Friday, April 11, 2014

The Secret of the Soldier's Gold (#182)

The Secret of the Soldier’s Gold coverPlot: When Fenton heads to Portugal to consult with a police friend, Frank and Joe look for a missing suitcase full of World War II gold.

“Borrowing” from the past: The plot is vaguely like The Secret of the Lost Tunnel, in which Frank, Joe, and Chet help a general track down some missing Civil War gold. Unlike Lost Tunnel, the Hardys have no adult supervision, and the gold was hidden only about 55 to 60 years before (as opposed to 80 some-odd years in Lost Tunnel. Also, Frank and Joe have replaced Chet with an attractive young Portuguese woman, and that’s never a bad thing.

Languages are always a concern for the Hardys in a foreign country. Frank and Joe do not know Portuguese, although they do pick up a few words during Soldier’s Gold. They did not go to Portugal in the original canon, although they did go to Brazil, another Portuguese-speaking nation, in The Masked Monkey (#51). In Soldier’s Gold, Frank is taking Spanish at Bayport High School and claims to have received an A in German class last year. On the other hand, he has trouble realizing “Frau” is a German honorific. His language experience can be seen in the Shadow Killers post.

Frank and Joe are confronted by a trio of fascists with a Doberman, and later they are confronted by mastiffs when they break into a walled estate. The boys have been menaced by Dobermans twice in the original canon: the revised A Figure in Hiding (#16) and The Night of the Werewolf (#59). Additionally, they were chased by Dobermans in Panic on Gull Island. They faced a mastiff in The Arctic Patrol Mystery (#49).

When Frank and Joe ask Fenton what he knows about Lisbon during World War II, Fenton laughs and says, “I don’t know anything firsthand.” Since the character was created in 1927 as a man approaching middle age, at some point in the series’ floating continuity, he probably served in the war — at the very least, he must have been draft eligible. Essentially, he could have been a World War II veteran anywhere between The Short-Wave Mystery (#25) and Masked Monkey. However, evidence of his service is scant; Lost Tunnel mentions Fenton served a summer in an officer’s training camp, but it’s unclear when that was.

Frank mentions he and Joe are track-and-field athletes. Their history as track athletes is discussed in The Mystery of the Black Rhino (#178), but they’ve never competed in field events. Neither Frank nor Joe mentions their gymnastics experience, which would have been relevant; Frank has worked out on the parallel bars, and both performed on the trapeze in “Big Top” Hinchman’s circus in The Clue of the Broken Blade (#21). In fact, Frank and Joe had an entire barn fitted with gymnastic (and boxing) equipment. The barn lasted from The Tower Treasure (#1) to The Hidden Harbor Mystery (#14).

Joe also makes an impressive dive off the Ponte de 25 Abril, and Frank hopes he can replicate his diving form in his next competition. Joe has never been a competitive diver; the closest he ever came was in Revenge of the Desert Phantom (#84), in which he was captain of the Bayport High swim team and a record-holder in the 100-meter freestyle.

While renting a motorboat on the Tagus, Frank and Joe show their marine operator’s licenses. Frank and Joe have been puttering around Barmet Bay since the Coolidge administration, but the original canon never mentioned they had a license to do so. They have pilot’s licenses (for airplanes), fishing licenses, driver’s licenses, licenses to operate short-wave radios, and even a permit to hunt with their falcon, Miss Peregrine — but they never bother with licenses for boating.

When the rented motorboat’s gas tank is shot, the brothers decide to abandon ship. Joe says, “The same thing happened to us once in Barmet Bay … We made it to shore then.” I can’t find what Joe is referring to, even expanding the definition of “same thing” to any shortage of gas or danger of explosion.

Euphemisms: Frank and Joe’s relationships with Iola Morton and Callie Shaw are usually spoken of elliptically by the narrator. In Soldier’s Gold, Iola and Callie are “two of the most popular girls in school,” and they “often spent time” with Frank and Joe. I’m impressed by the vagueness of the description. What do they do when they spend time together? Go on dates? Shoot rats at the dump? Discuss Proust? And does Callie and Iola’s popularity rub off on Frank and Joe, or are the girls bucking social convention by being seen in their presence?

Perhaps in gratitude for bestowing their time on the unworthy Hardys, Frank and Joe buy them “cool-looking Portuguese shoes” in Lisbon. The narration says the boys “thought Callie and Iola would like” the shoes, but I’d hate to see the results of their shopping expedition. I’d be amazed if the boys know Iola’s and Callie’s shoe sizes, and what do high-school boys think looks “cool”? Sneakers? Stilettos? Bedazzled flip-flops?

Of course, neither Iola nor Callie spend any time with the brothers in Soldier’s Gold, although Frank and Joe do worry that the girls will be jealous that they are going to a freshman girl’s birthday party. Since I think Iola already knows Joe waits until he’s out of town to step out on her, I think they are safe as long as they’re in Bayport. (Iola should perhaps be worried about Isabel, the girl they meet in Lisbon. Isabel actually gets to help investigate!)

