Friday, November 21, 2014

Cross-Country Crime (#134)

Cross-Country Crime coverPlot: Frank and Joe interrupt their ski vacation through the Canadian Rockies to help a man wrongfully accused of robbing a bank.

“Borrowing” from the past: It’s November! Specifically, it’s a week-long Thanksgiving vacation for Frank and Joe. Now, few of the books produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate specifically take place around this time of year — The Sinister Sign Post is set in the fall, the revised Short Wave Mystery probably happens in November, and Game Plan for Disaster occurs about the time in November when college football seasons were wrapping up their regular seasons in 1982. But! The boys duck out on their family during the Christmas holidays in The Mystery of Cabin Island, spending the actual holiday and much of the break on Cabin Island …

You know what? I’m going to change the format, because a) it’s my blog, and b) no one’s reading it anyway. Might as well try to pander to a different demographic, like elementary school students trying to cheat on book reports.

So, anyway, the second page tells us Frank and Joe are spending Thanksgiving in the Canadian Rockies, away from their friends and family. That will be the last time Thanksgiving is mentioned in the book. Since Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October, that makes sense, but on the other hand, why set the story during Thanksgiving if you’re not going to reference it? Frank and Joe don’t call home to wish their parents a happy Thanksgiving, and they don’t mention the holiday or any of the trappings when they talk to Con Riley, the only other American mentioned in the book.

Anyway, Frank and Joe are cross-country skiing across Alberta, from Banff to Lake Louise, a trip that’s about 35 miles through the Rockies. Frank is looking forward to some downhill skiing at the end of the trip, while Joe wants to do some snowboarding, “hoping to get in some action” (3). While getting breakfast in the real town of Evergreen, the local sheriff paws through their packs. The trust company (Canadian for “bank,” according to the book) has just been robbed, and the sheriff has to clear the boys. Usually, this would be a cue for the brothers to join in the investigation, but Frank insists they have a “date with nature” (8). Don’t worry: it’ll be just as chaste as all their other dates. You don’t have to worry about Joe doing something inappropriate with a maple tree or anything.

Outside of Evergreen, a blizzard hits. Frank’s not worried; according to him, it’s not cold enough for hypothermia. On the other hand, “you never know” (9), which isn’t what you want to hear your nature expert say. Frank and Joe stumble across Mitch Taylor, who has wrapped his snowmobile around a tree. Mitch is unconscious, and when the boys rouse him, they find he’s suffering from memory loss. Amnesia, the boys diagnose, although they’re confident Mitch doesn’t have a concussion. Except loss of consciousness and memory problems are two major symptoms of a concussion. (It turns out Mitch has been lying in the snow for an hour or so before the Hardys reach him. No one is concerned about that — not cold enough for hypothermia, remember.)

In any event, Frank and Joe get Mitch to his cabin and accept his offer of hospitality while the blizzard passes. A radio station, WBNF, broadcasts a description of the bank robber that looks a lot like Mitch. (Note: Canadian radio station call letters begin with “C.”) Frank and Joe are suspicious of Mitch at first but uncertain of the etiquette of accusing one’s host of bank robbery and mollified by his weak excuses, they decide not to worry about it. The next morning, the boys take advantage of Mitch’s hospitality to get in some snow sports before leaving Evergreen behind. No mystery for these boys, nosiree! They’re all about winter sports. “Whoooee,” Joe enthuses as he snowboards down the hill behind Mitch’s cabin — until he’s swallowed up by an avalanche. Frank and Mitch dig him out of the snow, but that makes the book’s second cliché (after “amnesia). If there’s a bear attack, they’ll hit the cliché hat trick.

This rescue guilts the brothers into helping clear Mitch. That they were ready to abandon the man in their pursuit of pleasure doesn’t speak well of them, but there’s still time in the book to find someone more unlikeable. They grill the sheriff when he comes to arrest Mitch, but he refuses to say anything: “I’m might be backwoods, but I’m not stupid” (28). If you’re not stupid, what are you doing in a Hardy Boys book? But then he answers the boys’ questions about the witness who fingered Mitch and about the bank’s security, so maybe he belongs here after all.

