Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Secret of the Island Treasure (#100)

The Secret of the Island Treasure coverPlot: Hurd Applegate sends Frank, Joe, and Chet to represent his interests in digging up a buried pirate treasure in Barmet Bay.

“Borrowing” from the past: The return of Hurd and Adelia Applegate! Hurd showed up in the first Hardy Boys mystery, The Tower Treasure, where he and his sister, Adelia, have been robbed of valuable jewels and securities. He blames the father of one of the boys’ friends, they investigate, Hurd thinks they’re incompetent fools, etc. You know how it goes — a story as old as the hills. He pops up again among the auto thefts in The Shore Road Mystery (#6). In his next appearance in the series, The Great Airport Mystery (#9), he and Elroy Jefferson bail the boys out of jail. His last appearance was in While the Clock Ticked (#11); Hurd gets mixed up in their investigation of death threats to Raymond Dalrymple when he claimed Dalrymple stole his stamps. Hurd saves the boys from a bomb, and the boys find Hurd’s missing stamps. A good time was had by all.

The Hardy Boys also return to Tower Mansion, the site of their first mystery (the theft of $40,000 worth of Applegate’s jewels and securities). In Island Treasure, Frank even mentions Joe falling off the stairs up the tower. Before this story begins, Applegate has sold the mansion, and it’s being turned into condos. Hurd reveals his father, Major Applegate, was the mansion’s first owner.

The Tower Treasure was also the basis for a serial on The Mickey Mouse Club in 1957, titled “The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure.” In that case, the boys (played by Tommy Kirk and Tim Considine) were looking for a pirate treasure, as they are in Island Treasure. The introductory song mentions Applegate’s treasure as “gold doubloons and pieces of eight”; while speculating what the treasure might be in Secret, Joe asks, “Gold? Jewels? Old Spanish doubloons?”

Just as in The Mystery of Cabin Island (#8) and The Secret of the Lost Tunnel (#29), when there’s a simple substitution cipher to be solved, Frank’s your man. Frank manages to decipher a code on a dug-up stone for the location of the treasure.

History is just one fictional thing happening after another: There is a lot of Bayport’s maritime history in this one, and all of it is made up out of whole cloth. Damien, the archaeologist along with the expedition, tells the boys Barmet Bay was discovered by Dutch explorer — fictional, of course — Henrik Schuusten in 1574. (Possibly a play on the name of publisher Simon & Schuster?) Chet chimes in that Schuusten named it Baarmuter Bay, after some important person in the Netherlands. That seems to be fictional as well. (Also: Chet gets to know something neither Frank or Joe knows? Shocking!) Also, as far as I can tell, the Dutch made no major North American expeditions to the New World until the early 17th century, when Henry Hudson claimed New York for the Netherlands.

Damien also says the ocean near Barmet Bay was extensively patrolled by pirates in the 17th century. As for the pirate who left the treasure on Granite Cay, he lists the fictional Henry Dafoe as the chief suspect, although he also mentions Captain Kidd.

Damn teenagers: Frank, Joe, and Chet are told to report to the marina “bright and early” for a day of treasure hunting. Although Joe does arise, chipper, at 7 a.m., they don’t arrive at the marina until 9. That is not, by any stretch of the imagination, bright and early. That’s when bankers show up for work.

Pot. Kettle. Black: Frank nearly gives himself a hernia while trying to throw an anchor overboard, evidently surprised that an anchor would be heavy, even though, as Joe says, “It’s supposed to hold the boat in place.” Frank then calls Joe a “dipstick,” which, although inaccurate, I find charming.

Weirdly, it seems Chet has stolen some of the brothers’ intelligence. Besides knowing about Barmet Bay’s history, he also has timely survival advice: when Joe falls in quicksand and complains that the harder he tries to escape, the more he gets sucked in, Chet tells him, “Then stop trying to get out.” I find this inversion of roles both disturbing and strangely alluring.

