Friday, October 24, 2014

The Mark of the Blue Tattoo (#146)

The Mark of the Blue Tattoo coverPlot: Chet is kidnapped during his first day as an ice-cream man, and the incident may have something to do with increased gang activity — but not necessarily gang violence — in Bayport.

“Borrowing” from the past: Frank and Joe visit Fenton’s study, looking for advice. In Blue Tattoo, the study has an “old leather couch” and bookshelves with Fenton’s “impressive collection of crime literature” (119). The office first had a couch in The Billion Dollar Ransom (#73). Fenton has often had a library of crime-related books, but it was located in its own room, not in his study.

In other mysteries, the study has contained Fenton’s collection of trophy firearms (The Missing Chums, #4), disguises and souvenirs of past cases (While the Clock Ticked, #11), comfy chairs (The Sign of the Crooked Arrow, #28; The Shattered Helmet, #51; The Mysterious Caravan, #54; and The Pentagon Spy, #61; and the revised Mark on the Door, #12, and Melted Coins, #23), a short-wave radio (The Mystery of the Whale Tattoo, #47, and the revised Secret Warning, #17), criminal records (Crooked Arrow; The Secret of the Lost Tunnel, #29; The Secret Agent on Flight 101, #46; The Apeman’s Secret, #60; and the revised Hooded Hawk Mystery, #34), a safe (Hooded Hawk and The Mystery of the Chinese Junk, #39), and a TV (The Four-Headed Dragon, #69).

Gertrude makes a strawberry-rhubarb pie for the boys. Gertrude made a strawberry-rhubarb pie for the boys in the revised Mystery of the Flying Express (#20) and a rhubarb pie in the revised Clue of the Broken Blade (#21) and The Arctic Patrol Mystery (#48). Gertrude submits “strawberry rhubarb pie” as an entry in the Freddy Frost Ice Cream Company’s new flavor contest, and of course she wins.

After Joe swings from the top of a moving ice cream truck through its small side window and into the truck’s storage area, a man asks Joe, “Did you ever think about joining the circus?” (145). Frank makes the standard “as a clown” joke, but seriously, Joe was a clown for the Big Top Circus in Track of the Zombie (#71). Both brothers also worked as trapeze artists (among other things) for “Big Top” Hinchman’s circus in The Clue of the Broken Blade (#21).

Two-thirds of the way through the book, Chet balks at taking on gangsters and murderers, but he’s done so before without blinking. The boys took on organized crime in The Night of the Werewolf (#59) and The Shattered Helmet (#52) and attempted murderers in The Pentagon Spy (#61), Sky Sabotage (#79), and The Swamp Monster (#83) without backing down. Heck, he’s even helped the Hardys fight terrorists, who are much more frightening than anything in The Mark of the Blue Tattoo. So why’s Chet being such a chicken now?

It was the ‘90s: When Frank wanted to run a license plate, the first thing he did was “logged on to the Net” (26). The dial-up modem sound wasn’t described, but from that description, I can hear it — followed a few seconds later by “You’ve got mail.”

Also, the Freddy Frost ice-cream truck trucks stop at several playgrounds, both municipal and school. That just makes sense in a commercial sense — you go where the customers are, right? — but in the 21st century, concerns about childhood obesity might get ice-cream trucks banned from such child-heavy areas.

When Chet is kidnapped by two men in ski masks, Frank hypothesizes that it might be part of a hazing ritual, which Iola equates with “a practical joke” (12). Given the attention hazing has received, especially hazing incidents that have resulted in injury or death, hazing today is considered much more serious than a practical joke.

Bayport Chamber of Commerce: Since it’s a book based in Bayport, Frank and Joe patronize several local businesses. Frank and Joe grab a slice at Mr. Pizza and a grilled cheese and soda at the Starlight Diner. The brothers also accidentally on purpose run into Officer Con Riley at the Coffee Spot, where they pick up coffee and doughnuts. Chet works for Freddy Frost Ice Cream Truck.

Congratulations, ghost writer and editor! This may be the first book that featured Bayport business names that I didn’t laugh at.

When you’re a Hardy, you’re a Hardy all the way: Frank and Joe are astonished to be mistaken for gang members by Hedda Moon, the city’s peace broker to the teens. However, if she’d phrased it differently, it would have made more sense; Iola talks about the “clout” (58) the boys wield, and Joe’s favorite teacher, Mr. Bennett, claims Frank and Joe have a great deal of influence on other students. Later on, when investigative reporter Aaron McKay is about to tell Frank and Joe he’s decided they aren’t gangsters, Frank and Joe grab him by the arms, and Frank says, “Time for a casual stroll and a friendly talk” (105), which is what gangsters say to the guy they’re about to put in a car and bury in a shallow grave in the desert.

Metafiction: McKay suggests he wants to write a fictionalized version of the Hardys’ adventures, which he expects to be popular: “It wouldn’t surprise me if the publishers decided to do a whole series of books about you” (63). Frank stalls McKay, but one can almost imagine Joe winking at the camera and saying, “That’s ridiculous, don’t you think?”

Later, when Iola goes missing after investigating on her own, Joe thinks, “If anyone had harmed Iola, he would pay them back with whatever it took” (135). Iola was killed in the first book in the Hardy Boys Casefiles series, Dead on Target, which led to a longstanding vendetta between the Hardy boys and the Assassins, who planted the bomb that killed her.

Dumbest teen gangs ever: First, everyone knows Marlon Masters is the “most powerful gang leader at Bayport High” (4), but the Hardys haven’t actually done anything about Masters or any of the many gangs at BHS. Second, one of these teen gangs is named the Gimps. The Gimps! They change their name to the superior “Mad Martians,” and their biggest rivals switch from “Gutfighters” to Comets. (Joe dislikes Comets, which lacks an intimidation factor, but Gutfighters is awful as well.)

