Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Doom / Hunt / Treasure / Panic / Demolition

So after Dungeon of Doom is digest #100, The Secret of the Island Treasure, a fitting book for such a momentous number. It features the return of Hurd Applegate, a hidden treasure (obviously), and numerous allusions to one of the most famous treasure hunts, Oak Island. If you want to know more, click the link.

So The Money Hunt (#101) will be the next entry. I don’t own a copy of this book, but I will be able to check out a copy from my local public library. Most of the rest of my spring posts will feature the books in order, skipping Panic on Gull Island (#107), which I’ve already covered. The next book I’ll have to skip entirely is Demolition Mission (#112), which won’t be a concern until summertime.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Dungeon of Doom (#99)

Dungeon of Doom coverI started reading Dungeon of Doom worried that it would miss the point when it came to discussing role-playing games. I ended it wondering why Joe was my favorite Hardy.

First, the role-playing game aspect. Chet invites Frank and Joe to watch him and the Greater Bayport Area Wizards and Warriors Club. Why would Frank and Joe want to spend an afternoon off watching a role-playing game? Playing an RPG — sure, I could get that. I do that. But watching? I dunno. If the game is exciting enough that Frank and Joe are interested, they should play; if it isn’t, they’d be bored either way. I suppose watching an RPG makes more sense than going shopping at the Bayport Mall with their girlfriends (also an option), but only a hairsbreadth more.

A role-playing game, for those who are unfamiliar, is a game without a board. Instead, a narrator of sorts tells a story in which the players are also characters. These characters are often heroic personas; at the very least they have abilities that exceed most people’s. The players influence the course of the story by the decisions their characters make. When something happens that involves some degree of chance and / or skill, like diving out of the way of a sudden attack or firing a weapon under duress, players and the narrator (generically called a game master) roll dice. The dice can be the standard six-sided dice everyone is familiar with or dice with more sides: eight, ten, twelve, or twenty are the most common.

The most famous role-playing game is Dungeons & Dragons, a fantasy-themed RPG. In Dungeon, Chet and his new friends are playing Wizards and Warriors, an obvious analogue. (Wizards and Warriors was also the name of a 1987 Nintendo game, a 2000 Windows video game, and a short-lived 1983 TV series.) The game master is called the Wizard Master (in D&D, the role is called a Dungeon Master). The description of the game play is largely within the realm of what you’d expect a fantasy RPG to be like. Each character has stats — in this case, stamina, strength, and intelligence — that determine how well he does things. Some characters swing swords; others use magic. Standard stuff, really. There’s even a rule lawyer: someone who knows every rule and is willing to use them to get the most out of the game.

Other aspects are unusual at best. The Wizard Master rolls dice for everyone, which is unusual but not unprecedented. All the players are dressed up as their characters; today, that’s called “cosplaying,” and it isn’t unusual, but few people do it when the only people who see them are a small group of fellow players. Chet’s character uses karate, which is dumb for a European-type setting, but even the original D&D had a class of characters who used martial arts. The only spell used has the stupid name of “Fribjib” and turns people into frogs; most spells have names that relate to what they do, poetically or literally. One of the teens is described as a “champion” W&W player (5), which is strange — RPGs are cooperative, not individual, and rarely does anyone win.

So the RPG is OK. But Joe — Joe’s the worst.

I have that written down a lot in my notes, although usually it’s expressed in saltier language. (I may have compared Joe to a specific bodily sphincter.) When Chet greets the brothers wearing his costume, Joe says he looks “even dumber than usual” (2). When the GBAWWC starts playing, Joe asks Frank, “Is this weird or what?” (8). After being pressured into playing W&W because of a player absence, Joe’s character dies almost immediately because he didn’t bother getting other players’ input, and he whines about it. (He almost resorts to fisticuffs when another player razzes him about it.) Later, when one of the players is enjoying the game-turned-real the villain has put everyone into too much, Joe says, “Maybe you should get out more … Stop playing so many games. Start living a life” (75). This paints the picture of a person who doesn’t want you to like something because he thinks it’s weird — a classic jock bully.

Later, Joe tells Chet he wouldn’t fit through a hole that is “only wide enough for a small Buick” (18). He accuses one of the other players, Derek, of being the villain before there’s any evidence, just out of personal animosity. He assaults Chet to get him to stop singing because “the echoes in this room make it sound like there are four of you … and one of you sounds bad enough” (49). Whenever Derek trades insults with Joe, Joe responds with violence; when Derek meets Joe’s challenge and defeats him, Derek apologizes for the violence, but Joe says, “That and a handful of quarters will buy me a soda” (74) When Derek offers good, constructive ideas on how to get Frank out of a partially triggered death trap, Joe says, “Get lost … I don’t want your help!” (79).

He’s really the worst! If a secondary character acted like him, we’d suspect that character of being the villain. We’d expect him to be the villain.

