Friday, March 27, 2015

Archive: All the Books Covered

For ease of navigation, here are all the books I have covered on this blog:

Digests:
086: The Mystery of the Silver Star
087: Program for Destruction
088: Tricky Business
089: The Sky Blue Frame
090: Danger on the Diamond
091: Shield of Fear
092: The Shadow Killers
093: The Serpent’s Tooth Mystery
094: Breakdown in Axeblade
095: Danger on the Air
096: Wipeout
097: Cast of Criminals
098: Spark of Suspicion
099: Dungeon of Doom
100: The Secret of the Island Treasure
101: The Money Hunt
102: Terminal Shock
103: The Million-Dollar Nightmare
104: Tricks of the Trade
105: The Smoke Screen Mystery
106: Attack of the Video Villains
107: Panic on Gull Island
108: Fear on Wheels
109: The Prime-Time Crime
110: The Secret of Sigma Seven
111: Three-Ring Terror
112: Demolition Mission
113: Radical Moves
114: The Case of the Counterfeit Criminals
115: Sabotage at Sports City
116: Rock 'n' Roll Renegades
117: The Baseball Card Conspiracy
118: Danger in the Fourth Dimension
119: Trouble at Coyote Canyon
120: The Case of the Cosmic Kidnapping
121: The Mystery in the Old Mine
122: Carnival of Crime
123: The Robot's Revenge
124: Mystery with a Dangerous Beat
125: Mystery on Makatunk Island
126: Racing to Disaster
127: Reel Thrills
128: Day of the Dinosaur
129: The Treasure at Dolphin Bay
130: Sidetracked to Danger
131: Crusade of the Flaming Sword
132: Maximum Challenge
133: Crime in the Kennel
134: Cross-Country Crime
135: The Hypersonic Secret
136: The Cold Cash Caper
137: High-Speed Showdown
138: The Alaskan Adventure
139: The Search for the Snow Leopard
140: Slam Dunk Sabotage
141: The Desert Thieves
142: Lost in Gator Swamp
143: The Giant Rat of Sumatra
144: The Secret of Skeleton Reef
145: Terror at High Tide
146: The Mark of the Blue Tattoo
147: Trial and Terror
148: The Ice-Cold Case
149: The Chase for the Mystery Twister
150: Crisscross Crime
151: The Rocky Road to Revenge
152: Danger in the Extreme
153: Eye on Crime
154: The Caribbean Cruise Caper
155: The Hunt for the Four Brothers
156: A Will to Survive
157: Lure of the Italian Treasure
158: London Deception
159: Daredevils
160: A Game Called Chaos
161: Training for Trouble
162: The End of the Trail
163: The Spy that Never Lies
164: Skin & Bones
165: Crime in the Cards
166: Past and Present Danger
167: Trouble Times Two
168: The Castle Conundrum
169: Ghost of a Chance
170: Kickoff to Danger
171: The Test Case
172: Trouble in Warp Space
173: Speed Times Five
174: Hide-and-Sneak
175: Trick-or-Trouble
176: In Plane Sight
177: The Case of the Psychic's Vision
178: The Mystery of the Black Rhino
179: Passport to Danger
180: Typhoon Island
181: Double Jeopardy
182: The Secret of the Soldier’s Gold
183: Warehouse Rumble
184: Dangerous Transmission
185: Wreck and Roll
186: Hidden Mountain
187: No Way Out
188: Farming Fear
189: One False Step
190: Motocross Madness

Casefiles:

18: A Killing in the Market
42: The Last Laugh
50: Power Play
55: Beyond the Law
59: Open Season
76: Tagged for Terror
78: The Pacific Conspiracy
90: Deadly Engagement
93: Mission: Mayhem
119: The Emperor’s Shield

Undercover Brothers:

#2: Running on Fumes
#3: Boardwalk Bust
#9: Martial Law
#19: Foul Play
#25: Double Trouble

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Desert Thieves (#141)

The Desert Thieves coverThe Desert Thieves is not, as I had hoped, a wacky caper about a bunch of scoundrels trying to steal the Atacama or the Gobi or Painted Desert. It is a morality tale set in the Hardy Boys’ world, and like most stories with an emphasis on morals, it is not that entertaining.