We know who’s in charge: When Frank and Joe learn of the missing gold, they immediately want to talk it over with Fenton. Fenton needs to be at police HQ to talk to Chief Collig, but he says, “It won’t hurt if I’m a few minutes late.” No, Fenton, why not waste the time of an important public servant to have a discussion with your sons that could easily be taken care of later in the day or week? Collig should expect it, really. He knows how famous you are.

The March of Technology: It takes Frank and Joe fifteen minutes to place a person-to-person call to Bayport through the hotel switchboard. This book was written in 2003. Are Portuguese telecommunications really that slow? Perhaps my expectations for intercontinental calls are too optimistic.

Later, the Hardys acknowledge the existence of cell phones, asking Isabel to call the cops on hers. She says she left it at home to recharge.

Not smart enough to be scared: When Frank and Joe visit the estate where the gold is supposed to be buried, they see guards with machine guns and guard dogs patrolling the ground. Later, they put into action a plan to sneak onto the grounds, but the men with machine guns barely enter into their plans. Why should they? Frank and Joe have never been shot with a gun. Later, when they leave a hole in the ground at that estate, they briefly worry that they might be confronted by the police, who might be infiltrated by neo-fascists. That worry disappears almost as soon as they voice it.

Later, when they believe the fascists have the gold, they are puzzled about why a different group of fascists are following them. Perhaps because they’re fascists, and they always like to get the boot in? Or this group of fascists don’t know the others have the gold? Or because they want to eliminate the witnesses to their gold theft?

There’s a secret code for you: While talking with English-speaking fascists in Lisbon, Frank and Joe resort to Pig Latin to communicate secretly. I admire Joe’s cleverness; understanding a foreign language doesn’t mean total, native mastery, and Joe exploits that.

Food … of … the … world!: The Hardy family visits Picanha, a restaurant that serves only one dish: picanha, which is rump steak served with salad, rice, and beans. The author gives no indication whether restaurants serving only picanha or one-item restaurants are common in Portugal, or whether Picanha is a special Portuguese restaurant that rips off tourists who are too overwhelmed to have an idea what to order in a foreign country. At least there won’t be any surprises.

Frank and Joe also sample some Sumol, a real Portuguese soft drink. From its corporate page, it looks broadly similar to Mountain Dew in look, although Soldier’s Gold mentions it comes in many flavors.

Practice, practice, practice: Joe is bopped on the head as he enters his hotel room. He and Frank then pursue his attacker down the fire escape, jumping from the final landing to the ground. Frank is sure that the impact of hitting the ground didn’t help Joe’s head wound any, but “he was impressed that it hadn't kept Joe from running after the intruder at full speed.” If there’s a family that knows how to cope with head trauma on the fly, it’s the Hardys; they certainly have enough experience with it.

Famous amateur detectives!: The news that Frank and Joe have a treasure map gets out among Lisbon’s police officers. Numerous people are suspected as the leak, and Frank and Joe force themselves to consider that the cute girl they like might be the one who spread the news. That’s good thinking!

Most of the rest of their brainwaves are bad thinking, though. They solved the case with a simple personal ad; if they’d thought of contacting Lisbon’s German population in the beginning, it would have saved them a lot of headaches. (It wouldn’t have been much of a mystery, perhaps, but who knows?) When they saw the home where the gold was buried was heavily guarded, they should have investigated the past of the person who owned the house. You know, just in case that’s important. It doesn’t end up being important, but it could have.

Later, they decoy pursuers into thinking the gold is buried in a botanical park. When the pursuers confront them, they feign fear and run away. They do not, however, try to sneak back and see who was following them.

Logic tricks: When Frank and Joe learned the buried suitcase held bricks, not gold, they had to think of explanations for why the bricks had been buried. Frank uses some tortuous logic: the man who buried the gold and was later captured by the Nazis had let the secret out, so when he was able to get to the gold after the war, he buried the bricks to make it appear he lied. But whoever got the information from him — under torture, in a prison camp — would likely have had a head start over the former POW and would likely have gotten to the gold first.

Jealous enough to start firebombing: After finding the gold and returning it to their client — with surprisingly little difficulty in transferring millions of dollars of gold from Portugal to the U.S. — they are offered a reward. Frank and Joe refuse, so their client offers to make a donation to Bayport High School. Joe says, “Bayport High School is just about to become one of the most envied schools in the country.”

Geez, Joe. BHS already had you and Frank, who pull sports championships out of orifices they are not usually pulled from. What ostentatious monument to prosperity is BHS going to get — a new gymnasium? A tech campus? Gold-plated urinals? If I lived in nearby Bridgewater or Hopkinsville or Southport, when I heard this I would hate Bayport with an intensity that would cause my hair to spontaneously combust.

Opinions: Soldier’s Gold is a solid story. True, Frank and Joe’s investigation leaves a great deal to be desired — they charge into everything, just like always — the book has a lot to like. Neo-fascists are sinister yet believable villains, blending into society and making Frank and Joe suffer a tinge of paranoia. This anonymity gives the villains a reason not to kill the Hardys: an investigation might ruin their disguise.

Also: Nazi gold makes everything cooler.

Grade: B+.