Thursday, April 28, 2011

Program for Destruction (#87)

Program for Destruction coverPlot: Frank and Joe investigate sabotage at Arnold Stockard’s CompuCar Company.

“Borrowing” from the past: Frank and Joe mention they’ve taken Callie and Iola to the Bayport Diner, and Joe enjoys its banana cream pie. Joe claims it’s in a residential neighborhood close to their home, but the previously mentioned Bayport Diner was on the edge of town, bordered by woods in The Night of the Werewolf (#59). The Bayport Diner also appeared in The Vanishing Thieves (#66), The Outlaw’s Silver (#67), and The Track of the Zombie (#71). In The Secret of the Lost Tunnel (#29), Shorty’s Diner, a downtown establishment, was mentioned, and Mike’s popped up in The Sign of the Crooked Arrow (#28). An unnamed Bayport diner owned by Nick Papadapolos appeared in The Mummy Case (#63). Tom and Mary’s Diner was located on Shore Road outside Bayport in The Mysterious Caravan (#54).

Laura Hardy’s car is described as a failing station wagon — “on the verge of falling apart” with a broken radio and odometer. Laura had never been specifically given ownership of a vehicle before; the family had owned a sedan (The Disappearing Floor, #19, and The Yellow Feather Mystery, #33) as well as other unspecified models in the past.

The Hardys have a home computer, and Frank admits to doing a “little tinkering” with it. It would be important in later mysteries, but prior to this, there was little mention of home computing. In Revenge of the Desert Phantom (#84), Chief Collig sells the boys “surplus computer parts” at the same time he gave them their supervan, and in The Skyfire Puzzle (#85), there’s a computer in the van.

The boys tune in rock station WBAY while in their CompuCar. Previously, the only radio station mentioned in the Bayport market is WMC in The Mystery of the Flying Express (#20). WBAY has been a CBS affiliate in Green Bay, Wisc., for half a century. WMC is used by a TV and AM and FM radio stations in Memphis, Tenn; the AM station has been WMC since 1923.

The March of Technology: This is a book reliant on the idea of pushing the frontiers of technology. CompuCar Co. makes cars that are, to a degree, voice operated — drivers can command the car to accelerate, slow, or change the radio station. Although voice-operated driving hasn’t arrived yet, cars have been able to change the radio and deal with other electronic devices, like cell phones, for a few years now, making Program for Destruction only about two decades ahead of the times. Taking its cue more from Knight Rider than Car and Driver, however, the car can talk back to its users. That automated systems can talk to users is a coincidence; the CompuCar can say “You’re welcome” to the user’s “Thank you” and has other responses that seems to indicate a higher level of intelligence than today’s electronics.

At one point, the Hardys loaner CompuCar starts having random failures. After the car almost kills the boys — the author cannot resist having the computer say one of the Hardys’ commands “does not compute” — they remove its “program disk” for analysis. Where do they analyze it? In their home PC. Frank says, “I just hope it’s compatible” before … before they “slid the CompuCar computer disk into the machine.” Which leaves the question of how they were interfacing their computer with the program disk. Is it a standard 3½" or 5¼" floppy? The “slid” seems to indicate it wasn’t hooked up through cables, which you could do with a pair of hard disks. Perhaps they remove their computer’s hard drive and put the program disk in its place. That would explain why Frank is not worried about the computer virus the program disk has infecting their home PC. (Frank acts as if “virus” is a new term, which surprisingly, it is — the term began being used for self-replicating computer programs only in the early to mid-80s. Of course, what Frank is describing today is probably better described by the general term “malware,” since he has no evidence of the program’s virus-like replication.)

The Hardys do have a “car phone” — not yet called a “cell phone” — in the far-flung year of 1987. When their car fails, however, they have to use a pay phone. A pay phone! Ha!