Why does Franklin W. Dixon hate Joe?: Maybe it’s an alliance of Franks, but the worst thing that happens to Frank is that he almost falls down the stairs in the tower. Joe falls into quicksand, gets knocked out and almost drowns when the mining pit floods, is the one who almost gets caught by a partially severed rope trap, and is the one who falls unconscious when the pirate poison gas attack is sprung.

Your edumacation for the day: The island treasure plot is largely stolen from the real-world treasure hunt on Oak Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. In many ways, that’s fitting, since many parts of the Oak Island story are probably legends rather than fact.

It’s also fitting since the story begins with three teenage friends in 1795. The three discovered a depression in the dirt on Oak Island beneath a tree with a tackle block on one of the branches, suggesting someone had hoisted something into a hole that had since been filled and settled. The walls of the pit had visible pick marks, there was a layer of flagstones just below the surface, and every ten feet, there was a layer of logs. The boys gave up at 30 feet, which is a hell of a feat for three boys. Remarkably, there are no records of this attempt until 60 years later.

About a decade later, another attempt was made by different hands; this time they dug down to 90 feet, finding logs every ten feet and a layer of charcoal, putty, and coconut fiber at 40, 50, and 60 feet. Before they gave up, they found a stone (since lost) with a coded description translated to say, “Forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried.” The pit flooded before more digging could be attempted; it was believed a channel (never found) lined with coconut fibers between Mahone Bay and the pit allowed the pit to flood when the protective seals (putty, charcoal, and coconut fiber) were removed. No one has ever gotten closer, and the bottom of the pit collapsed (either through a booby trap or natural means) in 1861. More modern technologies have given tantalizing glimpses below, but no one has actually found anything of value on the island.

In Island Treasure, many of those details are kept. The diggers find flagstones, one of which has a coded message that says, “Twenty feet below lies the greatest treasure of them all.” The flooding trap is unsealed when they open a door, but Damien quickly defeats it with cement at the source of the channel. There’s also a wooden platform (albeit one with a door in its middle.) On the other hand, they didn’t find the skeletons of pirates on Oak Island, so Island Treasure is one up on them there. They also didn’t find a treasure chest booby-trapped with poison gas, but exhaust from pumps in the pits tended to have the same — albeit more deadly — results. Four members of the Restall family excavation died from fumes in the 1960s.

Bad archaeology is what he needs: It’s obvious Damien has sold out to the Man on this one. When the Hardys, Chet, and other workers start unearthing skeletons at the bottom of the pit, Damien doesn’t even try to do any real archaeology work. Just put them in the bucket and keep using those big shovels to get to the bottom, boys! Don’t worry about spade marks on skeletons or disturbing artifacts! Get the treasure!

Read more in the Pansy-atic Adventure Series!: At the end of the novel, Hurd tries to interest the boys in finding a hidden South American silver mine. Uncharacteristically, Chet is gung-ho about finding it, but even more uncharacteristically, Frank and Joe want absolutely nothing to do with it. Cowards!

Opinions: When you’re going to steal, steal from the best, I always say. The Oak Island Treasure is a story worth adapting to the Hardy Boys, especially as the generally hemi-glutteal attempts made at finding the treasure in the 19th century matches up with the general standard of competence in the Hardy Boys. Using characters from The Tower Treasure for the 100th book is also a great idea; Hurd and Adelia should show up more often, but of course, they don’t. Not hip, those old people.

The actual treasure hunting is done briskly, taking a total of 60 pages (and three days) to get from ground breaking to GOLD! There’s not much mystery here — the culprits are kinda obvious if you care about such things, and I can totally understand if you don’t — but that’s not a problem when you’re digging up trapped treasure chests and pirate skeletons every few pages. I could have done without the hurricane threat, but it wouldn’t be a Hardy Boys book without some sort of natural disaster; besides, hurricanes follow the boys around (see Hurricane Joe, #11 in the Undercover Brothers series, Typhoon Island, #180, The Hidden Harbor Mystery, #14 revised, The Secret Warning, #17 revised, and The Four-Headed Dragon, #69). Hurricane Celia is supposed to be the worst to hit Bayport in 20 years, but, eh, who knows? It just sort of blows in one evening and out the next, as did the storm in Hurricane Joe.