Two alternate suspects raise their heads:

• George Dupuy, who owns the local lumber company. Mitch used to work for him, but Dupuy fired him when Mitch ratted him out for unscrupulous logging practices. Now Dupuy is in debt and needs the money; framing Mitch might be an extra bonus.
• Rob Rubel, who’s suddenly flashing money around Evergreen despite being insolvent the week before. He also doesn’t like Frank and Joe, threatening Joe on their first meeting and calling him “Joey boy” before forcing him off the slopes on a subsequent meeting. He claims his grandfather willed him the money, but Frank and Joe don’t take that explanation seriously.

Somehow, neither Frank nor Joe suspects Justin Greeley, the guy who starts a conversation with the non-standard use of “Word up?,” or Bill Forman, the guy who tells Dupuy, his boss, “Go jump in a hole” when Dupuy tells him to actually do some work. Oh, the two guys are always around, and Justin’s the person who put Mitch at the scene of the crime, and they’re two of only three people who know the Hardys are going to do a little constructive B&E at Dupuy’s, an adventure that ends with Frank and Joe being shot at. But surely these two couldn't be responsible! Frank and Joe don’t even rule them out, actually. It never crosses their mind that Justin and Bill could be the thieves.

They are, of course. That’s the way these books work.

They also don’t suspect Tom Gregory, a 12-year-old who calls himself Hot Doggy Dog. (The author evidently has heard of Snoop Doggy Dogg, whose first album had been released two years before Cross-Country Crime was published, but didn’t know that Snoop spelled the last part of his name D-O-double G.) HDD also knew Frank and Joe were going to try to break into Dupuy’s safe, but he gives everyone motorized snowboards, which are surprisingly real things.

While snowboarding with Joe, HDD, Bill, and Justin, Frank scores the cliché hat trick, encountering a brown bear. Although Frank’s convinced standing still is the best course, the boys drive him off grouping together and shouting, appearing to be an even bigger predator. Amusingly, despite the trick’s success, they still argue what the best tactic is against bears.

Frank and Joe solve the mystery, although you have to worry about their tactics. In addition to breaking into Dupuy’s office and safe, the boys rifle Rubel’s apartment and wander into the burgled bank and pick locks there as well. (Why did Frank and Joe bring their lock picks on a ski trip? Especially since thieves’ tools are illegal in many jurisdictions.) B&E is a crime, no matter the reason, and interfering with a crime scene should have gotten them arrested. They also pilfer $100 from Rubel’s apartment to have it checked against the stolen money. When Frank and Joe finally clear Mitch, Joe’s peeved the sheriff is taking credit for what they uncovered. The boy should be happy the sheriff is choosing to overlook the details of their investigation. At the very least, he would have been justified to deport them.

But Frank and Joe aren’t forthcoming either. They don’t share their findings with the sheriff, although that’s SOP for the boys. When they are chased by their attackers at Dupuy’s office toward Evergreen, neither Hardy considers getting help in the town; they are more concerned with blowing through town and losing their pursuer in the woods. Later, they convince the sheriff to let Mitch out so that they can retrace his steps on the morning of the robbery, but Joe thinks the sheriff will let them wander about, unsupervised.

The walkthrough doesn’t really reveal anything new, but it does inspire everyone to look at Justin’s identification of Mitch more closely. They don’t get to expose his lie because he and Bill are already fleeing the jurisdiction. Frank, Joe, and Hot Lion catch up with the thieves, but shockingly, taking a 12-year-old to apprehend bank robbers is not the best plan, and all three are captured. Bill and Justin lift off in a stolen helicopter, but Frank and Joe grab onto the chopper’s skids as it lifts off. Justin can’t shake them off, and Bill can’t shoot them off, so they put the helicopter into a dive and ditch it. Everyone jumps into the snow from about 50 feet, and only Justin is injured.

Let’s stop for a moment. Fifty feet fall, from a helicopter probably going at least 100 miles per hour. Even into snow, that’s going to be a hell of a stop. But for Frank and Joe, it’s only a “bone-jarring thud” (142), and their forward momentum is immediately extinguished. Justin breaks a leg, and he’s the worst off.

With Justin immobilized, Frank and Joe pursue Bill on their motorized snowboards and catch him before he can jump into a chasm, a la Richard Kimble in The Fugitive. After turning the criminals in to the sheriff, Frank, Joe, Hot D-O-single G, and Mitch are ready to unwind — no more snowboarding, no more skiing, no more mysteries. They plan to return to Hot Doggy Dog’s house, watch a movie, eat popcorn, and … wait, what?

“Did I tell you we have a hot tub?” Tom asked the Hardys.
“Now this is my idea of a hard-core vacation,” Joe said.