In contrast, Derek’s a delight. It’s amusing to see Joe fall apart in front of someone as accomplished, in his own way, as the Hardy boys. Derek is the county swimming champion and a football player. He has scholarship offers from MIT and Harvard, where he will study physics or molecular biology. When he tells the others this, Joe says, “I think I’m going to be sick” (37).

Derek needles Joe repeatedly, but he’s funnier than Joe, and he never tries to escalate the situation into assault, which is Joe’s default setting. When Derek finally snaps and challenges Joe to a duel with (fake) swords, he apologizes for thrashing Joe, who’s a sulky dink after being outclassed. (Why didn’t you remember your fencing lessons from the revised Clue of the Broken Blade [#21], Joe?) Derek’s gibe about Chet’s weight is gentle. When he and Frank boost Chet into a hole, Chet says, “Here goes nothing.” Derek’s reply is, “I’d say you’re a little more than nothing, Morton. How much do you weigh?” (62). (Frank’s rejoinder is funny, if a tad crueler: “That’s a state secret … if the Russians found out, they’d build an army of Chet Mortons and eat the rest of the world into submission.”)

Derek has two bad moments: the first is when he says a girlfriend he broke up with “was hardly [his] intellectual equal” (37), which sounds snooty at best and sexist at worst. But he’s a teenage boy; it’s not like he’s probably going to be that good at expressing his emotions. Besides, she might not have cared for intellectual exploration, for all we know, and he’s bad at expressing his opinions of that.

The second bad moment is when he decides to be friends with Joe, the worst person in the world. He even offers Joe tickets to “the big game” in New York (148). He’s even willing to ditch his current girlfriend to go with Joe. What sport is the big game? Who knows! Whatever it is, Frank’s jealous. Stupid, Derek, stupid. You’re going to regret this.

So that’s about it … oh, wait, that’s right. There’s a mystery here.

The plot gets going just after Joe’s character (Sir Joe) dies and he (the real Joe) tries to assault Derek. Tim Partridge, one of group’s members, says another member, Barry, is probably trapped in the Dungeon of Doom. It turns out the Dungeon is where they play sometimes; it’s located on the outskirts of Bayport, in a mine abandoned because it was partially flooded by the Bayport Reservoir. This reservoir must have been built to replace the Tarnack Reservoir, which was new in 1948 when it appeared in The Secret of Skull Mountain (#28). The Tarnack Reservoir, located 20 miles from Bayport on Skull Mountain, replaced the Upstate Reservoir as Bayport’s water supply.

All I can say is that I’m glad the Dungeon of Doom has nothing to do with steam tunnels under a university.

Anyway, Barry suspected something weird was going on around the Dungeon, and he arranged to meet Tim near it. But when he got there, he found a note warning him away. Frank and Joe want to go to the police immediately, but the GBAWWC doesn’t: if the police are called in, they’ll lose their Dungeon, and it would be a shame to do that if it’s a false alarm. Derek says they’ll check out the dungeon, then call the police if anything is wrong. Frank and Joe reluctantly agree to this sensible compromise.

Once they arrive, though, a cave-in traps them in the Dungeon. You have to expect that when you go underground with the Hardy Boys! (See The Flickering Torch Mystery, #22; The Submarine Chase, #68; Cave-In!, #78; The Roaring River Mystery, #80 … that’s not as many as I thought. I must be missing a few.) The dungeon / mine has been set up to serve as a real physical / mental challenge for the kids by a “Secret Wizard Master.” Traps include such classics as the carpet-over-the-pit trap, which Joe falls into immediately, and the shifting-room trap, in which a room is balanced so that when enough people shift to one side, the room tilts and dumps everyone down a shaft. Classic RPG traps, both of them. (The Secret Wizard Master also uses the no-key trick: the kids reach a door they don’t have a key for, so they sit down to figure out the “trick.” The trick is that the door isn’t locked.)

They also have to deal with morons within their ranks. When they find food left by the Secret Wizard Master, Frank makes the unilateral decision to drop it into a mine shaft on the off chance it’s poisoned. Chet lunges at the food and drops the group’s only light. Only by luck does the lantern not fall into the shaft as well.

The Secret Wizard Master, it becomes apparent, is one of the GBAWWC. So now we’ll dive into the suspect pool!