Grade: A. Nostalgia + excitement = one of the best, if not the best, digests.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Serpent's Tooth Mystery (#93)

The Serpent Tooth’s Mystery coverPlot: Phil Cohen gets canned from his job at the zoo, then he gets framed for releasing and stealing the zoo’s snakes.

“Borrowing” from the past: Phil Cohen is the least-used chum — well, least used if you don’t count Jerry Gilroy, who hasn’t been seen since the ‘60s, or Perry Robinson, who I believe was killed and eaten in a hobo jungle during the Depression. He’s described as a “high-tech” genius, master of electronics and computers. That’s pretty much the angle he’s given after the Stratemeyer Syndicate sold the series; before, he was just a general book nerd. He draws and paints (Mystery of the Spiral Bridge, #45) and composes for and plays piano (The Clue of the Hissing Serpent, #53). He plans for college and a medical degree (The Mysterious Caravan, #54). Most damningly, he enjoyed reading as much as he did sports (The Pentagon Spy, #61). Nerd! On the other hand, Chief Collig describes him as athletic in Serpent’s Tooth; his quickness and agility is noted in The Pentagon Spy, he plays first base for Bayport High in The Mummy Case (#63), and he’s the county tennis champ in The Mysterious Caravan.

Phil gets phired in Serpent’s Tooth; he was hired to build electronically controlled display cases for snakes, but he accidentally sets off an alarm while the head herpetologist was milking a snake. Oops. In the past, Phil has been employed as a timekeeper for Prito Construction (The Mystery of the Spiral Bridge) artifact restorer in a museum (The Mysterious Caravan), ticket taker at the Big Top Circus (Track of the Zombie, #71), and in some capacity at the Wild World animal park (The Sting of the Scorpion, #58).

Phil’s parents are mentioned in this book to be on their second honeymoon. The Cohens never appeared in the first 85 books of the series.

Frank mentions some “run-ins” with snakes. The Hardys saw more snakes than Marlon Perkins. Other than dogs, no other animal tries to kill the Hardys as much as snakes do. They encountered rattlers in The Mark on the Door (#13), Mystery of the Desert Giant (#40), The Clue of the Screeching Owl (#41), Mystery of Smugglers Cove (#64), and Track of the Zombie; a boa constrictor in Track of the Zombie; two different species of rattlesnakes, an Eastern diamondback and a pygmy rattler, in The Voodoo Plot (#72); a viper in The Clue of the Broken Blade (#21); a krait in The Hooded Hawk Mystery (#34); a cobra and a python in The Crimson Flame (#77); a coral snake and a cottonmouth in The Swamp Monster (#83); and just a plain-old snake in The Secret of Wildcat Swamp (#31). But the deadliest snake in this one, the Australian tiger snake, is a new one for the books. Unfortunately, they don’t kill any snakes in this book.

Where is Bayport?: It’s two hours from Jersey City on a normal day. Jersey City, for those of you who can’t mentally untangle the sprawl that is the New York City metropolitan area, is just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, between Hoboken and Bayonne. According to Mapquest, it takes an hour and a half to get between Jersey City and the real Bayport, N.Y. (on Lon Gisland). Two hours would take you farther out on Long Island, to Riverhead — about the point where the island starts to thin itself into two narrow spits of land.

If you like the idea of Bayport being in New Jersey, two hours from Jersey City takes you pretty far down the shore — about to Mystic Island, which is almost to Atlantic City. That far south, and Bayporters would likely consider Philadelphia “their” city rather than New York, which is something that has never been shown in other books. Also, Frank, Joe, and Phil mark reaching the New Jersey Turnpike as a major milestone on their way to Jersey City, which just doesn’t work if they start in Jersey.