If Tom were older, I would tell readers to cue the porn soundtrack there and let their imaginations take over. As it is, I have no idea what to tell you.

Grade: C-. A forgettable book, although it reminds me of the slightly better Open Season (Casefiles #59). At least in that one the rural mountain sheriff has the decency to point out the felonies the Hardys commit during their “investigation.”

Friday, November 14, 2014

Crime in the Kennel (#133)

Crime in the Kennel coverPlot: When a dog at the pet hotel is kidnapped while Iola is on duty, she is fired, and Frank and Joe hunt for the dog. (Mostly to find the dog. Her boss was kind of a jerk.)

“Borrowing” from the past: Not much, really. Gertrude’s pie is lemon this time; Gertrude made a lemon meringue pie in The Secret Panel (#25) and The Secret of Skull Mountain (#27). Frank uses the Sleuth to get into position for a trap; the boys don’t often use their motorboat in the digests. When discussing unrealistic career aspirations with a waitress, Joe jokes Frank “was supposed to pilot the next space shuttle” (33). Frank and Joe were astronauts in The Skyfire Puzzle (#85), although neither of the boys were pilots. Frank did get to threaten to space a man, though. That has to be a career highlight, although not one you can joke about to gain the confidence of a potential source.

Oh! Frank and Joe also have cargo almost fall on their heads when they visit the waterfront. This happens many, many times in the original canon — it’s a cliché, like storms when they are on Barmet Bay and the boys’ case dovetailing with Fenton’s and the decaying Bayport waterfront. The latter also appears here; the boys visit the waterfront throughout the canon, although it was best described in The Melted Coins: “Bayport’s waterfront is a picturesque but squalid part of the city. The streets were dark and crooked, crowded with second-hand stores, cheap hotels, and shabby restaurants. There was an unpleasant odor … in the air” (93).

In our last episode, which no one saw: Iola’s former co-worker, Dana Bailey, gushes about reading about Frank and Joe catching thieves at the fairground. Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear in any of the immediately previous books. Does anyone know if this appeared in one of the digests? Or was this made up to give Frank and Joe some cheap heat?

All-American boys: If you ever have thought Frank and Joe were absurdly competent, Crime in the Kennel does its best to disabuse you of that idea. The boys are continually beaten and humiliated by their opponents. They leave their van unlocked, and a suspect rifles through their stuff and takes the only bit of evidence they had. While investigating a pet store during working hours, Joe is buried under a pile of bagged dog food. When Frank and Joe break into the pet store that night to look at the store’s records, both are bopped over the head with a mop handle, then stuffed into large dog carriers. There’s so much wrong with that sentence: the breaking and entering, the single blow to the head with a mop handle knocking them out … they deserve to be locked in dog carriers. Frankly, they deserved to be locked in dog carriers and not let out until the staff arrived the next morning, but they manage to escape their impromptu prisons.

Later in the book, both boys are maced by a suspect. After Iola is kidnapped, Joe is chloroformed by her kidnapper and hauled away. Joe spends most of the rest of the book trying to escape his bonds and getting beat up by the kidnapper once he does break free. Joe is humiliated in Kennel, and who does the humiliating? An animal technician with no particular martial arts prowess.

Frank is at a loss against a female opponent. He knocks a paintball gun from her hands, but she slugs him, then bites him and easily regains the gun. On the other hand, Frank makes up for this and getting mop-handled by taking a paintball at point-blank range between the eyes without flinching. That’s going to sting like a mother — that’s going to sting real bad, man. But Frank just wipes the paint away and continues like it’s nothing.

Perhaps their martial arts skills are degenerating. At one point, Frank uses a “partial karate stance” (17). What the heck is that? Do you learn that when you get your half-green belt?

Iola!: I’ve gone over Iola’s fiery, occasionally mercurial, temper before, but she doesn’t display much of that in this book. She complains at the injustice of getting fired, but she doesn’t give her boss any of the heat she would have given to Joe. I suppose dealing with an adult is a different dynamic. After Frank and Joe agree to find the missing dog, Iola immediately takes off for Boston with her mother and doesn’t return until more than halfway through the book. Frank and Joe immediately allow her to deliver the ransom for a different dog; she’s immediately abducted — the abductor says it’s because she tried to remove his mask, but we don’t actually see her try to do that — and spends most of the book tied up or cowering.