  • Pete Simmons: He’s the real Wizard Master, and according to Win Thurber, he had access to the published adventure the Secret Wizard Master based everything on. Pete says the adventure was stolen before he could see it. More damningly, Pete is a psychology student at Gates College; he’s writing a paper titled “The Role-Playing Game as Adolescent Bonding Ritual.” I admit, with a title like that, I thought he was engineering everything to get more material.
  • Win Thurber: A small kid who attends Bayport High School, although Frank and Joe don’t remember him. (Win says everyone knows the Hardy Boys, though.) He works at Bergmeyer’s, a department store in Bayport Mall, and gets stuff to outfit the Dungeon at a discount. He enjoys games more than anything else, and Frank and Joe accuse him of enjoying their predicament too much. He explodes at Frank and Joe when they condescend to him about his love of games and lack of friends. “Maybe you just haven’t tried,” Frank says. “Try some clubs at school. Make some friends” (76). Joe offers to throw Win a pizza party at Mr. Pizza with their friends: “Maybe you’ll get along with them.” Ugh, popular people have no idea how hard high school is.
  • Derek Hannon: He’s delightful — witty, an athlete, and a brain. He’s only on this list because Joe hates him. If Joe hates him, though, that must mean he’s awesome.
  • Tim Partridge: The 14-year-old who warned them something was wrong. Since his mother was expecting him home, he didn’t go into the Dungeon.
  • Barry Greenwald: Tim’s classmate. He disappeared before the story began — or maybe he only wanted people to think that.

It turns out the Secret Wizard Master is Win, who is really a high-school dropout who is much older than he appears. He has been stealing consumer goods from Bergmeyer’s and storing them in the mine. He and his two goons capture the GBAWWC when the fun of the Dungeon of Doom runs out. Win’s plan is to make the kids swim in the cold waters of the reservoir until they drown, which will keep their bodies hidden for a long time. Despite Joe’s “nasty personality” (129) — hey, Win might be a murderous crook, but he’s not wrong — he accepts Joe’s offer of a sword duel before the executions. He handily defeats Joe, just as Derek did, but he’s not prepared when Joe kicks him in the knee. He stumbles backwards into a strut keeping water at bay. The strut fails, and it’s a race against time to get out.

Well, the characters are racing against time. The readers will likely be checking their watches as the ending is drawn out. But everyone manages to swim to safety, and the good guys catch all the bad guys. Win’s goons are put in jail, Win is released to his mother (despite him being a legal adult), and Chet raids the police snack machines.

The story ends with Chet suggesting a new hobby for himself — spelunking — now that role-playing games have proved too much for the couch warrior. But spelunking isn’t a new hobby; Chet spelunked his way into danger in The Mystery of the Chinese Junk (#39). Joe tells him to “keep his ideas to himself,” although I’m not sure whether that’s because he has cave-related trauma, because he’s sick of Chet’s hobbies, or because he remembers Chet was a spelunker before, even if Chet doesn’t. In any event, it’s nice to know Joe remains consistent to the end: a jerk.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Few More Notes

Wipeout (#96) has a character named Emil Molitor, who turns out to be the book’s villain. The name made me think of Paul Molitor, a baseball player who played most of his Hall of Fame career for the Milwaukee Brewers in the ‘80s. I have a feeling another Hardy Boys book mentioned a few members of those ‘80s Brewers teams, but I can’t remember which, and I can’t find it in my notes. Can anybody help me out here?

You may have noticed I included the price tag on the image of Wipeout’s cover. That’s my copy, and I like those little reminders of the book’s past. I had no idea what “Hills” was, but I like knowing the book was sold by Hills at a discount. (Hills was a discount department store chain founded in Ohio in 1957; it was regionally successful, but it was bought out by Ames in 1999. Ames went out of business in 2002.) I also appreciate that Hardy Boys books were, at that time — a time I remember! — sold at full price for $3.50. (I also like previous owners’ names printed or carefully signed inside the front cover or on the front flyleaf; it gives the book a bit of history. But former library copies are right out; those things are used and abused.)

Early in Spark of Suspicion (#98), the previous book, Cast of Criminals (#97), is mentioned. I bring this up for two reasons: 1) most of the digests don’t mention the books preceding or succeeding them, and ii) because it’s taken only a dozen books for that to become strange. Is Cast of Criminals mentioned in Spark because the two books share an author, or was it because of an editorial mandate to tighten references between the books? Spark doesn’t go so far as to mention the next book (Dungeon of Doom) at the end like the books in the Stratemeyer Syndicate days did.

Whoever wrote Danger on the Air (#95) may have also written Spark of Suspicion (#98). Besides WBPT being in both books, Mr. Pizza appears as well. More superficially, both books take place in Bayport. It’s possible the editor tied two books close together in sequence together, but I think it’s more likely that a single author is the link.

But perhaps I’m jumping to conclusions. The narration also mentions the Liberty Bell Diner. The boys and Fenton stayed in the Liberty Bell Inn in Shield of Fear. I linked that book’s authorship to Vincent Buranelli because the author named motels after obvious points of reference for tourists. (Buranelli did the same in INSERT HERE.) The use of “Liberty Bell” for a place for travelers to stay makes Buranelli a suspect for the authorship of Spark of Suspicion. But Spark calls Phil Cohen “lanky”; Buranelli knew he was “slight” in Danger on Vampire Trail. On the other hand, he called Phil “wiry” in The Witchmaster’s Key, and “slight” could be considered a synonym for “thin” rather than “thin and small.” Also, almost twenty years separate Spark and Danger … Hmm. This isn’t as far-fetched as I thought.

