Plot: Frank and Joe are hired to check the security at Bright Futures, a company that makes solar cells. However, before their investigation can get underway, one of the company’s top researchers is murdered.
“Borrowing” from the past: In Power Play, Frank mentions he recently got his pilot’s license, certifying him for single-engine planes. Frank first flew a plane (under supervision) in The Mystery of the Flying Express (#19). In The Short-Wave Mystery (#24), both he and Joe get instruction from a pilot named Stewart, but Jack Wayne — Fenton’s personal pilot — doesn’t start teaching them until The Ghost at Skeleton Rock (#37). He even makes an emergency landing in that book. He and Joe get their license in The Mystery of the Chinese Junk (#39). By The Viking Symbol Mystery (#42), he can perform loops, banks, and rolls in a seaplane, and he passes the FAA proficiency test for float planes. In The Arctic Patrol Mystery (#48), he lands a twin-engine plane … on a glacier. The Stone Idol (#65) mentions he has flown helicopters at the Bayport air field; in The Blackwing Puzzle (#82), he and Joe build an ultralight with their friends.
That last is important, because in Power Play, Frank rides in and briefly flies a solar-powered ultralight plane. Now, I kept track of how the Hardys get around, but I don’t think they’ve ever used a solar-powered ultralight plane. In The Blackwing Puzzle, they do fly an ultralight called the “Silver Falcon,” but it wasn’t solar powered. In fact, I don’t think they ever traveled in something solar powered in the first 85 books. (There was an electric car in The Skyfire Puzzle, #85, but that doesn’t count.) That’s surprising, since the Hardys have flown in hot-air balloons and a space shuttle, used parachutes, skimmed across the bay in ice boats, swum powered by porpoises, trekked with mules, even used a hand car. But never a solar-powered ultralight.
Frank and Joe get extra time to investigate because of Spring Break. I expected the boys to have experienced Spring Break about forty times before the Casefiles, but during the canon, they used it to get out of school only three times: The Arctic Patrol Mystery, The Firebird Rocket (#57), and The Voodoo Plot (#72). They also used Spring Break to track down Iola in Panic on Gull Island (#107).
The March of Technology: Oh, 1991. Computers were so exciting then — even interoffice electronic mail (“e-mail” not being a common enough usage) and 300 megabyte optical “disks” (the ones I have sitting by my desk, made for CDs, hold 700 MB) are breathlessly reported as exciting advances … even though you had to have a special drive for the 8-track like optical disks. Some technological plot points are relevant, however; the murdered researcher smuggled sensitive information out of Bright Futures by switching the label from a rock CD to the optical disk. This is similar to how Private Bradley Manning smuggled sensitive information off a secure Army intelligence server in Baghdad to give to Wikileaks; he brought in a CD-RW labeled “Lady Gaga,” erased the music, then copied the information onto the now empty disc. (I’m still not sure how the researcher switched the label, however; were the labels on early CDs stickers?)
Frank and Joe have a cellular phone (again, “cell phone” is not in common enough usage in 1991), but when they try to use it, there’s too much static. Their provider must be AT&T. Zing!
You’re slipping, old man: Fenton … I worry about the old man. In Power Play, all those concussions seem to be catching up with him. In the beginning, when a client calls him a “famous detective,” he says, “I don’t know about the ‘famous’ part.” That could be him being humble, but I don’t think you can be humble about your reputation when your sons use your name as a “Get out of jail free” card from coast to coast.
Later in the book, Fenton tells his sons that a researcher for Bright Futures has been arrested. Two pages later, he says, “[The researcher] could be home by now — if she has a good lawyer. She doesn’t have an arrest record, and there’s probably not enough evidence to charge her.” Not enough evidence to charge her? She’s already been arrested! That means she’s been charged! Do you even listen to yourself, Fenton?
Halfway through the book, Fenton goes jogging in a mesh shirt. Putting aside how smart I think jogging is, I keep getting an image of Fenton in an open-mesh shirt that is pretty much see-through (been watching too much anime, I guess). That’s not a pretty picture. In any event, in this picture of parental authority, he tells his sons that he wants to pull them off the murder investigation because they were only hired to investigate security, and murders are dangerous. Neither of these considerations have either bothered Fenton before; I don’t know if this is how Fenton is portrayed in the Casefiles, but it does fit in with the worrywart who founded ATAC in the Undercover Brothers series.