Joe does call her a “strong person” (23), though, and he fears her wrath when he and Frank lose the dog they were supposed to be dogsitting for her. (She had agreed to look after the dog, but when she got a chance to go to Boston, she fobbed the dog off on the brothers.) His fear is unfounded, though; she doesn’t attack Joe when she finds out, even though he starts his explanation with “We can explain” (95). (Nothing positive has ever followed “We can explain” in the history of the human race, so obviously Iola can restrain her temper when she wants to.) Her next question was which of the suspects had stolen the dog; perhaps she had merely shifted her anger to a more appropriate target.

Iola does get back at her ex-boss, though. When she has been cleared and Dana has been arrested, she’s offered her job back. She says, “I’ll think about it” (147).

All the news that’s fit to print: The newspaper this time is the Banner. The Banner appeared in The Great Airport Mystery (#9). The Times is Bayport’s most popular paper, appearing in thirteen books (counting both original and revised books).

You know that movie, starring that guy who was on that show: Midway through the book, Frank and Joe are followed by a red pickup, driven by someone wearing a mask. Frank says, “He looks familiar … like that movie character, the green one with the huge teeth and superpowers” (75). The movie Frank is so strenuously avoiding mentioning is The Mask, starring Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz (her first acting role). The Mask was released in 1994, one year before Kennel was published.

It’s so hard to tell the difference, sometimes: Frank believes the dognapper is an amateur because “he hasn’t done anything really serious. … Mostly he’s given us headaches” (79). While I appreciate Frank’s appraisal — he ends up being right, after all — those amateurs give him and his brother a thorough working over. In the canon, the professional criminals generally don’t give the boys two beatings and a chemical attack and a humiliation like the criminals in Kennel.

On the other hand, the criminals aren’t the brightest. They steal the dog Frank and Joe are looking after with the expectation that this act will make them give up the investigation. Perhaps, if they issued an ultimatum or threat — give up now or we kill the dog — it would have worked. But they don’t contact Frank and Joe, so of course the brothers are going to continue looking for the animal. Later on, one of the dognappers attempts a semi-glutteal ransom for the dog, but that goes poorly as well. Also, one of the dognappers says, after being captured, that Frank and Joe don’t have any real evidence against them; unfortunately, Frank had just rescued Joe and Iola from being kidnapped, and as Frank points out, their testimony about what happened is likely to be more than enough to send both of them to prison.

We’re living in the future! (‘90s edition): Frank manages to gain the phone number of the dognapper by using a “caller ID box” (98) when the dognapper calls in a ransom demand, but Frank needs to call the telephone operator to get the number’s location.

Warehouse dog: As shown on the cover, a dog aggressively gets near Frank. In this case, it’s a pit bull terrier. Although Frank and Joe were frequently attacked by dogs, they never ran into pit bulls in the original canon. Doberman pinschers and German shepherds were the most common.

Comments: This is not the best-written digest. I could be charitable and say it seems to be geared for a lower reading level than other digests, but I’m not sure that was what the writer and editorial staff were aiming at. The first two paragraphs of Kennel do not sound as if they were professionally written, and although the book improves from there, the prose never really overcomes the shaky start of passages like, “Iola Morton was Joe’s girlfriend. If Iola was in trouble, he had to help her” (1).

The book does have a couple of genuinely touching moments. After Joe finds Iola after they had both been kidnapped, he asks her if she’s all right; she replies, “Now that you’ve found me” (115). It’s not the most original, but it feels genuine because the characters so rarely express that sort of idea. The criminals are also a boyfriend / girlfriend team, with the girlfriend as a reluctant criminal: “After Price fired you, Mike, didn’t I tell you I would stick by you? … You were after some kind of get-rich-quick scheme. What was I supposed to do? I didn’t want to be a criminal, but I didn’t want to lose you either. So I went along” (140). The speech manages to generate some sympathy for the poor woman, despite her terrible taste in men.

Grade: C-. I would not want to read another book about the thoroughly average Hardy Boys, but I admit, locking them in the pet carriers was a stroke of genius.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Maximum Challenge (#132)

Maximum Challenge coverPlot: Frank, Joe, and four of their friends compete on the TV show Maximum Challenge when it comes to Bayport; at the same time, a rash of burglaries also hit Bayport.

