Saturday, April 18, 2015

Crusade of the Flaming Sword (#131)

Crusade of the Flaming Sword coverIn Crusade of the Flaming Sword, the RenFaire — sorry, the medieval fair “Avalon” — has come to Bayport. Chet, Joe, and Iola have volunteered to serve as knights and ladies for Avalon; Chet likes fighting in armor and being a knight, while Joe was roped into being a knight by Iola. He complains about it, which is stupid. (You’ve already agreed to do it, Joe. Keep your mouth shut — because you love Iola, because you want to make her happy, because she might have a knight fetish. Keep your eyes on the prize.)

Iola is volunteering because she gets to be a princess —not just a princess, but Princess Rowena, the daughter of Avalon’s King Bertram (actually Avalon’s owner, Art Growtowski). How did Iola get this plum part? I’m guessing because of her natural imperiousness (bossiness), which we’ve seen in other mysteries. It comes to the fore here, as she orders around a woman portraying a handmaid (she does it “playfully,” the text says, but you know it’s playful in the way a popular kid is playful when coaxing a shy kid into doing something amusing or uncomfortable — thinly veiled bullying).

Perhaps Iola is just getting into the role: Legend says Rowena was an Anglo-Saxon princess who was a seductress and a wicked stepmother — if she existed, which is doubtful. Walter Scott repurposed the name for the Saxon love interest of the knight Ivanhoe in the knight’s eponymous novel.

Because he isn’t working at the fair, Frank doesn’t get in for free, and he complains about the $10 admission price. Twenty years later, that’s the equivalent of $15.40, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s inflation calculator. I suppose that’s steep for a teenager without a job, and he probably — well, might have — paid for Callie as well. Still, it doesn’t seem exorbitant, given that he gets to witness armored knights fighting, see falconry demonstrations, and watch jugglers and magicians while soaking up “medieval” atmosphere. In any event, Frank gets his revenge by using faux Olde English dialogue and being an exposition machine (“What are the dates on [the Middle Ages]?” he asks his brother, irrelevantly) until I wish he’d get bitten by a plague rat.

But Frank’s “methinks” and “approacheth” are in keeping with Avalon’s signage, which invites people to buy “foode,” “drinke,” and “leather goodes.” The place deserves to go out of business because of those crimes against the language, but no — Avalon’s going to go out of business because of “the Knight of the Flaming Sword,” who performs such dastardly tricks as sawing halfway through a grandstand support, releasing a tasty bunny during a falconry demonstration, and putting glass in the mud pit. Oh, yes, Avalon has “mudde fights,” and the Hardys and Iola pressure Callie into taking part against another woman (or “damsel”).

Yes, that’s right: this book has Callie mud wrestling another woman. Not in a bikini or anything like that, but still — this is the most exploitative I’ve ever seen the series get. (The book also has a “Drench a Wench” booth, with the shy Carla — Iola’s favored target for bullying — getting dunked.) I’m not sure whether exploitative is worse than ignored, but the book does balance the idea that the medieval period had no female knights with an increased role in the books for women; Callie at least gets to follow a “creepy” suspect, and Carla is an expert horsewoman who is handy with a sword. Still: mud wrestling and Drench a Wench.

Anyway, the shape of things is easy to see: Avalon is being subjected to sabotage, which might drive it out of business. Growtowski doesn’t want the bad publicity of a police investigation, so he asks Frank and Joe to look into things. The brothers agree, although they tell Growtowski not to reveal they are detectives. Surprisingly, Growtowski, the Hardys, and their friends managed to keep the secret throughout the book.

To the suspects!

