Friday, March 18, 2016

Spark of Suspicion (#98)

Spark of Suspicion coverIn Spark of Suspicion, it’s nearly Founders’ Day in Bayport, which would lead you to expect an explanation of who Bayport’s founders were. Or maybe when Founder’s Day is. (Summer, maybe? The kids aren’t in school.) No, we get none of that, and Bayport’s history is just as murky as ever.

In Spark, which was published in 1989, it’s the 300th anniversary of Bayport’s founding. That puts Bayport’s founding in 1689. Who founded it? Well, it wasn’t pirates, who Laura says came along in 1728. Pirates are a big motif in Bayport’s history, the few other times anything about the past has been mentioned. The Secret of Pirates’ Hill (#36) dwells on a 1756 battle between a pirate ship and two merchantmen near Bayport. One merchantman was sunk, while the other slipped away. (Frank, Joe, and their chums found the sunken ship and a cannon hidden by the pirates in that book.) In The Secret of the Island Treasure (#100), we learn Europeans discovered Barmet Bay in 1574, and a shoddy archaeologist tells the boys (and readers) pirates patrolled the coast near the bay in the 17th century.

That’s irrelevant, I suppose. I don’t think we can pretend anyone cares about Bayport’s history. There are saboteurs to catch and fireworks to blow up!

As Spark begins, Frank and Joe get an anonymous note that someone’s going to cause trouble at the Founder’s Day fireworks celebration, and the brothers immediately suspect the source of the problems is at Old Glory Fireworks. (The boys don’t delve into the insurance side of Old Glory, although they could probably use the robot insurance.) This is convenient, as Frank and Joe have to film at Old Glory for a segment they are creating for WBPT on Founder’s Day celebrations. Did you remember they work at WBPT, producing a Crimestoppers segment for the station’s morning show? Neither did I, although that’s partially because it’s been two years since I’ve read Danger on the Air (#95) and partially because it’s very forgettable.

At Old Glory, they meet Clinton Lamont, the head of security. He gives them a stern lecture on safety within the factory, during which Joe tries “hard not to crack up” (9). I can almost imagine him making the “jerk-off” motion when Lamont isn’t looking. On a tour of the plant, Joe spots one of the safety doors cracked open. The emergency alarm is supposed to go off when that happens, so Lamont immediately dismisses Joe’s claim rather than investigating. When the boys find a lit fuse in a box of firecrackers, Lamont tosses the boys out of the factory as troublemakers. Frank and Joe are immediately suspicious of Lamont — anyone who doesn’t like them is potentially a crook and not someone who hates having their time wasted by a couple of teenagers — but Con Riley at the BPD says Lamont was a good cop in the Twelve Pines police. (Twelve Pines? Is that close to the Pine Barrens?) “I don’t like to jump to conclusions,” Joe says (25), immediately before jumping to the conclusion that the note was warning them about Lamont.

Along with Phil — somehow described as “lanky” (26) despite being called “slight” (Danger on Vampire Trail and The Clue of the Hissing Serpent, “lightweight” (The Mysterious Caravan), and “diminutive” (The Secret of the Old Mill) in the canon — Frank and Joe head out to Old Glory to do a little night shooting while Lamont isn’t around. They don’t learn anything, really, but they meet Lamont’s assistant, the much friendlier Lew Collins, and the semi-disgruntled researcher Don Munder, whose name I kept reading as “Mulder.” Unfortunately for them, Lamont is still hanging around the factory, and he — accompanied by a one-armed man whom I assume he’d hired to teach employees to always leave a note — orders the Hardys and Phil to vamoose. They do.

Frank and Joe reach out to Munder, who agrees to meet them at a restaurant called Abe and Mabel’s. “I wonder what kind of place Abe and Mabel’s is,” Joe says (33), which is strange; obviously it’s going to be a diner or a family-run casual dining establishment. It’s going to serve cheap food either way. Sure enough, they find Abe and Mabel’s is a run-down diner in an industrial area. Mulder — Munder, sorry — doesn’t like Lamont but stops short of accusing him of anything. He doesn’t think Old Glory’s chief rival, Northern Lights in Massachusetts, is to blame. (A Northern Lights Fireworks exists, although it’s a more recently established company in England.) He does give Frank and Joe a list of former employees to talk to so they can do their own snooping, though.

Using their TV story as a cover, Frank and Joe call up former employees. One of them, Anna Siegel, offers to dish, and she arranges to meet the Hardy brothers at the video store in the Bayport Mall. A video store in the mall! Ah, how times have changed. After finding a thermite bomb planted in their van (and tossing it before it any real damage), the boys meet Anna. She tells them she was unjustly let go from Old Glory for someone else’s incompetence. Plus, she identifies the one-armed man: Kevin Bailey, whom readers of the Brixton Brothers series will recognize as an analogue of one of the Hardys. Is it time travel? Is it synchronicity? A melding of universes? A coincidence? Yes, that last one. Anyway, Anna tells the Hardys that Kevin works for Northern Lights, and Old Glory and Northern Lights executives never mix. What was he doing with Lamont?

Frank is suspicious of Anna’s information: “She seemed a bit too eager to finger this Bailey guy. She doesn’t sound as though she’s in love with Old Glory. On top of that, she seems to have it in for Lamont. No, I don’t think we can take what she says at face value” (49). Frank: she’s an employee who says she was unjustly fired. She’s the definition of “disgruntled.” It doesn’t mean she isn’t right … I mean, she isn’t giving them any information that helps, but she’s not wrong, either. (Also: “a bit too eager to finger this Bailey guy” made me laugh. I’m an eighth-grade boy at heart.)

