it’s kinda boring. The villains’ plot is stupid, and Frank and Joe’s investigative technique consists of barging up to people and asking if they did it or who they think did it. Making Joe the plot’s butt-monkey doesn’t win any points either.
Putting Frank and Joe on the swim team does have a side affect — it amuses me to no end thinking Frank and Joe have to shave like swimmers do. Joe would probably be inordinately proud of this, while Frank would be mortified.
Grade: C. Just kinda dull, although at least Frank and Joe are allowed to work this case by themselves.