Who do you think Henry Ford was?: One of Stockard’s former employees gives this condemnation of ex-boss: “Stockard’s supposed to be a genius, the next Henry Ford, but he only cares about making money; he doesn’t care about the people who work for him.” In the ‘80s, was the public opinion of Ford as a mechanical genius who was also a humanitarian? Because that’s not what we think of him as today. He was a man who wanted to make lots of money, and he made it through using a manufacturing process that streamlined automobile assembly. It’s said he wanted to pay his employees enough that they could afford the cars they were assembling, but he sure fought the unions hard.

We remind you: Joe is not a lawyer: Joe notices one of the suspects has a brochure for Rio de Janiero, and Joe’s immediate thought is that the suspect is planning to leave the country. “If Krisp broke the law in America and fled to Rio,” Joe thinks, “he couldn't be arrested and brought back to the United States.” This is very wrong; America has had an extradition treaty with Brazil since the ‘60s, which would allow the U.S. to request Brazil to arrest and return citizens who have committed certain crimes to the U.S. To be fair, Krisp might be considering vanishing in Brazil, but that’s not what Joe’s suggesting.

You never know: Frank says he’s read about the CompuCar in “my” car magazines, which indicates to me that he’s a subscriber (or a regular newsstand buyer). I wouldn’t think of Frank as the kind of guy who would buy car mags, but I usually think of them as having scantily clad women leaning on hoods of cars. Probably the kind Frank subscribes to has in-depth reviews of cars — Car and Driver, that sort of thing. Frank has catholic tastes when it comes to knowledge anyway.

Are you sure you’re a detective?: When their top two suspects are assaulted, Frank and Joe reconsider who might be behind the sabotage. They also have to figure out why someone crept into a house to knock them over the head. Collig decides it’s a warning, something to shut them up. The boys reject that sort of simplistic analysis and decide it’s so they’ll be unseen at a time when sabotage is occurring at the plant. Good enough, as far as it goes … except they assume the sabotage won’t happen at midday, when the pair are clubbed, but that night, after the two have had several hours to recover and establish an alibi … with, say, the police or a doctor, which are the people you consult with after you’ve been assaulted.

The culprit reveals Collig was, of course, correct.

Opinions: For an ‘80s cybercrime mystery, Program for Destruction is pretty impressive. Interoperability issues aside, the idea of a virus not only sabotaging the computer in a car (although straight failures would be more likely than switching functions) but corroding worldwide banking is an good idea. On the other hand, the investigation is simplistic — actually, “simplistic” insults the simple among us — and the reader will likely figure out the culprit while Frank and Joe are still trying on fanciful theories of assault. There are only five possible suspects in the entire book, and once you figure out the red herrings and decide to drop the unlikely ones, there’s only one person left.

It was refreshing to return to the digests after so many Casefiles. Early in the book, Frank assumes Joe is too much of a screwup to walk a letter to a nearby post office for their father when the van isn’t working. In the Casefiles, Joe would really have been too lazy to walk a few blocks; in the digests, Joe has not only walked to the post office but picked up Laura’s dry cleaning. And Frank apologizes. I know which series is more realistic, when it comes to the behavior of teenage boys, and I know which series is more pleasant to read.

Grade: B-. Simple but sweet.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Mission: Mayhem (Casefiles #93)

Mission: Mayhem coverPlot: At Space Academy, Frank and Joe space-investigate a series of space-accidents that may or may not have targeted terrestrial actor Greg Fontana.

“Borrowing” from the past: The Hardys are no strangers to space exploration. In The Skyfire Puzzle (#85), the last digest before the year-long hiatus that presaged the beginning of the Casefiles, the Hardys actually went into space on the space shuttle Skyfire. It was a logical development; after going to Easter Island and Antarctica, two of the most remote places on Earth (as they did in The Stone Idol, #65), where else is there to go? The Hardys trained and took off from Kennedy Space Center in Skyfire; they visited Kennedy Space Center in Sky Sabotage (#79) as well.

Frank and Joe both identify themselves as pilots in Mission: Mayhem, although they don’t actually fly. Frank’s flying experience is listed in Power Play (Casefiles #50); in addition, Frank claims to have “dead-stick landed” a plane without engine power. I have no idea whether that has been shown in the books, though. A précis of Joe’s experience can be found in In Plane Sight (#176).