“Borrowing” from the past: Hurd Applegate calls the Hardy home in the middle of the night, wanting the family to look for his stolen coin collection. The Hardys have helped Hurd before, recovering his stolen jewels and bonds in The Tower Treasure (#1) and his lost stamps in While the Clock Ticked (#11). He turned into a staunch ally of the Hardys, even helping bail them out of jail in The Great Airport Mystery (#9) after they were arrested for robbing the mail. Frank’s down on Hurd in Maximum Challenge, calling the old man “weird” (20). Frank also says, “We managed to nail the last few people who ripped him off” (20), alluding to The Tower Treasure, While the Clock Ticked, and perhaps The Secret of the Island Treasure (#100), in which Frank, Joe, and Chet keep Hurd from being double-crossed by the people digging up the buried treasure on an island Hurd owns.

Joe says Bayport General Hospital is the best in the city. Bayport General appeared in A Figure in Hiding (#16), The Sign of the Crooked Arrow (#28), and Tic-Tac-Terror (#74). For some reason, though, no one trusts their ambulance; the Hardys transport a man with a broken clavicle to the hospital in their van instead of waiting for the ambulance. Of course, the injured man had to wait for them to change their clothes before they took him to Bayport General, but the important thing is that he didn’t have to ride in an ambulance.

Bayport’s newspaper in Maximum Challenge is the Times, which is the most common paper in the original canon. Fans of the Banner, Star, Press, and News will no doubt be disappointed.

The show: Maximum Challenge is based on the show American Gladiators, a syndicated 1989-1996 show in which amateurs competed against each other and the show’s cast of athletes in physical challenges. The show had several different events, such as an obstacle course (called “the Eliminator”), jousting with padded sticks on raised platforms, a maze, and a climbing wall. All these events, with some modifications, were used in Maximum Challenge.

Maximum Challenge’s shooting schedule is extremely inefficient, though. Each of the five competitions of Bayporters vs. Maximum Challenge’s Champions are held on separate nights. This is grossly inefficient for a TV show. To lower production costs, TV shows will film as much as they can in one day — Jeopardy!, for instance, films five episodes per day. Tearing down and reconstructing Maximum Challenge’s obstacle courses makes that more difficult, but the show could easily have fit the taping into two nights. That way, they wouldn’t have to pay rent on the venue or pay per diems and travel expenses for the crew for an entire week.

Maximum Challenge also stole from the kid’s game show Double Dare, which aired on Nickelodeon from 1986 to 1992. Double Dare combined trivia questions with “physical challenges.” Maximum Challenge had no trivia, but it did have “gloop,” a green, slimy concoction that competitors splashed into when they fell from heights. “Gak” was a similar disgusting substance that figured into many of Double Dare’s physical challenges.

Iola!: In the original canon, it’s hard to say what the boys see in their favorite dates. Neither Iola nor Callie has much of a personality, other than being generally pleasant and absurdly agreeable. Both are pretty; I suppose that’s more than enough for most teenage boys. Callie was valedictorian of their high-school class in The Great Airport Mystery (#9), so Frank may have an appreciation of her intelligence that explains why he’s attracted to her. Iola … well, she “understood the finer points of baseball” (34), according to The Wailing Siren Mystery (#30), which Joe regarded as a plus. Joe also called her a “capable sleuthing assistant” (15) in The Hooded Hawk Mystery (#34), but he rarely allowed her to help with mysteries.

We’ve gotten a better idea of what Joe might see in Iola in other digests. In Past and Present Danger (#166), Iola seems to have temper that leads her to give Joe a couple of “playful” punches. The violence is alluded to in Trouble in Warp Space (#172) as well. In Maximum Challenge, Iola is still fiery, but her emotions are all over the place.

The best description of her is “mercurial.” At the beginning of the book, she kisses Joe when their team wins a spot on Maximum Challenge. A kiss is pretty intense for Joe and Iola, but ten pages later, she was “glaring … hard at Joe” (11) after a practical joke is played on them by the Maximum Challenge crew. She complains that it’s unfair that the Maximum Challenge team has more experience than she and her team do, which seems to miss the point of the show. Before one of the competitions, she engages in a little lighthearted gunplay, pointing a loaded prop gun at her teammates and pouting when it’s taken from her. When she learns the gun had a bullet under the hammer, she faints. Later, Joe accuses her of baying for an opponent’s blood. Before the final competition, she complains when Frank’s nervous and can’t control the volume of his voice.