On the other hand, none of the evidence I mentioned rules out a decent editor’s involvement.

I didn’t want to mention this in my post on Spark because it seemed to demand more seriousness than that post could carry off, but the book’s ending reads much differently after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. The parallels are undeniable: a bomber with a badly thought-out grudge decides to explode a bomb that will hurt random people at a public celebration of a local patriotic holiday. The differences are that the Boston Marathon attack was real and that Hardys, being fictional, were able to wrap up things cleanly without anyone being harmed.

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?

Friday, March 11, 2016

Cast of Criminals (#97)

Cast of Criminals coverAccording to my records, I read Cast of Criminals in 2003. I don’t remember the book at all, although I don’t know why. It’s a decent enough mystery, and like many of my favorite Hardy Boys stories, it’s set in Bayport. It also touches on an issue I’ve written about before: namely, that Frank and Joe are awful friends to Chet.

In Cast of Criminals, Chet is acting in Homecoming Nightmare, a play from the ‘50s that the Bayport Players are putting on. (It sounds more like an ‘80s horror movie than a play from the ‘50, although it amuses me to think of Edward Albee or Tennessee Williams writing Homecoming Nightmare. In any event, the plot is more of a slasher movie than Broadway drama.) Being the male lead in Nightmare seems like just another new hobby for Chet. But Joe undercuts him immediately; when Chet has trouble learning his lines, the director asks Frank and Joe whether he’ll be able learn them. “Eventually,” Joe says. “It just takes him a little longer to learn things. He didn’t walk until he was seven” (5).

Everybody laughs. I don’t think making Chet sound developmentally disabled is funny, but eh, people laugh about that if it’s in the right spirit. Later, Joe makes another joke about Chet being the kind of guy who’d show up to pick up a homecoming date shirtless, which gets another round of yuks. But when Iola jokes about Chet — her brother — suddenly it’s not OK. “You’re giving Chet a pretty hard time,” Joe says, and Iola says it’s because Chet doesn’t care about acting. He only wanted to be part of the play because Frank and Joe were. Frank counters that she’s mad at Chet for telling the director he knows what goes “though a killer’s mind because he had a kid sister” (15).

Everybody laughs. Maybe it’s something in the delivery I’m not getting. Some people, like me, can’t tell a joke. Some people can make reading the telephone book funny. And some comics are like licorice: either you love them or you hate them. There’s no middle ground. I think that’s where Frank and Joe fall. I don’t think they’re funny, but the writers (and possibly editors) and characters do.

Whether he’s funny or not, Joe is a jerk; I don’t think there’s much doubt about that. When Callie doesn’t want to give up a tiara that a costume store clerk has erroneously sold her, Joe says, “What’s with her?” (8). God forbid she want to keep something she liked and paid for. After he sees the mess Callie has left after searching her bag for a missing tiara, he says, “I’m not surprised you can’t find something in that mess … Have you ever considered calling in a wrecking crew?” (12). He gets into an argument with Jeffrey LeBeque, a kid Frank and Joe find annoying; they trade insults, and Joe gets the worst of it. (Joe makes physical threats, which is a rung below the lowest form of wit.) Joe even decides he’s willing to assault his brother on the off-chance a shadowy figure isn’t the hidden intruder they’re looking for. (He also knocks Iola down in a similar situation, but to be fair to him, he doesn’t admit to liking that. Of course not: he’s got a hiding from Iola to look forward to.) Later, after Callie endures a series of attacks, Joe tells Frank, “Going out with a girl like that could be hazardous to your health” (63).

You dillweed: you got Iola blown up in the Casefiles, and Iola and Callie would have had much saner lives without the pair of you. You saying this — and Frank not calling you on it — makes me extremely happy both boys were taken out by one of the Shaws’ coffee tables.

Cast of Criminals begins with Chet attempting to kill Callie in Homecoming Nightmare. Nobody thinks Chet will be good at acting, but I think the role is right. He has to have a well of suppressed rage he can tap, given how much Frank and Joe — his supposed best friends — torment him. They’re rehearsing at the Grand Theater, which is a new venue for Bayport live theater; well, it’s new to the reader. Other theaters were mentioned in The Billion Dollar Ransom: a live magic competition was staged at the Bayport Palace Theater, although the Community Arts Association was planning to use the old opera house, which was being restored, for future productions.