The best answer for this book is probably New Haven, Conn., and its vicinity. It’s about two hours from Jersey City, and unlike destinations on Long Island, the Hardys could travel on the Turnpike near the end of their trip. Since this route also allows them to avoid the worst of New York traffic — not mentioned in the book — New Haven is a winner … this time. This conclusion is an outlier for most books; in The Castle Conundrum (#168), Frank admits Bayport is in New York.

Fenton’s advice: Write it down, all you aspiring detectives out there: the first thing Fenton taught his sons was, “Ask questions. Then, if all else fails, ask more questions.”

Your edumacation for the day: The title probably refers to King Lear, in which Lear castigates his truthful daughter, Cordelia, by saying in Act I, Scene IV: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is / To have a thankless child!” Admittedly, this quote has no relevance to the story at all, but neither does the phrase “serpent’s tooth” — there’s nothing special about the teeth of the snakes in the book, and in any case, the serpents are usually called “snakes” and the teeth are generally called “fangs.”

As Phil notes, “hamadryad” is another name for the king cobra. It’s also a type of nymph from Greek mythology — a dryad, one of the nymphs that are closely tied to trees. It has nothing to do with the story, but that’s hardly important; if the Hardys can spew random facts, so can I.

Also, Joe learns the correct term for the antidote to a snake’s venom is antivenin, not antivenom. He’s corrected by a zoo physician who has the tone of someone who corrects someone on that every day.

Off brand: A recurring vehicle in the story is a flashy sports car called the Pillari 400 — evidently the hideous generic offspring of a Porsche and Ferrari. I imagine it having odd shaped wheels or a day-glo plastic interior. The Hardys also find a ticket for a professional football game between the Mustangs and the Titans, a game played in the Meadowlands. The USFL had collapsed in 1986, a few years before the book was published, but the author probably had something similar in mind. The Titans were the home team, playing at Titans Stadium; this is probably a reference to the New York Jets, who were originally named Titans. The Mustangs could refer to any number of horse-themed NFL and USFL teams, including the Baltimore / Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos, and Birmingham Stallions.

About time someone brought it up: At one point in Serpent’s Tooth, the Hardys find a stolen snake and return it. Of course, they trespass to do it. Officer Con Riley explains that the Hardys have found some clues, but the person responsible for the property on which they have trespassed isn’t having any of it: “I don’t care what they found! I pay taxes — taxes that fund your paycheck. I expect the police to solve crimes, not a couple of kids!”

Honestly, that cannot be said often enough.

Technology!: Ah, the late ‘80s, when technology was going to do everything for us. In this case, computers are used to provide security for the herpetology labs; visitors without an electronic badge set off alarms. This is an important plot point, as the Hardys realize the snake theft has to be an inside job since alarms weren’t set off. Unfortunately, that should have made the solution too easy. I worked with a similar system in 1990, and even then, not only did the system register authorized / nonauthorized people, but it also noted who those authorized people were. It should have made finding the culprit as easy as a quick check of the computer files.

Phil is also framed by a large electronic deposit into his account — an early example of computer banking. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t say what that entails: an ATM deposit? An electronic transfer? Magic electrons forming an ASCII-art check? Electronic transfer seems most likely, but if that were so, the police should have been able to figure out where the money came from, opening all sorts of new aspects to the case.

Everything’s up to date in Bayport: They’ve got the Bayport Zoological Gardens, after all — none of this lowbrow “Bayport Zoo” stuff. (Like it was in The Hooded Hawk Mystery (#34) or The Voodoo Plot (#72).) On the other hand, in a very ‘80s throwaway plot, Bayporters have to deal with toxic waste dumping in Barmet Bay.

Bayport also has a University Medical Center, leaving the question of what university? The only college to be associated before Serpent’s Tooth is Bayshore College (Mystery of the Samurai Sword, #60).