Munder gives the boys Anna Siegel’s personnel file, which says she took a settlement in return for not suing Old Glory. For some reason, this makes the boys suspicious of Anna rather than the company. Frank and Joe return to Lamont, who’s happy to talk about safety procedures but tosses the boys out when he realizes they’re still investigating. On their way home from Old Glory, they find a canister of volatile potassium chlorate hidden in their van. When Joe tries to slow down so they can get rid of it, he finds the brake line has been “nicked” (60). By downshifting, Joe furiously tries to slow the van down … from its blazing speed of 30 mph. Whew! My pulse is pounding just thinking about it! But Frank gets impatient and just tosses it out the window instead. Turns out it wasn’t all that explosive!

Because the weak explosive was planted in the van while they were inside Old Glory’s secure perimeter, Frank and Joe should suspect a current employee of Old Glory — although not Lamont, whom they were talking to. Instead, they direct their suspicions more intensely on Anna. Geez, guys. Obviously this should make you think of Collins or Munder — or maybe Kevin, if you thought he was at Old Glory at the right time. But Anna …

Chet, in his new job driving the airport shuttle for the Bayport Inn, happens by at that point and gives Frank and Joe a ride. Airport shuttle driver is a pretty good job for Chet: low responsibility, with requirements well within his skill set. (Any kid who grew up farming will have no trouble driving an oversized shuttle van.) He informs them that Kevin is staying at the Bayport Inn. Frank and Joe offer him a steak dinner at the restaurant of Chet’s choice if he helps them gather info — way to risk bankruptcy, boys — and he comes through, giving them Kevin’s room number and telling them how to break in. Although they’re almost caught in Kevin’s room, they don’t learn anything interesting.

Iola stops by, taking a break from making a Founder’s Day float with Callie. She gives Joe a book on fireworks that her father had. Joe gives her a kiss on the cheek — such unrestrained sensuality in a Hardy Boys book! — but although Joe likes the book’s pick-churs, the text puts him to sleep, and he doesn’t learn anything.

Joe and Frank decide to follow Anna and Lamont that evening. What follows is five pages of painful radio chatter as Joe trails Anna on his motorcycle. (They pick the handles “GI Joe” and “Fearless Frank,” if that gives you any idea about the quality of the dialogue.) Joe’s radio goes dead, so Frank abandons his surveillance to find his brother. It’s not a big deal; Joe just took a tumble and evidently forgot how to work his radio. Joe reveals that Anna picked up a guy — we’ll call him Mr. Goodbar — that he didn’t recognize. Afterwards, the boys find both Lamont and Anna are safely at home when a report of a break-in at Old Glory comes over the radio. A few offices had been broken into, including Munder’s.

The next day, a blast at Old Glory seriously injures Lamont, eliminating him as a suspect. As he’s wheeled away, he tells Frank, “You were right” (102) before mouthing a word. Frank thinks it’s “murder,” which isn’t that helpful. Frank and Joe are more concerned about losing a suspect than the harm that was caused to a fellow human being, even one they unjustly thought was responsible for a serious crime. They try to talk to Lamont after he’s admitted to the hospital, but the staff won’t let them; however, because Lamont suffered a concussion, the staff is “waking him every few hours to make sure he doesn’t slip into a coma” (107), which is totally a thing medical professionals do and not something made up for TV and movies.

(Wait: Lamont knows who blew him up. Can’t he tell the police? Surely they could get a few minutes with him. But if the police knew what was going on, we wouldn’t get our “thrilling” ending …)

Frank and Joe spy on a meeting between Anna and Kevin using a parabolic mike supplied by Phil, but they learn only that Kevin was asking Lamont for a job recommendation and that Anna thinks she should let bygones be bygones with Lamont. (Side note: They meet outside a restaurant called “Kelp’s.” A vegetarian seafood restaurant, perhaps? “Kelp” is not an appetizying word, in any event.) Frank and Joe celebrate their failure by taking Callie and Iola to Mr. Pizza, where they order the Killer Pizza. What’s on the Killer Pizza? Who knows! It’s a specialty of Tony Prito’s, though.

On Founder’s Day, after finally putting together their story for WBPT, Frank and Joe look over the footage of Lamont being hauled away after the explosion at Old Glory. Frank realizes he’s mouthing “Munder,” not “murder.” They contact Collins, who tells them of course it’s Munder — Collins knew, but Munder has been blackmailing him. Frank and Joe check the last shipment of fireworks for the show, but Munder gets the drop on them. Calling his plan to detonate all the munitions simultaneously at the show “elegant” — not quite “sheer elegance in its simplicity,” but it will have to do — he ties up the brothers, leaving them alive to tell authorities who blew up the marina and why (because his brother died while working at Old Glory).

Frank and Joe escape the ropes — the rope that can hold the Hardy Boys hasn’t been made — and manage to alert Collins in time to defuse Munder’s bomb. Barely in time, too; Munder planned to blow the bomb when the town supervisor began his speech, but the bomb was still active while the supervisor’s limo arrived at the festivities. This raises two questions: a) the town supervisor rides in a limo? A real limo? Is that a good use of city funds? and II) why didn’t Frank and / or Joe and / or Collins contact the cops and have them delay the supervisor until they were sure the fireworks wouldn’t detonate?

Also: is Joe going to catch hell from Iola for not watching the parade to see the float she and Callie worked so hard on (and so many azaleas gave their lives for)?

Frank and Collins head to Munder’s boat. Collins is useless, getting pistolwhipped immediately, and Frank is unable to stop Munder from aiming his yacht at the fireworks boat in a suicide run. Frank is, however, able to stop the boat before she gets up to ramming speed, and the harbor cops arrest Munder.

The fireworks display starts on time, and without a hitch. Why would anyone cancel a celebration because of a failed terrorist plot, anyway?

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