Just in case you care: Frank and Joe are six feet and six feet, one inch tall, although Mission: Mayhem makes it vague about which brother is which height.

Joe’s skills: While watching other students perform a mock shuttle launch, Joe watches a “pretty young woman with blond hair, not much older than he was” perform her complicated mission-control duties. Joe’s first thought? “At seventeen, Joe knew he wasn’t ready for a job like this.” Come on! Joe’s looking at a pretty girl. He shouldn’t be thinking about, you know, complicated stuff like life and a career.

Later on, however, Joe does raid the lockers in the girls’ barracks, trying to pick the locks. So that’s something … and by “something,” I mean “creepy.”

Frank’s skills … : Are, of course, nonexistent. He sneaks off late at night with one of the female students, but it’s to compete against her on the multi-axis trainer — a sort of a gyroscope that spins students along all three axes. He tells himself he doesn’t know why he would do something so stupid; he suggests it will allow him to get to know her better or perhaps he wanted to succeed at the challenge the trainer presented. He does not suggest the most likely rationales: hormones, adrenaline rush, or competition with the girl. This is a boy who is repressing something, and that “something” is likely “adolescence.”

Joe suggests Frank wanted to “soften up the ice queen.” I’m not sure what dirty, dirty thing “soften up” is youth slang for, but I am interested in finding out.

Excuses, excuses: Laura and Fenton allow the boys to “take time off from school” to complete the week-long program. This ranks among the weakest excuses Frank and Joe have ever used to get out of school to do whatever they wanted; the only one that comes close is the revised Short-Wave Mystery, in which Fenton just writes the boys an excuse to show the school for the three days they miss. Yes, heating-system breakdowns, a collapsed school roof, and teacher’s conferences are extremely convenient, and the Hardys have had more summer and winter vacations during the theoretical year of high school most of the mysteries take place in than I ever had. But at least the writer was trying; it wasn’t just, hey, let’s go to Space Camp instead of school.

Do you want space fries with that space burger?: “Space” is an adjective that, if this book is to believed, is used so often in Huntsville that it loses all meaning. There’s Space Camp, of course; Frank and Joe are enrolled at Space Academy, which is a physically and mentally tougher course for older students. (Today, what Frank and Joe are doing is Advanced Space Academy, which is for high schoolers; Space Academy is for the junior high set.) They watch movies in the Space-Dome, and there’s also a Space Museum. There are others, too — I just stopped paying attention after the Space-Dome. They watched the movie Speed there — not the one with Keanu, but one that talks about how perception of speed has changed over the centuries.

While at Space Academy, Frank and Joe pass by the space shuttle Pathfinder. The Pathfinder is fictional, of course. The U.S. space shuttles were Columbia (1981-2003), Challenger (1983-6), Atlantis (1985-; last flight planned for June 28, 2011), Discovery (1984-2011), Endeavour (1992-; last flight planned for April 29, 2011), and Enterprise (1974-; never capable of space flight and now an exhibit at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian). As mentioned above, the Hardys went into space on the space shuttle Skyfire.

Let us take a moment to remember America’s space shuttle program, which will come to an end soon after 30 years. Hopefully it will not take another 30 years before America sets its sights that high again.

Wrong, Brainiac: Two allegedly smart people make dumb mistakes in this book. When a fire breaks out in student barracks, Frank tries to beat it out with blankets and then a mattress, both attempts failing. Another student wisely uses the fire extinguisher, which Frank “completely forgot.” Well, it was a crisis situation, so you could forgive Frank if he didn’t face crisis situations every couple of days. The other one is worse, in its way, especially since an astronaut teacher lets the mistake pass uncontested: Maria Galewski, class know-it-all, claims “Frank could graduate from college in the time it would take to travel to Mars.” No — it would take less than a year to get to Mars (about nine months), and the round trip would take less than two. We all know Frank is brilliant — as he himself immodestly says, “I know a lot about a lot of things” — but I don’t think he could finish a college degree in a year or even two.