Previous hospitals in Bayport have included Bayport General Hospital (A Figure in Hiding, #16; The Secret Panel, #25; The Sign of the Crooked Arrow, #28; Tic-Tac-Terror, #74), City Hospital (The Melted Coins, #23), and Bayport Hospital (The Crisscross Shadow, #32; The Mystery at Devil's Paw, #38; The Viking Symbol Mystery, #42; The Mystery of the Aztec Warrior, #43;The Billion Dollar Ransom, #73). Additionally, there’s an “excellent” hospital at the Bayport Naval Base (The Billion Dollar Ransom).

Stretching the bounds of probability: While driving in New Jersey, the Hardys’ van is bumped by a semi into a lane that’s about to end, then bumped again and put into “a wild skid” on a wet roadway. Yet when the truck passes by them after the second bump, Joe is able to calmly read the label on the side of the semi as if nothing is going on. But is that any worse than Fenton Hardy “cr[ying] muffled words of encouragement through the gag over his mouth”?

Probably not. But it’s a close race, and they’re both pretty stupid. Also stupid is ventilation shafts big enough for Frank, Joe, and Iola to crawl through, but that’s a typical movie cliché.

Where “thank you” is a double entendre: When Joe is about to be sliced into pieces by a fan in that absurdly large ventilation shaft, Iola gets help, and Frank is able to rescue his brother in time. Frank says, “Iola told us you were in trouble. I think you owe her.” Joe responds, “Well, that’s one thank-you I won’t mind delivering.”

Opinions: The mystery for Serpent’s Tooth is decidedly average, although using snakes instead of strangely reluctant killers does get around the general plot question of Why don’t the villains just kill them? In any event, the investigation does have a plot twist or two, the false accusation of Phil does move the plot along, and despite the general dumb moves by Frank and Joe and general inaccuracies, the mystery itself is fine.

But beyond the actual mystery, the book occasionally shines. There are moments of self-awareness, as in the above complaint that the police should be finding clues, not a couple of kids. More importantly, the supporting cast beyond Phil feel more alive than anything else in the book — more alive, really than most of the series characters after Leslie Macfarlane left the series. Iola and Chet actually talk to each other like siblings do, trading gibes. Chet is good natured and occasionally funny. Chet and the girls actually act like they are teenagers who care about Phil, willing to take stupid chances for the guy. Iola and Joe actually act like they like each other rather than being two humans who have been paired off for mysterious purposes. The book shines when they’re on the page, and they’re shuffled off much too quickly.

Grade: B+. Chet, Callie, and Iola’s short appearance is enough to raise it above the standard digest.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Shadow Killers (#92)

The Shadow Killers coverPlot: Frank’s karate sensei is brutally attacked just before a classmate enters a vital karate competition. Meanwhile, the government hires Fenton to find out who’s robbing National Guard armories of weapons, because that wouldn’t be seen as something that would be the FBI’s and ATF’s top priorities.

“Borrowing” from the past: Frank actually studies karate. He’s used karate several times in the past; the first time was in The Clue of the Hissing Serpent (#53). He’s actually a green belt, but he whines about the instructor, who has dedicated his life to karate, being too dedicated to the sport. Joe is not a student, even though he’s used karate in the past as well; in fact, he used it before Frank did, starting in The Bombay Boomerang (#49). And he keeps using it, all the way up to A Will to Survive (#156). Of course, they both used karate the last time they dealt with Japanese businessmen in The Mystery of the Samurai Sword (#60).

Frank doesn’t understand Japanese, making it a rare language that he doesn’t comprehend. Frank knows French in The Mysterious Caravan (#54, although his schoolboy French can’t keep up with a movie) and Passport to Danger (#179, where it’s much better); as for other language classes, he’s taking German and Spanish in The Jungle Pyramid (#56) and Latin in The Secret of the Old Mill (#3). Outside the classroom, he didn’t understand Spanish in in The Mark on the Door (#13) but rectified the deficiency by The Ghost at Skeleton Rock (#37) and The Stone Idol (#65), and he perfected his German in The Submarine Caper (#68).