Speaking of slipping: Frank and Joe suffer the indignity of the “cut-the-brakes” trick. Frank later says it wasn’t a murder attempt; they shouldn’t have made it out of the parking lot. That seems an awful chance to take; I think, under New York law — as given unto us by DA Jack McCoy on Law & Order — that it shows a reckless indifference to the boys’ life and therefore would be classified as attempted murder, but what do I know?
In any event, Joe, who is driving, tries to use the parking brake to slow the van first. Only after that does he downshift. He should have tried it in the other order, which would have been more effective.
Speaking of ‘off the case’: At one point, Chief Collig — who has been antagonistic to Frank and Joe the entire book — tells them, “You’re off the case.” Firstly, he has no real authority over them, except when they break the law. (Which admittedly is all the time in this book, so perhaps I’m selling him short.) Secondly, a “case” suggests an official investigation of some sort, but Frank and Joe have no official standing — not even a private investigator’s license. For the Hardy Boys, there’s no case for them to be on. In fact, by telling them they are off the case, Collig implies they were either on the case before or had some sort claim to be on the case. I think Ezra just wanted to say those words to a couple of loose cannons, and whether the words made sense be damned.
Asking for trouble: Weirdly, Bright Futures hires Fenton’s sons just to check security. That is, the company had no idea there were no problems before Frank and Joe came along. Of course, afterwards, there’s a murder, the company is revealed to be rife with industrial sabotage, and the company’s remaining researcher is poached by a competitor. Nice job, boys.
The new math: After the head of Bright Futures tells Frank and Joe about a dispute between his top researchers — one of whom is now dead — Frank “filed this information with what they already knew. According to his math, none of this added up to murder yet.” I would really like to see what that equation looked like: Motive + death ≠ murder?
So there’s a … “Superb Bowl”?: God knows I am not a big fan of American football. I prefer baseball by far, and I agree with George Will’s contention that football combines the two worst aspects of modern American society: violence and committee meetings. But dammit, why can’t Dixons ever get the game quite right?
In The Crisscross Shadow, Chet is listed as a center, which is an offensive position, but he’s shown only as a defensive player. Even if there is a defensive center — and there isn’t really, although perhaps a defensive tackle in on a three-man line could be considered a “center” because he’s between two other players — he wouldn’t cover receivers on pass plays, as Chet tries and fails to do. (Maybe he’s a middle linebacker, which would fit the criteria.) Joe is said to be a left halfback — “halfback” is usually as specific as it gets — but he throws all the passes for Bayport, which is the quarterback’s job. Frank’s supposed to be the quarterback, but he functions as a receiver. At one point, the teams are locked in a defensive duel which forces each side to run two plays, then punt; each side gets three plays before they need to decide whether to punt. I’ve already gone over the ludicrousness of everything in Foul Play, which had no clue about football.
In Power Play, the offense is much lesser: Chet is said to have the “wide, massive frame of a football linebacker.” There are many other positions that could be better said to have a “wide, massive” frame; offensive or defensive linemen are prime candidates. Linebackers are large but have to be more athletic than linemen since they not only have to overpower people but also cover receivers. In fact, if you want a stereotypical description of linebackers, it would be quick and powerful rather than wide and massive.
It’s a small detail. But it’s a small detail about the most popular sport in America. Is it that hard to get right?
Opinions: Frank and Joe are at the nadir of their investigative abilities in Power Play, with Frank and Joe’s investigative techniques alternating between random accusations and breaking and entering, with a bit of bullying Chet thrown in to keep things from getting too predictable. They antagonize all the authority figures they can find, and Chief Collig and Fenton decide to finally draw a line and rein in the boys for reasons I can’t quite discern. Child endangerment laws catching up with Fenton and Bayport, maybe? Perhaps other municipalities giving Collig hell for using teenagers to solve his crimes? I don’t know, but neither Collig nor Fenton seems to want Frank and Joe on the case despite their results and their ability to avoid death.
I also find it odd that the Casefiles would hit their fiftieth book and not do some sort of anniversary stunt. Then again, the series was less than five years old at the time, so perhaps it was considered too early to do something like that.
And as I mentioned before, I really don’t like the cover. That it superficially resembles something that happened in the book is irrelevant.
Grade: D. Not very good. The optimistic “unlimited promise of solar power” angle and technology dates it more than perpetual teenagers Frank and Joe ever could.