Physically phit: Joe complains that running two miles in twelve minutes will mean he will have to average six minutes a mile. Well, Joe’s good at math, but not evidently at running; six miles a minute isn’t that impressive for a high school athlete. I was not a very good cross country runner when I was in high school, but I could almost do that over more than three miles. (Not quite, but I was the worst varsity runner on the team, eighth on a team of eight.) Whatever happened to the vaunted Hardy athletic ability? They’ve participated in five school sports and are “star athletes”; they’re also top sprinters and track stars at Bayport High (as per The Ghost at Skeleton Rock, #37, and The Demon’s Den, #81). In Game Plan for Disaster (#76), Frank and Joe were completing five-mile runs, although admittedly the book didn’t say they were completing them with any sort of speed.

Casual sexism is the best sexism: When the Hardys’ team leader says trainees are divided into six-man teams, Maria, one of the female students loudly clears her throat, forcing the former astronaut team leader to acknowledge that yes, females can be interested in being astronauts. Not so surprising for a book from 1994; not so surprising now, really. On the other hand, Dixon makes a point that Maria is a hyper-motivated jerk; when an asthmatic student collapses during a two-mile run, her first words to the student are, “You should keep yourself in better shape.” She also locks Frank into the multi-axis trainer until he succeeds at the replicating the sequence of flashing lights that are flashing at him. Frank almost passes out but succeeds; Maria says he needed the proper motivation.

Glory!: I have made the point that in the real world, the Hardys would not be very good investigators, as they have little or no conception of basic rights and seem to be more interested in their own glory than actually protecting people. Mission: Mayhem continues that theme. When their trainer gets booted from the program without a chance to defend himself, Frank is indignant, although basic Constitutional rights have never been a major concern of his before — and this is just an employment situation, rather than a criminal investigation. Frank also has an opportunity to get a suspect booted from the Space Academy premises — a move that would likely save lives, if the suspect was guilty, or clear the suspect, if more “accidents” happened. However, Frank wants to expose the malefactor, so he keeps Barron, the suspect, near.

Such is fame: A teenage actor is inserted into Space Academy to study for his next role; he tries to convince everyone he’s famous, but no one is buying it since his fame came from his role as a child. When he and his personal assistant are expecting everyone to recognize him, Joe shrugs. So what if he’s an actor? Will his name — or the name of his father — keep him out of jail in any state or in several other countries? No. No, it will not.

Snark: While Frank is trying to get info from a counselor by sounding sympathetic, Joe keeps butting in with his own comments, which are decidedly unsympathetic. Frank gives Joe a sharp look to keep him from talking: “Joe’s opinion he could get any time. … He hoped Joe would get the hint and either get with the program or stop talking.” This is one of those times I sympathize with Frank; even though he didn’t fill Joe in on what the plan is, Joe should have figured it out.

Whatever happened to Scott Randolph?: Another actor is mentioned as a potential rival to the actor at Space Academy; his name is Scott Randolph. Randolph Scott was a famous movie actor from the ‘30s to the ‘50s, mostly famous for his more than 60 Westerns. He was also rumored to have had an affair with Cary Grant, but that claim is hotly disputed.

Generic equivalent: Joe compares an instructor with bulging muscles to “the cartoon character made out of car tires that he’d seen in commercials.” Afraid to invoke the name of the Michellin Man, Joe? Is it out of some prurient, anti-commercialism? Or are you afraid that if you think the name too forcefully, the Michellin Man will emerge out of thin air and take you (or your soul) to France? Yes, it’s a horrible fate to contemplate, but it won’t really happen. The Michellin Man looks like a lumpy, horrifying beast called up from some mephitic abyss, but he’s just an advertising icon. There’s a subtle but identifiable difference.

Boffo?: Frank says the villain was hoping for a “boffo climax.” Joe wisely pretends not to understand what “boffo” means, as no East Coast teenager should ever admit to knowing that word.