This time, on Stereotype Sweepstakes: Our first contestant is Mr. Franklin W. Dixon, whose hobbies include cranial trauma, bondage, and “scientific” criminology. Your challenge: We will give you a country, and in 154 pages, you have to work in as many stereotypes for that country as possible. Are you ready? Good! Your country is … Japan.

Karate … ninja … samurai (which are a type of ninja) … yakuza … sushi is disgusting … honor … samurai swords … karate comics … dragons … ruthless businessmen ...

Outstanding! We will accept “karate comics” for the more common “manga.” I’m impressed you even correctly misidentified samurai with ninjas instead of something completely different. You’ve won the right to go to our bonus round. All you have to do is identify the #1 stereotype about Japan that you have missed. Are you ready? Go!

Uhh … nunchaku?

Oh, sorry, no. The correct answer was “geisha.” Better luck next time. But we do have some fabulous parting gifts for you. You have won a year’s supply of Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat (and not a Japanese stereotype, no no), and Turtle Wax. See you next time on Stereotype Sweepstakes!

Oh, Bayport: When in trouble, Frank tells Joe to dial the “police emergency number.” Since not even Frank would be so pedantically exact to call 911 by that long name, that must mean Bayport does not have 911 service. Which is strange; you would figure that if any city needed 911, it would be the crime-wracked city of Bayport. 911 had been in use for almost two decades by the time The Shadow Killers came out in 1988.

On the other hand, maybe the town’s ambitions and priorities lie elsewhere. The Bayport Times, serving a small city of 50,000, has a foreign correspondent who travels to the Far East to cover stories. That’s insane, especially when even that correspondent wouldn’t even categorize Bayport as a major port.

Model members of the modern middle class: Frank and Joe have their own rooms. This is the first time they have not shared a room, although the last time their shared room was mentioned was when it exploded in The Shattered Helmet (#52).

Mental giants, they’re not: The Hardys are rarely the sharpest scalpels in the crime kit because they don’t want to seem too far ahead of their readers. But in Shadow Killers, Frank and Joe get needled by a local karate thug without much of a comeback. (He calls them the “Hardly boys.” Hey, I smiled.) Frank does get him back with the old “stain on your gi” trick, though.

While driving at high speed, Frank gets hit with a chemical in his eyes; rather than hitting the brakes or keeping his hands on the wheel, Frank does neither, forcing a passenger to grab the wheel and stomp on his foot, which was over the brake pedal. And while Frank battles a ninja on top of a building, rather than blocking the door down and waiting for reinforcements, he knocks the ninja toward the edge, then charges and almost falls to his death when the ninja dodges. (That’s a total villain move, attacking a man and almost falling to one’s death.) The father of their friend-for-the-book, Tikko, calls them “dangerous clowns”; they have no response. And after almost being killed by a booby-trapped grenade, Frank suggests that they “maybe” should turn the grenade over to the police. Maybe?

Most of this is Frank, the level-headed one, seeming stupid; Joe gets in on the fun when he can’t figure out that the grenade might have been stolen in the National Guard heists Fenton is investigating. Also, while watching an armory for thieves, he sees the thieves; rather than alerting the authorities, as he’s been told to do, he enters the armory and tries to apprehend the three well-armed villains. He ends up getting arrested for his trouble; it’s a fitting punishment, but unfortunately, there’s no law against being stupid, so he’s released.

Not off brand: In the armory, Joe finds some C2. Although the plastic explosive most people are used to is C4 (also called Semtex), C2 does exist, and as you might guess from the numbering, it’s an earlier version of plastic explosive, invented during World War II. C4 is more stable than its predecessors, but from what I can tell, C2 is still occasionally used.