While they are rehearsing, Harry Hill (of Hill Costume Supply Company) shows up and asks Callie to return a tiara she bought from her store. (Hill? Hill! Never heard of any salesman Hill.) She was sold it erroneously, and if it’s returned, he offers a lavish discount for the Bayport Players’ costumes. I’m not sure why the theater group is wedded to shopping at Hill Costume Supply, as Hill’s shop is the fourth Bayport costume shop mentioned in the books: Schwartz Masquerade and Costume Shop (79 Renshaw Ave.) in the revised Tower Treasure (#1), Mr. French’s costume shop in the revised Missing Chums (#4), and the Bijou Costume Shop in Tic-Tac-Terror (#74).

Anyway, Callie can’t find the tiara, and no amount of searching turns it up. It’s not even at the stupidly named fast food places (Ice-Cream Kid, Burger Bonanza, and Potatoes Iz Us) she stopped at on her way to the theater. After that, she is harassed and attacked: the Shaw home is broken into, as is the theater; she gets phone calls telling her to drop out of the play; the Grand Theater’s fire curtain almost falls on her; she’s stabbed with a rigged prop knife; a smoke machine spews toxic chemicals while she’s on stage; a player piano’s roll is splotched with red, and “CALLIE’S BLOOD” is written on it; Callie’s replacement tiara is stolen. No one threatens to take her back to Potatoes Iz Us, which sounds like it was named by an entrepreneurial hillbilly (“Would you like to supersize your order to get a large moonshine and side order of meth?”) or someone trying to emulate a hillbilly (“Would you like to supersize your order to get a large Mountain Dew and a side order of … ‘meth’?”)

Standard villain menacing, really, although labeling the red blotching “CALLIE’S BLOOD” is awkward. If your threats are any good, they shouldn’t need explanatory notes. (The smoke-machine trick was used to better effect in Reel Thrills.) Frank and Joe investigate relatively competently, but they get nowhere. When they look into who dropped the fire curtain, no one saw anything, and Chet is particularly unhelpful: “I saw angels … They were all wearing hip boots and they were singing.” Chet was stoned, but he retained the presence of mind to try to play his flighty language off as describing dreams.

The brothers’ competence is only relative to other mysteries, since Frank and Joe get locked backstage at the theater twice. The second time, Joe pulls a lever, opening a trapdoor that drops an unconscious Callie on Frank. There’s a joke here about Frank not knowing what to do with a woman, even when she falls into his arms, but Callie’s unconscious, and I feel uncomfortable about making the joke. It’s there, though, if you want to follow it through; I mean, the author just left it there. Take it if you want it.

For the second mystery in a row, the criminals throw the Hardys a curveball: all the crimes aren’t being committed by the same people, and two different sets of malefactors are acting at cross purposes. The person who keeps threatening Callie to get her to quit the play should be obvious: Lyla Spring, who auditioned for the same part and is serving as Callie’s understudy while also working as the assistant to tyrannical director Paul Ravenswood. “I’m sick of Callie getting all the breaks,” she says after confessing. “I’m an actress too, you know. I’m good, I’ve studied, but I’m just not as pretty as she is. You all just take me for granted” (135). She is a decent actress — Frank and Joe don’t consider her as a suspect — and it has to be frustrating watching those in the Hardys’ orbit getting all the breaks. I feel for her.

Especially since the Hardys couldn’t help her when she needed it. Lyla has a sister who disappeared two years before Criminals. According to Lyla, “You think I forgot how you and Joe jumped into action when Deirdre ran away — even when the cops told you to lay off?” Frank apologizes and says, “We tried.” Deirdre’s disappearance is put early in Frank and Joe’s career: “two years ago,” which would have happened at the same time as the earliest Hardy Boys books. As far as I can tell, this is the only book in which Lyla or her sister is mentioned, so why use them to hang a failure on Frank and Joe? Deirdre Spring’s disappearance is placed in the very select list of Hardy Boys failures, right next to their inability to find Harry Tanwick from the original Disappearing Floor. Hey! Maybe Deirdre ran off with Harry … or was done in by him. Or maybe she did him in and fled — I dunno.

Still, however much I feel for her, Lyla put Callie’s life in danger several times, and she stole the tiara, which put Callie in even more peril. She’s not innocent. She’s just up against the Hardy-Industrial Complex, and no one can defeat that. To dare to overcome it is to risk madness — or prison time. Lyla doesn’t seem to have been arrested, so surely insanity is in her future.

Some of the rest of the cast are briefly suspects, mainly because they’re actors. Joe quotes “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” from Showboat: “Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly,” but instead of saying he can’t help lovin’ that man (or girl) of his, he ends the quote with “actors can be weirdos” (71). He’s not wrong, but it’s a strange way to end the allusion. The weirdest is Amelia McGillis, who is a kleptomaniac. She says things like “primo straight-arrow guy” (67) and “How did a nice duck like him go swimming in this quicksand?” (149). She also fakes attacking Frank and Joe with a bread knife. Still, Frank and Joe can’t pin anything on her because she didn’t do anything.