Opinions: The culprit is obvious, the story ignores some of the Hardys’ more unforgettable adventures, but there’s something about Mission: Mayhem that I like. There’s a female character who is more than the equal of the boys, although she’s a bit aggressive about it; the Hardy Boys books have never been subtle. The “accidents” are (mostly) plausibly seen as accidents, although everyone seems to overlook the arson incident. Space Academy is a place the Hardys could logically get into and that Frank might be logically interested in. (Why Joe attends is a question best left unexamined.) Most importantly, there isn’t anything that makes me want to hurt Franklin W. Dixon. This is a Frank novel, as most of the challenges are mental rather than physical. Joe looks like an idiot for most of the book, but his stupidity is plausible for a 17-year-old boy. Somewhat implausibly, Joe doesn’t distinguish himself on the physical challenges, but there aren’t that many to deal with. The message is clear: space is a place where the mentally tough will distinguish themselves.

Grade: B-. Unexceptional and inoffensive.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Deadly Engagement (Casefiles #90)

Deadly Engagement coverPlot: Fenton’s too busy to look for a missing young man in New York, so Frank and Joe are dispatched to get to the bottom of a Rajesh and Juliet story.

“Borrowing” from the past: Like many stories, Frank and Joe visit New York, and like many other stories, the brothers take an exotic, vibrant foreign culture and distill it into a few curio shops and spicy dishes (including a food allergy). In Deadly Engagement, they combine the two when Frank and Joe spend time in the Little India section of Manhattan; in The Mystery of the Chinese Junk (#39), they visit Chinatown. In The Clue in the Embers (#35), they go to Tony’s deceased uncle’s curio shop in Greenwich Village. (I know, I know; it’s not an ethnic neighborhood; on the other hand, given Tony’s immigrant past, when I remembered Tony’s uncle had a shop in New York, I expected it to be in Little Italy.) Other than those visits (did I miss any?), the boys tend to miss New York’s distinct neighborhoods.

Frank bugs some phones with listening devices designed by Phil Cohen. (Phil doesn’t actually appear in the book, however.) Since the advent of computers, Phil’s been on the forefront of hacking / electronics for Dixons who don’t think Frank should be good enough. In The Mysterious Caravan (#54), Frank says Phil is “good at that sort of thing,” which evidently means sneaking and eavesdropping. The Serpent’s Tooth Mystery (#93) portrays Phil as a “high-tech” genius, an electronic engineering geek. He builds an electronically controlled display case for serpents in that book. His engineering genius nearly gets everybody burned to death in The End of the Trail (#162), when he tries to monkey with an old telephone exchange. In A Game Called Chaos (#160), Phil is a hacker. In Plane Sight (#176) has him as a computer expert.

Adding to the past: Frank and Joe are catsitting for Fenton’s “good friend,” Mr. Scheer. He’s such a good friend that no one has mentioned him in the past, and no one mentions his name in this book either!

Where Is Bayport?: It’s less than two hours to Manhattan by van. No other details are given, though. This would tend to suggest Bayport is on the central to southern end of New Jersey’s coast (around the appropriately named Barnegat, N.J.) or around New Haven, Conn. Unfortunately, this clashes with the description in Beyond the Law (Casefiles #54), which puts Bayport somewhere in New Jersey, not far from New York. Of course, any time you mention where Bayport is in reference to other places, it’s going to contradict another book.

March of Technology: At one point, Frank and Joe call Fenton, trying to find out who a phone number belongs to. Fenton promises to search the NYPD computerized reverse directory, then calls the boys back. Today, there are many Web sites that will allow you to do the same thing — admittedly, the accuracy will be less, but the access is free, and you don’t have to hang up the phone (usually) to get the info.

Convenient: The brothers are spending a week in the Big Apple without female supervision because their girlfriends, Callie and Vanessa, are “still on vacation.” This raises a host of possibilities in my mind. I’m sure we’re supposed to believe both girls are on vacation with their families, but the way Joe phrases it, it sounds as if the girls are on vacation together. Which is possible; high-school friends do go on vacation together. It even happens in the Hardy Boys’ Universe, as seen in Panic on Gull Island, when Iola goes on Spring Break with a friend. I prefer to think, however, that Callie and Vanessa needed a vacation from Frank and Joe; having had enough of their boyfriend’s neglect, suicidal tendencies, and reckless endangerment, each decides they have to get away before they just snap. It’s probably something Callie used to do with Iola before, well, you know.