I’m not saying any of these actions are unbelievable, nor are they unbelievable when taken together. What I’m saying is that no one else is allowed to swing between emotions and criticize their friends like Iola does. I’m also not saying we should blame Iola; as I mentioned in >Past and Present Danger, Joe may have driven her to it. In Maximum Challenge, he mentions that he’s “hugged one or two girls” in his life (106). I doubt Joe’s stopped at hugging, though … he probably moved on to the dreaded K-I-S-S-I-N-G after that.

Speaking of euphemisms … : A heckler — later revealed as one of the pros the Hardys’ team will be competing against — “pointed a mocking finger” at them. I’ve never heard of the middle finger described as the mocking figure before, but live and learn, I always say.

Near current events!: After Iola’s shocking lack of gun safety — not unlike her brother’s in The Mystery of Cabin Island (#8) — Joe mentions a movie where a live round ended up in a gun and killed the star. Joe is probably referring to The Crow, in which a jury-rigged round accidentally lodged in the barrel of a revolver and was later launched at star Brandon Lee when a blank round was fired.

Bayport is … : The team wins the Maximum Challenge competition for “New York area” groups (2). That doesn’t narrow it down much, but it’s another data point.

I don’t think that’s how it works: A woman tells Frank and Joe she had received a gymnastics scholarship to a school she couldn't afford. Usually, this is good news; scholarships pay for college educations, so the question of whether she could afford the college becomes moot. She continues her story as if this meant she couldn't attend the school. Either she meant the scholarship was partial, not covering some aspect of the college experience (room and board is most likely), or NCAA regulations prevented her from making the money necessary for incidental expenses.

In case you were wondering: Frank uses a “five-cell flash” when staking out a jewelry store. That’s a flashlight that requires five batteries — probably D batteries, in this case — to work. As you might imagine from anything using that much battery power, it’s pretty bright.

In the future: After catching the cat burglar, a woman who was blackmailed into robbing local merchants, Joe says he doubts he will ever be a cop — evidently the frisson between ethics and law is too much for him. On the other hand, he doesn’t recognize one of the Maximum Challenge athletes at the beginning of the book because he is wearing a disguise — a raincoat — so maybe he’s looking for a job that will give him a little more leeway.

Other people depend on you, you know: Frank and Joe actually decide not to investigate the burglaries at first so they can be properly prepared for the competition. A wise choice; with four teammates who would suffer if Frank and Joe were unprepared, it would be selfish for them to spend the night running about looking for a cat burglar. I mean, of course they are eventually going to get drawn into the mystery, but that’s because it’s part of the series conceit.

A new front in the war on language: With this book, I’ve given up complaining about the use of “bro” in these books. I hold out hope, though, that “dude,” which Joe uses once, will not be repeated.

Comments: Although the idea of Frank and Joe (and their friends) excelling at yet another thing and increasing their fame beyond all rational bounds is absurd, the actual mechanics of Maximum Challenge are occasionally exciting. The first competition, which combines rock climbing with sniping, is a nice twist, and the maze challenge, which is portrayed as much as problem solving as athletic competition, is genuinely exciting. Also, it gives Phil Cohen a chance to shine, which is nice. The other competitions are less original and exciting, but they are solidly based on American Gladiators, so I can’t complain. I preferred the reality show in Warehouse Rumble (#183), although that’s because the post-apocalyptic trappings of the obstacle courses gave them a little extra oomph.

The kids all act like normal teenagers. I mentioned Iola before, but Biff thinks he can win a contest of strength with a professional athlete and has no idea how absurd that is. The Hardys and their friends endure a great deal of ribbing at school after Maximum Challenge plays an on-air prank on them, and even Aunt Gertrude gives them guff. I think the most realistic moment of the book — perhaps the entire canon — is when one of Iola’s friends laments her defeat in the rock-climbing competition. Iola had an early lead but was overtaken by her professional opponent, and her friend later says, “We were rooting for you guys … Iola did so well at first” (35; emphasis mine). Everyone expects things to keep going the way they start, no matter how much the odds are against it.

The criminal mastermind’s plan itself is stupid. Frank says, “Working for a traveling show would be a great cover for a burglar” (85), which is true — except that the high-profile burglaries could easily be matched to the show’s stops. Which the Bayport police do. The mastermind has insulated himself from the actual thief, so it’s possible he doesn’t care about that. However, he has the thief make the final drop of the stolen goods on the Maximum Challenge set, which is stupid. It’s where everyone can see you! And you might be filmed picking up stolen goods!

Grade: B.