  • Growtowski himself. Insurance fraud, perhaps? The possibility is quickly discounted.
  • Alvin Sing, Avalon’s business manager. With Phil Cohen’s hacking, the Hardys discover Sing wants to start “Prophecy Fair,” a competitor to Avalon with sci-fi touches. Given that Avalon is a wandering fair, I’m not sure why anyone would think he needs to eliminate Avalon to be successful — he could just ply another territory or get investors to support a single location, a la a theme park. Still, any excuse to get Phil into the book is fine by me.
    Sing either was a copyright violator or really liked Windows marketing; his computer screensaver was very similar to the then-current Microsoft slogan, “Where do you want to go today?” (The final word was absent on Sing’s computer.)
  • Kev Dyson, Avalon’s best knight. A method actor and very intense, he — or his character — idolizes a medieval knight who went nuts after the Crusades and started murdering peasants. Joe doesn’t like him because when the two spar, he disarms Joe, then keeps attacking him. Joe somehow thinks he should be allowed to lope over to his sword and re-arm himself during (mock) mortal combat. Joe is a sore loser.
  • Charlie Krause, a new reporter for the Bayport Star. Krause, who thinks being assigned to write about a Renaissance fair is a waste of his time, has an annoying tendency to report on the sabotage. This results on bad publicity, which makes Frank suspect him — maybe he’s creating havoc so he can write about it? That’s not the case, but what he does do is break into the Hardy home and leave a glove dripping fake blood pinned to Frank’s headboard along with a threatening note. Evidently, being out investigated by a couple of student reporters (Frank and Joe’s cover identity) drove him off the deep end. Or perhaps it’s his colleagues not telling him who Frank and Joe really are that brought his latent psychopathy to the fore.
    The brothers don’t turn him in, unfortunately. They know a little something about B-and-E; after all, they broke into Sing’s computer (using floppies!) and printed out his business plan on the laser printer (I expected a dot-matrix printer).
    (Early in the book, Joe mentions an aversion to the press after his picture appeared on the front page of the Star because of “that flying saucer incident.” Does anyone know what this is referring to?) (ETA: Evidently this is a reference to The Case of the Cosmic Kidnapping. Thanks, Adam!)
You won’t be shocked to know that none of these are actually the Knight of the Flaming Sword. You will be similarly unsurprised when you hear that someone is trying to buy Growtowski’s authentic medieval longsword, and that the someone trying to buy the longsword is behind the sabotage. The sword is named Chauvency, which is appropriate for a medieval fair; “Le Tournoi de Chauvency” is a narrative poem about a tournament and its accompanying revelry from the 13th century. (Growtowski says it’s named after castle, but I can’t find a real castle with that name. The town Chauvency is in northern France, near the Belgian border.)

It is obvious the sword is the knight’s goal when the sword’s existence is casually dropped into the text, and it’s obvious when the boys begin to investigate the angle. It is probably obvious even to the pre-teens who are the book’s intended audience. Unfortunately, the Hardys discover the villain’s true motive not through investigation or “logic” but through Frank stumbling across the destructive knight’s true identity (Carla) and paying “a visit to her motel room.” Carla isn’t there, but the boys pick her lock and find her address book, which reveals her uncle is an antiquities dealer.

The brothers pay a visit to the uncle, Tony Morslip, and while Joe distracts him, Frank uses floppies and instructions provided by Phil to prove Morslip has been hacking into Avalon’s computer system. Unfortunately, Morslip knows exactly who the brothers are and imprisons them in his authentic reconstruction torture chamber. He’s read too much Poe, though, as he ties the brothers to a table while a swinging pendulum slowly drops from the ceiling. I doubt that’s an authentic medieval device, but that’s what Morslip and the author have decided to go with, so we’ll just have to roll with it. It’s just one absurdity in the scene; I can’t think of how the pendulum with a long distance from its pivot to its weight could menace both brothers without hitting the table they’re tied to, and Frank manages to stop the pendulum with his stomach — presumably at the end of its swing, but who knows? He should have been gutted.

The brothers escape, using the pendulum to sever the bonds and a judo kick to destroy the door. They talk their way through Morslip’s security guards and make it to Avalon before anything stupid happens; however, the ineffectiveness of the police allows Carla to make a final attack on the fair. Frank and Joe begin a stupid chase, which ends with Carla and Morslip’s capture. King Bertrand offers the boys their choice of damsels; Frank chooses Callie, but Joe hesitates over his choice until Iola hits him. I’m beginning to think Joe is a bit like Dave Foley’s character on NewsRadio: He’s attracted to his girlfriend most when she’s angry at him.