Snow Leopard is set in Bayport, and it’s a story about Frank and Joe being awful friends to Chet. As with all great works of literature, Snow Leopard starts with a fat joke. Chet has taken an internship at the zoo, and Frank and Joe compare Chet’s appetite to an elephant’s. Of course they do. They then “roared with laughter” (1) over a joke that is just lame as my summary made it sound. Later, when they need to talk to Chet again, Frank makes it clear he was only half listening to Chet when he said what he was going to do next. (Later, they reveal they didn’t even listen when Chet told them the name of the elephant they compared him to.)
They find Chet talking with Salamaji, the princess of the small nation of Fakenameistan — sorry, Rashipah. When Chet tries to impress her by mentioning that Frank and Joe are detectives, Joe grumbles about Chet revealing their true identities. Since when has Frank and Joe’s detective abilities been a secret? And hey, Joe, Chet’s trying to impress an attractive princess from a far-off land — be cool for once in your life. Chet’s never hampered your game when you put the moves on girls when Iola isn’t around, and Iola’s his sister. Frank’s amazed that Chet seems to be attracted to the princess, although I have no idea why an unattached guy liking a rich, exotic beauty who doesn’t treat him like a freak would be remarkable. Maybe Frank thinks Chet should stick with fatties? Later, Joe mocks Chet and Salamaji’s growing closeness while talking to his brother. I think he’s just jealous, though.
Anyway, Frank and Joe keep running around Bayport and the zoo because the zoo director wants them to investigate various animal escapes. After the first three escapes, the animal was captured and returned to its cage before anything bad happened, but then Emi the snow leopard is taken. Not long afterwards, Salamaji is kidnapped. Chet breaks the news to Frank and Joe this way: “‘The princess!’ he cried. ‘She’s been kidnapped!’”
Frank’s reaction: “‘What?’ Frank demanded. ‘Wait. Calm down.’”
I like that Frank can make “What?” a demand, but the rest of his speech seems out of line. Chet seems relatively calm, given the circumstances.
Perhaps Bayporters don’t know how to be friends; one of Salamaji’s friends, who has a key to her dorm room, lets three strange boys (Frank, Joe, and Chet) after when Salamaji goes missing, which seems like a poor choice. Frank and Joe certainly aren’t done being bad friends; when Salamaji’s ex-boyfriend thinks it’s strange that she prefers Chet to him, Frank has trouble concealing his agreement with the ex.
So Frank and Joe are clearly not being good friends with Chet, even though he called them “his best buds.” But Frank and Joe’s jerkhood is not the only thing Snow Leopard focuses on; it’s also concerned with animals. What does this book teach us about the animal kingdom?
- Zoos are very eager to watch snow leopard sex. As soon as Salamaji donates Emi, her female snow leopard, to the Bayport Zoo, the director phones up someone who has a male snow leopard to secure a “nice husband” (8) for Emi. Euphemisms ahoy!
- Sometimes it takes a beast to show how much you’ve lost your edge. In the original Disappearing Floor, Frank and Joe take out an escaped tiger by bouncing rocks off its skull until it dies. In Snow Leopard, Frank stands still, staring at an escaped tiger and talking to it, until someone else shoots it with tranquilizer darts. How the mighty have fallen!
- Tigers are pirates at heart. When the tiger is hit by the darts, its response is, “Arrrrrr!” (14). That’s supposed to be a growl, but I can’t take that idea seriously.
- Animal lovers really like the acronym “ARF.” Animal rights activists in Snow Leopard use ARF for their organization: Animal Rights Force. However, in the real world, ARF is also the Animal Rescue Foundation, a group that saves pets that have run out time at shelters; ARF was founded by Hall of Fame baseball manager Tony LaRussa and his wife in 1991, five years before Snow Leopard was published. There’s also the Animal Rescue Fund, a name under which several separate animal rescue charities operate across America.
- Joe would like to experience primate behavior. While watching apes groom one another, Joe asks Frank why he didn’t clean him like that when they were younger. Frank says he wouldn’t do it now, either. Frank’s right to say that, Joe. Your joke was weird.
- Chimps like soap operas. They watch Days of Destiny every weekday. Perhaps the best part of the book is that Days of Destiny actually sounds like a soap opera name.
- Vampire bats cause amnesia. Frank thinks he’s never seen vampire bats, even though vampire bats were a major plot point in Danger on Vampire Trail.
- Animal rights activists aren’t concerned about the law of man. Frank and Joe have a discussion with the Kellermans, the founders and only members of ARF, about the “laws of nature” and “laws of man.” Jeff Kellerman says he doesn’t want to break the laws of man because he isn’t useful to the animal-rights movement in jail. He later breaks the law several times, so he isn’t really worried about prison. But perhaps if the Sayer of the Law told him “he who breaks the law shall be punished back to the House of Pain,” he might change his mind.
- Snakes are boneless. Or at least they are according to the narrator of Snow Leopard. Perhaps the particular snake being described was bred in an unsuccessful attempt to find an alternative source of the meat for chicken McNuggets.
- Man really is the most dangerous game. And not just because Frank and Joe deem it acceptable to wear cutoffs as part of their “official summer vacation uniforms” (2). No, it’s because humans can use blow guns. Frank, Joe, and Chet try to rescue Salamaji from a big-game hunter but get caught themselves; the hunter and his two assistants decide to be sporting and give them a chance to survive, “Most Dangerous Game”-style. The trio finds Salamaji while fleeing the hunters; they also find blow guns that allow them to take out two of their pursuers and one of the great cats that Frank released to confuse the situation.
- Dead animals talk to Joe. While the kids are being chased by the hunters, Joe thinks he can hear the head of a bison telling him, “Don’t let these hunters get you too, kid” (142).
Anyway, it all turns out all right. Chet gets a date with the rescued Salamaji at the end of the book, the villains are all thrown in jail, and both snow leopards get to live at the Bayport Zoo. But that ending makes it clear the book has been focusing on the wrong protagonist the entire time … Chet rescues the girl he’s interested in from kidnappers and manages to overcome both her ex-boyfriend and his two awful friends to get a date with her. All hail the mighty Chet!