Laura is annoyed by this lack of female or parental supervision while in New York. At first, she seems merely overprotective, giving the boys reminders and curfews despite the boys being completely able to ignore both. But when she learns they’re going to be investigating while they’re in Manhattan, she sighs “in annoyance.” She just knows some sort of wacky crap is going to happen, and she’s probably going to get a call in the middle of the night asking for money or from some damn emergency room or from the police or a ransom demand or something, and it’s going to ruin the peace and quiet she deserves, dammit.

That’s the way business cards work, Fenton: Although he remembers meeting faux client Biju Kumar at a party, he doesn’t remember giving him a business card — although Kumar says he did. Fenton acts annoyed, although God knows why. You give business cards to people who might hire you, like people who run jewelry stores (targets for robbery, millions of dollars in inventory), but you don’t necessarily have to account for each card. They’re not precious or even coupons, Fenton: you give them out as frequently as is polite or useful.

It’s funny, but only in a coincidence way, not in a punny way: Biju Kumar is a jeweler. His first name is very similar to the English word “bijou”; nowadays, it’s used mainly as the names of movie theaters, when you need an old timey name for a movie theater, but the word means “jewel.”

$10,000 is a lot of money, back now: A shipment of gold jewelry for Kumar’s store is stolen. In today’s terms, that’s not much gold; at the present price of nearly $1,500 per ounce, that would be less than seven Troy ounces of gold. Of course, that’s assuming the jewelry was the nearly pure 24 karat gold but not considering the workmanship that went into the gold. (18K gold is only 75 percent pure, if you’re wondering.) In 1994, when Deadly Engagement came out, that would have been more gold — the average price was below $400 at the time.

He doesn’t love her for her fashion sense: During their investigation, Frank and Joe track down the missing man’s girlfriend, Nikki Shah. He’s described as wearing a “black sleeveless shirt and a yellow miniskirt printed with bright red parrots and was carrying a big, black shoulder bag.” I know it was the ‘90s, and young people in college are going to experiment with personal fashion, but that’s pretty awful. Interestingly, given this interesting color palette to work with, the cover artist chooses to portray Nikki wearing a pink tanktop and dark blue / purple miniskirt.

I despair for you, Joe: You would think, having solved crimes for more than 65 years at this point and encountered different cultures for nearly as long, Joe would be able to do either with some skill. But no, Joe handles witnesses and clients with the aplomb of a man trying to make enemies. At least he keeps his thoughts to himself when he realizes Biju Kumar, his “client,” is “annoying,” but he makes a hash of the rest. He can’t believe two families — the Kumars and Shahs — would allow a feud to last for a century; just because the Hardy family erupted fully formed from the heads of Edward Stratemeyer and Leslie Macfarlane doesn’t mean other families don’t have histories. Joe spooks a potential source by trying to pump him for information about a mysterious local fence with a reputation. And when Nikki talks about her love for Sanjay, Joe blithely suggests Sanjay could have been murdered and that Nikki doesn’t know much more about love than he does. Nikki doesn’t quite realize how she’s been insulted, although she does get it when Joe repeatedly tells her her uncle is likely the one who kidnapped Sanjay. When he actually does it to the man’s face, at least he’s confronting the person he’s accusing.

Of course, Frank has problems of his own: namely, his modesty, or lack of it. When the NYPD detective on the case explains where he got tripped up and the boys didn’t, Frank says “modestly,” “You would have found him eventually.” It’s hard to imagine a more patronizing dismissal from an 18-year-old. Sure, you would have found him eventually. He might have become a drug addict in New Dehli before you found him; he might have been a skeleton who fed the fishes at the bottom of the Hudson River. But I’m sure you would have cracked the case eventually.