Frank and Joe are on winter break — even though last book took place during summer vacation — so Fenton takes them out west on a business trip. After the business is done, Fenton takes the boys to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in the Sonoran Desert, where his old college buddy, Winton “Grish” Grisham, is a park ranger. The Hardys make a surprise visit to see ol’ Grish, who hasn’t seen Fenton in 20 years. Twenty years! I know if a college friend dropped by out of the blue after 20 years, I’d probably tell them as politely as possible to take a hike. I mean, 20 years …

Oh, crap. I just realized I’ve been out of college for almost 20 years. That means I’m almost Fenton’s age, and I still haven’t realized my goal of becoming the #1 private detective in America. I’m not even a private detective! I may have wasted my life.

Anyway, Grish — and I’m betting Fenton hung that nickname on him, out of spite — tells the Hardys about the cactus rustling that’s been happening at Organ Pipe. It sounds strange, but in essence it’s the same type of human stupidity that leads to trade in rhino horn or ivory: in this case, cacti are pretty, so people want them for their yards, and the best cacti are in protected environments. Frank and Joe immediately want in on the investigation, and here’s the lesson beginneth.

Grish does not want the boys — “a couple of amateur detectives” (8) — butting into the mystery. He doesn’t have time to be responsible for their safety, and besides, this is a federal matter, not vandalism or a snow-leopard theft. Grish wants to keep the investigation as secret as possible so as not to alert the perpetrators, so having a couple of teenagers blundering around wouldn’t be helpful. Besides, Organ Pipe is large, and according to Grish, the job requires people who know the territory. Joe unreasonably bristles at being called amateur — I mean, Frank and Joe call themselves that, half the time — but Grish’s knowledge of the territory is called into question when Fenton has to remind him he’s on a one-way road and that pickup roaring toward him might be a problem.

Still, I can’t fault Grish for not wanting to work with teenagers who call each other “bro” and “dude” (18) and use phrases like “nuke box” when they mean “microwave” (32).

So after this brush-off, what do Frank and Joe immediately do? Poke around, arousing suspicion, and talking about the case so anyone wandering by can overhear details of the sensitive operation. While they do this, Fenton looks on, bemused and not interested in helping. Although I don’t think the author has youth lingo down, he or she knows kids: if you tell them they can’t do something they want to do, they’re likely to do it anyway, because what the hell do you know? You’re only an adult.

Grish seems to be the model of patience, as he doesn’t put his foot in the boys’ asses, metaphorically or literally, when they tell him they’ve been doing the exact thing he’s told them not to do. He doesn’t tell them to go elsewhere — I’m sure the nearby Sonoran Desert National Monument, Saguaro National Park, and Coronado National Forest are wonderful in the winter. He nods and praises the boys’ efforts, even though they have told pretty much everyone about the investigation by the end.

So, Lesson #1: It is better to ask forgiveness than permission; if you’re good enough, you won’t even have to ask for forgiveness. Those who wouldn’t give you permission will probably thank you.

Of course, because the boys have been telling everyone about their investigation, they are the victim of indirect attacks. Their climbing rope is cut, their gas line is cut, and a rattlesnake — the traditional symbol of treachery — is left in their rented RV. (Also, a not-very-determined coyote tries to drag away a sleeping Joe but gives up when Joe wakes up.) After the climbing accident, Grish tells them to Just. Stop. It. The investigation is too dangerous!

But the brothers ignore him, of course, and Fenton and Joe stumble across the conspirators in a town near Organ Pipe. Fenton is caught by them, and Frank and Joe have to spring into action, with the help of the army of people they’ve told about the investigation. But — shock and surprise — the ringleader of the cactus rustlers is Grish!

Lesson #2: If someone is stopping you from doing what you want to do, they must be a bad person, and time — or your meddling — will reveal that.