The break-ins are also easy to unravel, although it takes Frank and Joe a little too long to figure that out. Since Harry Hill is abnormally interested in that tiara, making ridiculous offers for its return, he should be an obvious suspect. Frank and Joe eventually investigate, and a trip to a New York jeweler reveals the tiara was full of real diamonds, not paste. Hill is a fence, and his nephew, who briefly replaced Chet in the play, is his accomplice. Frank and Joe trap the nephew after he follows them to New York the day of the play’s opening, all but getting him to confess. He gets revenge on the Hardys by posing as a terrorist Frank Hardy in a call to the police, but even after Frank and Joe are put in handcuffs, one phone call to BPD officer Con Riley springs them, and they make it to the theater in time.

When Hill and his nephew try to steal the tiara during the play, Frank and Joe go on stage dressed as policemen (their actual roles) and use props and stagecraft to knock the villains down. The police show up and arrest the pair. It was a dumb plan, and Frank and Joe knew it; their planning involved phrases like “Hopefully, [Con Riley] will show” (140) and “‘Maybe … [Con]’s on his way.’ It was more a wish than a statement” (143) and “It was a risky move, but then their whole plan was risky!” (145). Still, they avoid getting shot, and the villains are caught. With a final Chet joke, said by the brothers in unison, the mystery is over … until next time.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Wipeout (#96)

Wipeout coverIt’s not often I wish for more explanations of exotic customs in a Hardy Boys book, but I have to say I wanted more information about how the sport of windsurfing works. Is it a racing sport? Is it a sport like skateboarding, in which tricks are judged by experts? Some combination of the two? (I was afraid it would be the last.)

Windsurfing is a big deal in Wipeout (#96). Frank and Joe head to Almanarre, a real place on France’s Mediterranean coast (not too far from Toulon) that even today draws windsurfers. (The story doesn’t mention it, but the place is a tourist haven: Almanarre is by most definitions part of the Côte d’Azur, known to us Americans as the French Riviera.) The Hardy brothers have been called to France by Doug Newman, who has a windsurfing school in Bayport. Because why not? Why not windsurf in Barmet Bay? Why not have a school for windsurfing in Bayport, a city that for a third or half the year is unsuited for the sport?

Anyway, Doug’s fiancée Catherine is concerned someone is out to get Doug on the eve of the Almanarre Cup, which is a big windsurfing competition. This competition is important because if Doug wins, it will be his third consecutive title, and “The Almanarre Cup is his for keeps” (2). What does that mean, though? He’ll be forever remembered as the competition’s premiere champion? He’ll own the competition and its profits? He gets to keep the competition’s large, ornately engraved trophy forever? Turns out, it’s the last, although the mechanism for giving him the trophy isn’t specified. I suppose we’ll have to assume the event’s bylaws specify the first person to win either three total or three in a row gets the trophy forever and ever.

Doug pooh-poohs the concerns about his safety, but he’s concerned about the spate of (tame) vandalism that hit the villa Catherine has turned into an inn for windsurfers. If words gets around that the inn is jinxed, no competitors will want to stay there. Security at the villa is a joke — “We pay a lot of attention to security,” Doug says (14) in the same paragraph that he mentions they give keys to the high-security area to everyone — and what Doug and Catherine need more than Frank and Joe is a house detective.

As a digression: I miss the idea of a house detective. Not the reality; the house detective was probably just as often a goon meant to hassle patrons as he was a serious means of crime deterrent. But the idea! There’s a guy looking out for crime in the hotel. He has connections to the police and other private detectives, and if something is stolen from your room, he can get the word out. The wheels of justice will be turning immediately! If you are attacked, someone will be only a few floors away from saving you! It’s a great idea. Plus, it allows me to say, with a straight face, the words “house dick.”

Anyway, Doug’s confident about Frank and Joe’s ability — as detectives; he doesn’t think they could be elite windsurfers: Great windsurfers “know what the wind will do before the wind knows. Like detectives” (7). Unfortunately, when it comes to detection, Frank and Joe are unable to know a hawk from a handsaw in Wipeout, no matter if the wind is north-northwest, southerly, or from any other direction. To be fair, the solution to Wipeout is a bit more complicated than in most books, but the solution to part of the mystery stares them in the face throughout, and they just can’t see it.