Charity begins in the waste bin: Frank throws away aluminum cans in a public trash can, rationalizing someone else could use the money for turning them in. I was more interested in the can redemption than Frank’s trickle-down economics; I had no idea that people had been getting a nickel a can in New York state since 1983.

EMTs to the rescue: Joe discovers he is allergic to cardamom in the usual way, by having an allergic reaction after consuming some. EMTs arrive and give Joe a shot of adrenaline, then leave. That seems a little cursory. Today, the adrenaline is called epinephrine, but victims are generally kept under observation for hours to a whole day because of the possibility of biphasic anaphylaxis — that is, the recurrence of the allergic reaction without exposure to the allergen.

That’s magnanimous of you, Nikki: The climax of the story happens at a block party hosted by Indian Business Association. Nikki reluctantly invites the boys, but given that the party is being advertised on posters all around Little India, I doubt they need your permission to attend, Nikki.

Does he have furry feet?: Like a hobbit, Joe indulges in second breakfast from time to time. In Deadly Engagement, the meal is a very hobbit-appropriate eggs and toast.

Says you, pal: When the NYPD finally gets involved, a detective tells Frank and Joe they “can’t go around questioning people as if [they] were the police.” That’s what you think, buddy — Frank and Joe have made a career of doing it, and they’ve done it over the objections of better cops than you.

Off his game: Nikki joins the boys’ investigation, and Frank leaves Joe and Nikki alone together. Joe isn’t sure he likes that idea, which is weird; usually Joe is all about the ladies. It could be that she has a fiancé, but as he suggested more than once, Sanjay could be dead, and that would technically mean that Nikki is available. And we all know how Frank and Joe feel about technicalities when they benefit the Hardys. It could have something about how he “accidentally” attacked her in the dark and she wouldn’t even accept his hand to help her up, though.

Frank thinks it has something to do with Nikki’s personality: “Joe sometimes had trouble with strong and smart women, and Nikki was both.” I don’t think Frank realizes this, but it makes Joe sound like a date rapist: he has trouble with women whom he can’t physically overpower or trick / bully / cajole into having sex with him. I know that’s not what’s intended, and I don’t even think it’s funny, but it would go along with the stupid, slightly vain, birddogging jock archetype Joe’s later incarnations hew to. Joe does move in for the clinch when he sees Nikki emotionally vulnerable at a friend’s betrayal, putting an arm around her and trying to comfort her.

Emotional responses: After finding out a friend betrayed Sanjay to have a romantic chance with Nikki, she wonders what her response should be: should she be flattered or angry? The answer, of course, is angry — cartoonishly, freakishly enraged that a man thought that all he had to do to win her was remove the man she loved and plotted to send him into exile until he did win her hand in marriage. Yes, angry does it.

Opinions: The most disappointing part of this book is that this particular Dixon takes a colorful immigrant community in New York City and boils it down to jewelry, Curry in a Hurry, arranged marriage, and an old feud. Think of all the details a modern-day Macfarlane would have strewn throughout the narrative; think of the feasts, which would have had no pointless allergies. (Is cardamom that exotic? Wouldn’t Joe have run into it somewhere before?) Religion isn’t even mentioned, despite the Shahs and Kumars coming from part of India near the partition with Pakistan. (OK, religion might be too controversial for the Hardy Boys — but this is the Casefiles! You can blow someone up, surely you can have Hindus and Muslims hating one another without killing each other.) As for the case itself, Frank and Joe fail to zero in on the obvious suspects despite his blinding obviousness. Oh, well — that’s not much different from normal.

Grade: C+. At times I had the feeling Dixon really was trying. Not all the time, of course, but some times.

Friday, April 8, 2011

No post this week

Sorry there was no post this week — gardening and taxes got in the way.

Next week, the book will be Deadly Engagement, #90 in the Casefiles. The next two books after that will be Mission: Mayhem, #93 in the Casefiles series, and Program for Destruction #87 in the digest series. I haven’t decided on the order yet, though.