Frank and Joe find Grish’s gang in the desert. Frank is almost immediately captured by Grish while trying to rescue Fenton. When the police helicopters show up, Grish slips away with his two captives. But with the unwitting help of a local artist, who shines his headlights in Grish’s face, Joe manages to sock Grish on the jaw, disarming him. Joe decides to give the artist some credit; the artist claims he had a plan rather than just getting lucky, and Joe doesn’t contradict him. This would be magnanimous of Joe if he himself hadn't been floundering around for most of the mystery. He couldn't even get the license plate numbers of the truck that drove away with his father!

Lesson #3: It’s better to be lucky than good. But it’s best to be lucky and good, and those who are both shall be given the keys of the Bayport.

If Grish had just had supper with the Hardys after they arrived and then sent them on their way without telling them about the cactus thefts, they probably would never have known about the criminal activity at the national monument. No, instead he says he mentioned the crimes so he could keep tabs on the Hardys, which is stupid; I mean, if he thought they were investigating the cactus thefts, which he claimed no one outside of Organ Pipe knew about, then it makes sense, but he should have at least felt them out about the case before spilling his guts.

Lesson #4 is something about hubris, although I imagine you can figure that one out yourself.

Here, as Jim Malone sayeth in The Untouchables while teaching Eliot Ness, endeth the lesson. Thank Dixon.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Slam Dunk Sabotage (redux) / Fat jokes and friendship

Since my most recent posts have been tackling the digests in sequence, I’d like to point out the next book, Slam Dunk Sabotage, was the first book I wrote about on this site. Enjoy!

***

There’s one other thing I’d like to discuss relating to the previous book, The Search for the Snow Leopard. I mention Frank and Joe making a fat joke at the beginning that entry as part of my evidence that Frank and Joe are bad friends. Although I don’t necessarily think making jokes at your friends’ expense makes you a bad friend or that fat jokes should necessarily be taboo, Frank and Joe making fat jokes has always seemed to be cruel to me.

In any relationship between friends, there’s likely to be some friendly chaffing going on — shortcomings will be pointed out, and in a healthy relationship, there’s likely to be some give and take involved, each side scoring some points on the other. But Chet’s in a bad situation; his best friends are perfect human beings, and they have few, if any, flaws. He has no way of returning the gibes Frank and Joe regularly dole out to him.

Also, the relationship between the Hardy boys and Chet is unequal, and it always will be. First of all, Frank and Joe are brothers and likely to unite against others. Secondly — and far more importantly — think of the perks Chet gets from being Frank and Joe’s friend. He gets status in Bayport and in the larger world, he gets to travel to exotic destinations, and he even gets real financial rewards sometimes. Being friends with Frank and Joe opens up a world to Chet that he would never have had access to without them. He’s just an average, overweight kid with a lot of enthusiasm. That’s not a bad set of attributes to have, but it’s not likely to allow anyone to travel to five different continents before graduating high school.

So what’s Chet to do? Those rewards are fabulous. Can he really risk angering his benefactors? Or should he just shut up and take their insults? Chet mostly shuts up, and that makes Frank and Joe’s jokes seem more like bullying than the usual kidding friends give each other.

It would be different if Frank and Joe spent time on their insults and managed to pick on something more than his surface shortcomings. Mocking Chet’s stupid hobbies is a better choice; many of them are kinda goofy, and enthusiasm is something that tends to heal over time. (It can be fatally wounded, though, if you attack it enough.) But the series needs each book to pack in the “jokes” with a minimum of explanation, so newcomers to the series won’t be confused, and “fat is funny” needs little explanation.

It’s a series for kids, so I shouldn’t expect too much. But jokes like that teach kids something about the nature of relationships I wouldn’t want them to learn.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Search for the Snow Leopard (#139)

The Search for the Snow Leopard coverYou might think The Search for the Snow Leopard is a mystery that involves travel to a faraway, exotic clime where the endangered species still exists or is used in symbology in some way. You would be wrong.

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!