The danger begins almost immediately, with Doug getting loopy and drowsy on the drive home and almost driving the car into the Mediterranean. Frank and Joe’s quick-ish reflexes — Joe is almost defeated by his seat belt — save them all, but after they get to Catherine’s villa, roofing tiles almost crush Catherine, Doug, and Frank. Joe manages a simul-tackle of all three, saving them. While investigating, they run into Philip Barstow, a villa guest who Joe finds so irritating he “wanted to help him down the stairs with a friendly boot” (21). Later, they meet the two French workmen who had been putting the tiles on the roof. Both are stereotypes: one wears a stupid beret, and the other has a cigarette dangling from his lip. Fortunately, they don’t say much, so we don't hear their outrageous accents, and we don’t see them eat, so there’s no reason to dwell over their probable meals of stinky cheese and wine. They proclaim their innocence, of course, and since they were nowhere near the tiles when they fell, Frank and Joe believe them.

(The Hardy Boys have been to France before without encountering stereotypes; they were in Paris as step in their investigation into war-torn Zebwa in The Revenge of the Desert Phantom, a truly bizarre digest that was frequently referred to for a while because that’s the story in which they acquired their battle van. Also, Frank and Joe were beaten up by a gang of waiters in Desert Phantom, which adds to the book’s inexplicable nature. That humiliating beatdown doesn’t prevent Frank and Joe from traveling to France later in their careers; they visited a castle in Provence in The Castle Conundrum (#168) and Paris in Passport to Danger.)

After Philip, a board designer, and Doug have a nice burn contest, Doug’s chief rival, Ian, accuses Doug of sabotaging his board. The two almost come to blows. Frank and Joe actually decide to investigate rather than just accusing people, such as Philip, of being responsible for the vandalism. In Catherine’s late uncle’s art studio, Frank finds a sketch of a face that looks familiar; when Joe returns for it, it’s gone. Frank also overhears that Catherine is in debt and taking loans from her uncle’s friend and art dealer, Emil Molitor, who warns he might have to buy the villa from her so she has the money to satisfy her debts. (Molitor also wants to do a photo exhibition of the Almanarre Cup trophy, which was designed and engraved by Catherine’s uncle.)

To make sense of the case, Frank and Joe decide to turn to Fenton’s advice. Fenton told his sons, “When you begin an investigation … all you have is questions — lots of them. Try asking yourself the questions first. Then move on to other people” (46). Oh, if only Frank and Joe followed (or remembered) this advice in other books. In this case, the technique doesn’t do much other than get Frank and Joe to direct their questions to each other before they just accuse everyone of everything, but that’s enough. In fact, this book implies Frank and Joe have been acting like idiots in other volumes; later in the book, for example, Catherine says, “Accusing people of doing something often ends by leading them to do just that” (94).

Omigod — what if Catherine is right, and the Hardy family is the reason Bayport is so crime-ridden? After all those years of Fenton (and later his sons) accusing people of crimes, they have only led those suspects into misdeeds they would never have otherwise done? It would be a clear case of accusatory entrapment! This makes the Hardys the villains of the series!

At supper, the inn serves couscous, which the brothers claim never to have had. Ah! But Frank and Joe have had couscous before, while in Morocco for the The Mysterious Caravan. In that book, “cous-cous” was described as semolina served with raisins, carrots, chick peas, turnips, lamb, and broth; in Wipeout, Catherine describes it as “sort of tiny pasta … steamed over vegetables. … Sometimes … we eat couscous with meat” (48). Not as delectable as the meal from The Mysterious Caravan, but the digests never possessed the McFarlane-level devotion to food the original canon did. Times move on, and in Wipeout, they are offered harissa, an extremely hot sauce. Someone doses Doug’s food — his special health food, not couscous — with harissa, and he blames Ian.

After that, the campaigns against the inn and Doug increase in intensity. Someone puts wax on the inn’s stairs to injure somebody, but it’s cleaned up before anyone is hurt. Frank is caught with a counterfeit franc note Catherine gave him; Frank finds the portrait on the bill strangely familiar. (You can figure out why, and most likely, even from my sketchy description, figure out who’s responsible. Frank can’t, though.) Doug is knocked off his sailboard by a low-flying plane; later, his sailboard’s mast breaks, smacking him in the head, and Joe has to rescue him from drowning. Frank and Joe find someone snooping around the inn’s grounds at night — by coincidence; it’s not like they were keeping watch to prevent the nightly incidents of vandalism — but while pursuing the prowler, a broken staircase rail causes Joe to almost fall into the Mediterranean. After rescuing Joe, Frank returns with his brother to find Philip fighting a fire in the shed where all the windsurfers keep their equipment. As the brothers return to their room, they find a note pinned to the door that warns if Doug goes on the water the day before the competition, he “will not come back alive” (89).

So Frank and Joe spring into action! Suspecting an air attack, Frank impersonates Doug while Joe charters a helicopter. When a plane flies close to Frank on Doug’s sailboard, the helicopter flies toward it. The plane takes too long to avoid the helicopter’s charge and crashes into the sea. The French civil aviation authorities are very lenient, giving the pilot of the airplane a fine and the helicopter pilot a stern questioning. Well, I say civil aviation authorities, but the helicopter pilot calls them “gendarmes” (103). Frank and Joe, the architects of an airplane crash and near mid-air collision over a crowded stretch of water, escape without being questioned.