Not a suggestive line: “Tikko was new to all this. Joe could feel her tensing beside him … Silently, Joe grabbed her hand and squeezed. Tikko got the message.” If you have read any Hardy Boys books before, you have likely guessed that rather than describing a moment of human intimacy, what Mr. Dixon has given us here is Joe’s signal to Tikko that they will wait to fight the thugs who surround them rather than attack immediately. Really, if you thought differently, you have only yourself to blame.

Opinions: Not a high point for the series. The boys come off as pretty stupid; I don’t mean “stupid” in a “makes bad decisions” sort of way (although there were bad decisions), but stupid in a “Weren’t they paying attention to their own stories?” sort of way. It’s obvious who the villain is and what the plot is, but like I said, the Hardys can’t be too far ahead of their younger readers. Fortunately for the Hardys, the villains aren’t too much better, using elaborate deathtraps and smuggling plots when there were so many easier ways to work their evil.

The worst part, though, is the ethnic stereotyping. As pointed out above, it hits all the high points of what Americans understood Japanese culture to be — including believing ninjas are assassins rather than spies who occasionally kill — with the exception of geishas and kimonos. (The karate gi fill the latter niche, I think.) To be fair, I don’t think anyone gets called “Honorable Mr. Hardy,” but on the other hand, in the final climactic battle, the thugs fight Frank and Joe with samurai swords and nunchaku. I mean, honestly. They’ve stolen shipments of guns and they think swords and guns are a good idea? These are yakuza! They’re practical in their killing.

I am disappointed the Hardys didn’t get to go to Japan at the end. It’s one of the few major industrialized nations the Hardys haven’t been to, and it’s a fairly popular tourist destination for Americans in Asia. Given that the Hardys have been to Cuba, Easter Island, Antarctica, and space, it’s a little weird they haven’t been to Japan.

Grade: C. The stereotypes aren’t as actively offensive as they could be, and at least the action continues throughout.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Hardy Boys Digests Redux!

After two years of no posts, I’m going to be updating on Thursdays. Expect the same sort of recapping and comparisons to the original canon that I’ve done before; the only difference is that I’m going to be including Casefiles this time, and the digests I write about will (for a while at least) be from the late ‘80s / early ‘90s. I already have a couple in the can, and the first — The Shadow Killers, #92 — will be posted in one week.

But for those who can’t wait, here’s a little something to whet the appetite:

Hardy Boys Casefile #50 Power Play coverThere are two things wrong with this cover:

1. The tagline. “Play with fire, and you’re sure to find danger in a flash!” There’s nothing wrong with the “Play with fire” intro — a bit clichéd, but that’s how you do these things — but the second part is all wrong. It needs to be slightly witty and a lot shorter. “Play with fire, and watch the explosions!” is slightly better, although not much. “Play with fire, and watch the sparks!” is a great deal better, since the book deals with solar power (power / electricity / sparks). If you’re married to having “in a flash” in the tagline — and if you are, I wouldn’t let it get out, or Fox News will feature your “untraditional marriage” for the next umpteen news cycles — then maybe “Play with fire, and you’ll be burned in a flash!” would work better.

2. Everything else. My goodness. What’s your favorite part? Is it middle-aged Frank running along in the background, t-shirt neatly tucked into his pants? Joe looking slightly like Bill from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure? Or Joe’s loafers? The fact that Joe appears to be trying to run away from a beam of light? Or that if he just hit the ground and rolled under the panels he would be safe? Perhaps it’s the solar panels being pointed toward each other rather than all of them being pointed toward the sun. Joe’s glowing hand? Or is he a saint, dropped in from a medieval painting?

My wife and I came up with a dozen of these when I first showed it to her; I’ve forgotten some of them. But my favorite is a perspective problem. The ground is clearly sloping toward the viewer, but look at how high up Joe is. What is that boy’s vertical leap — eight feet? Ten? I’m sure someone with better geometry skills than I have could figure it out.