Thirdly, the gang the Hardys are fighting is the Starz, which most people think of as an off-brand HBO or Showtime rather than a name for an intimidating gang. Fourthly, the Starz’s biggest tough backs down when Joe looks at him funny. Fifthly, the Starz’s revenge consists of pushing and tripping the Hardys and their friends. Sixthly, when they want to get back at Callie for snooping, they dump her looseleaf binder on the floor, and it takes her ten whole minutes to return the pages to the proper order. That’s intimidation!

Ahead of the curve: The Freddy Frost Ice Cream Company is running a contest to suggest a new flavor. Chet, eager to make a good impression on his employer, comes up with quite a few suggestions, like lasagna and champagne, that disgust his friends. Two stand out: “hash” (94), which could refer to three different meanings (beef, hash browns, or hashish), and “guacamole sherbet.” The latter is an intriguing idea that I think would appeal to modern foodies, and the sherbet’s low milkfat content would be nicely offset by the fattiness of the guacamole. Also, Joe’s suggestion of a corn chip cone, offered in jest, is really a nice touch. Chet was enthusiastic about the idea, although like all his ideas, he abandoned it quickly. I can see a semi-upscale restaurant making it a specialty, although it Might be hard to sell from an ice cream truck.

The po-po ain’t on your side, man: Once again, Frank and Joe decide to cut the police out of their investigation. Frank warns Chet not to pass along a bit of important evidence (the star tattoo on one of his kidnapper’s wrist) to the police, although to be fair, he might just have been peeved that he and his brother were not immediately recognized by officers and that Callie was frisked. Later, it doesn’t occur to Joe to contact the police when someone tries to kill him with an ice-cream truck. Near the end of the book, Frank and Joe pump Con for info without letting him know what they knew.

Maybe Joe considers reporting crimes to the police to be in the same category as snitching to teachers, which he considers “against his principles” (46). Or maybe both brothers realize the police are hopelessly out of date; Con laments that the “rumble has gone out of style” (126). The next thing you know, they’ll tell Con that gang violence no longer involves musical numbers!

I find your lack of faith disturbing: When Frank and Joe lead the hunt for Chet, Joe says they’ll do everything they can to find their friend. Iola asks, “What if that’s not enough?” and wants to call in the police. Iola: Frank and Joe’s best has always been enough to find Chet, as it was in this case. I mean, their fourth case, The Case of the Missing Chums, was entirely about finding a kidnapped Chet (and Biff).

Iola also complains about being left out of the case, which is a fair complaint. (Callie gets to do all sorts of things to help the investigation, although to be doubly fair, she also works hard to find things to do.) Rather than complaining directly to Joe about being forgotten, Iola has Chet deliver the message. It immediately slips Joe’s mind that he’s supposed to include Iola, but rather than seizing the moral high ground with a blistering lecture, Iola slips out of the Morton house and gets thrown into an ice-cream locker to freeze to death. That’ll certainly show Joe!

Frank and Joe — awesome teens, great job!: Joe is described as having the “casual grace of a star running back” (1). When the Starz prepare to attack Frank and Joe, the brothers slip into the “unfocussed attention of a trained martial artist” (31).

Have you been paying attention?: When someone pours glue over a library book and Frank’s notes, Frank gets blamed and sent to the principal’s office. The principal believes him, but she wonders what the perpetrator’s motive is. C’mon — Frank and Joe pick up enemies everywhere, and the school had already asked the brothers to investigate an extortion ring.

Blessed are the peacemakers: After Frank says he was talked into a peace conference with the Starz, Tony Prito is appalled: “The nerve … I’d like to negotiate some knuckles on that guy’s … nose” (54). Hot-headed Italian stereotype or hot-headed teenager stereotype?

Opinions: Blue Tattoo has a lot to recommend it. It does a good job looking at the role Frank and Joe occupy in the Bayport High School. They aren’t universally adored by the student body; in fact, it seems as if the Hardys are isolated, able to rely only on their immediate circle of friends. This isn’t the way other digests portray the Hardys — a new friend always pops up — but it’s more realistic that the only real friends they have are Biff, Chet, Tony, Callie, and Iola. Frank and Joe are too busy to dedicate much time to friendship, and they need to guard against people who want to associate with them only because of their fame.

It also shows that Frank and Joe’s aggressive crimefighting lifestyle has left them blind to problems in their own backyard. Bayport and BHS seem riddled with teen gangs, and the boys have done nothing about it. They pay the price, too; their classmates are intimidated by the gangs, unwilling to discuss them with the Hardys. Frank and Joe’s teachers range from sympathetic toward them to oblivious to the brothers’ reputation; the school librarian doesn’t buy Frank’s claim that someone else vandalized his library books, and Ms. Amity makes Frank (and the rest of his English class) study Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native, which seems like a punishment to me.

On the other hand, the book has its flaws. Frank and Joe are not top-notch investigators, oblivious that the Frosty Freddie ice cream trucks are being used as part of a criminal network even as they watch it happen. It’s not obvious that the trucks are being used to run numbers, although the OTB the truck stopped at should have been a clue. It is obvious that they’re being used for something illegal, though; several times the truck the brothers followed drew a large crowd of adults, but children were frequently ignored. Frank and Joe just think it’s weird, part of the business world they don’t understand.

Also: the blue tattoo on one of Chet’s kidnapper is never used to identify the kidnapper, although everyone assumes the tattooed star means the kidnapper was a member of the Stars. And Hedda Moon never should have used a nom du crime (“Lunatic”) that referred back to her; the astronomy-related gang names she chose after taking over the gangs also were a poor choice.

Grade: A-. A strong Bayport and high school setting will cause me to forgive the book’s weaknesses.

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