After slipping away from the French authorities, whoever they are, Frank makes a brilliant deductive leap: the crimes are being committed by more than one person or group, although he knows who none of them are. When a heavy statue almost falls on Catherine, Catherine and Doug accuse Ian. Ian runs, of course — when the lynch mob is coming, you don’t think about how sturdy its rope supply is before making a break for it — and Frank manages to corner him in a room. Ian jumps off a balcony 30 feet from the ground. Frank expects Ian to be dead on the stones below, but that seems unrealistic for a top athlete. A thirty-feet drop would probably result in injuries, perhaps severe ones, but Ian’s in good enough shape he would most likely survive. Right?

Anyway, Ian has instead dropped to a lower balcony, which unfortunately for Ian is locked. Frank catches him, and Ian denies everything except putting the hot sauce in Doug’s food. Ian and Doug have a moment of rapprochement, and while Catherine is considering selling the inn to Emil, Doug admits the attacks against him have been staged by his secret agent, Tom Highgate. That’s one mystery solved! But who’s causing the problems at the inn?

That mystery has to be put off when the actual Almanarre Cup competition begins. Doug wins on a tiebreaker over Ian — it turns out it’s one of those competitions where a routine of stunt tricks are judged — but before Doug can celebrate his victory, the trophy is stolen. The gendarmes put up roadblocks, but a nearby fire soon taxes their resources, and they open the city up again. Immediately after the roadblocks are lifted, Frank sees the inn’s roofers putting a large box in the back of their van. Suspecting the trophy is in the box, Frank and Joe immediately take off after the van on their motorcycles. They lose the van briefly, but they discover the trophy has been transferred to a black sedan when the sedan tries to run them down. Frank’s motorcycle is destroyed, but he rides behind Joe until the car collides with a tractor on a one-lane bridge. The man behind everything? Emil Molitor, who is also a counterfeiter.

Before the chase, Frank finally realized the picture he saw in Catherine’s uncle’s studio was the same as the man on the franc note, and it turns out Molitor was interested in Catherine because he forced her uncle to make new plates for counterfeiter money. Unfortunately for Molitor, Catherine’s uncle hid the plates, then died, leaving the only clue to the plates’ location engraved on the trophy. (Frank and Joe find the clue but decline to dig up the plates. Too much work!) So to get access to where the plates were most likely hidden, Molitor tried to force Catherine out of business with a little sabotage, arson, and attempted murder.

Frank and Joe have solved the case — and without the help of the French authorities! In return, Frank and Joe receive a lifetime of free room and board at Catherine’s inn as well as free surfboarding lessons any time they want at Doug’s new surfboarding school in Almanarre. As non-monetary rewards go, that’s pretty good: a free place to stay on the Côte d’ Azur. If they ever get married — HA! — that would make an outstanding honeymoon destination.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

A Couple of Notes after Shield of Fear

Last week, I ventured a guess at who wrote Danger on the Diamond. I don’t have much of a guess for Shield of Fear. The only clue I can find is the awful motel name: Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell Inn. Such lazy names were featured in a couple of Vincent Buranelli books: the William Tell Hotel in Switzerland and the Montezuma in Mexico City in The Jungle Pyramid and the Australian Arms Hotel in The Firebird Rocket.

Buranelli was a relatively prolific Hardy Boys author. He revised two books, The Mystery of the Flying Express (#20, a book that badly needed revising) and The Flickering Torch Mystery (#22). He also wrote fourteen original Syndicate books, including three in a row (The Bombay Boomerang, Danger on Vampire Trail, and The Masked Monkey). The last book we know he wrote was The Crimson Flame (#77), which was published a mere five years before Shield of Fear. It’s not inconceivable that he would have kept writing books after the Stratemeyer Syndicate sold the series to Simon & Shuster.

Then again, bad motel names are a thin thread to hang this conclusion on, especially given that he only used those names in two of the books we knew he wrote.


As you may have noticed, I’ve been going through the digests in order — in February, I covered #88 (Tricky Business) through #91 (Shield of Fear). I’m going to continue this pattern, but I don’t have some of the books that are coming up, and some of them I’ve already gone over.

The next books in order are The Shadow Killers (#92) and The Serpent’s Tooth Mystery (#93); you can click on those links to read my recaps. The next book I haven’t recapped is Breakdown in Axeblade (#94), but neither my local library nor I have that book. I’ll skip it and come back to it at a later date.

After that gap comes Danger on the Air (#95), which I’ve obviously covered. For the first Friday in March, then, the plan is for me to cover Wipeout (#96), a title that really needs an exclamation mark at the end.

(And as always, you can find all my summaries so far at this page.)