Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Schedule / Prime Time Pirates / Loup Garou / real authors

As I mentioned in last week’s update, this week’s book will be Trouble at Coyote Canyon (#119) because I’ve already covered #117 (The Baseball Card Conspiracy) and #118 (Danger in the Fourth Dimension). The next book after Coyote Canyon will be #121 (The Mystery in the Old Mine), as neither my local library nor I have #120 (The Case of the Cosmic Kidnapping).

***

To help Frank prepare for Four O’Clock Scholar in The Prime-Time Crime (#109), Joe asks Frank who won the 1979 World Series. Frank guesses the Phillies, which is incorrect; the correct answer is the Pittsburgh Pirates. Twenty-five years after The Prime-Time Crime, 1979 is still the Pirates’ most recent championship. Coincidentally, the cover artist who took over with #113, Daniel R. Horne, is a Pirates fan and put a greeked version of a classic Pirates cap on the cover of The Baseball Card Conspiracy.

***

In Rock ‘n’ Roll Renegades, Chet tells Joe that he should play Loup Garou, which neither Frank nor Joe has heard of. (“Loup Garou” is a French phrase for a werewolf-type creature — or just a werewolf, if you like direct mapping of one culture onto another.) It could be a joke on the Hardys expense, making fun of their lack of musical knowledge, but I bet the author is referring to a real band. I can’t find any information on a musical group that would have existed at that time with that name. Anyone know who Chet’s referring to?

***

According to a site that bills itself the Hardy Boys Unofficial Home Page, Rock ‘n’ Roll Renegades was written by Chris Lampton. That site has Lampton down as the author of nine books, beginning with Danger on the Air (#95) and ending with The Case of the Cosmic Kidnapping (#120). Lampton himself, however, says he wrote ten digests. (Both Lampton and the Hardy Boys fan site above mention Casefiles #65 as well.)

The complete list of Hardy Boys books Lampton claims to have written are:

Looking at that list, it’s fair to say Lampton was a pretty good Dixon. Dungeon of Doom, The Secret of the Island Treasure, and Prime-Time Crime are excellent books, and the only real objection I had about End of the Trail was that it was so short. None of the others were bad, really, although they had their shortcomings.

Most of his books were set around Bayport, with much of the action set around some new interest / hobby of the Hardys or Chet. (That’s not exactly an unusual description of any Hardy author, really.) You can pick out some areas Lampton concentrated on: TV and radio broadcasting, computers and video games (his bio says both are interests), and sci-fi / fantasy fandom. He introduces the boys’ work at WBPT, but he’s not the only writer who used it: another (unknown at this time) writer picked it up for Spark of Suspicion (#98).

Also, this list shoots a hole in my theory that the same person wrote Video Villains (#106) and Mystery with a Dangerous Beat (#124). Since both books mention the video game Hack Attack, I thought the two probably shared an author. It turns out it was either an observant editor or writer who picked up the game’s name from Video Villains. According to the Unofficial Home Page, the author of Dangerous Beat was Frances [sic] Lantz. That should be Francess Lantz, who wrote many juveniles, including the first six Luna Bay surf series books.

At his blog, Lampton talks about writing Terminal Shock, which he mentions he originally titled The Computer Clue. He also mentions another article about Terminal Shock written less than three months ago.

Lampton has written a number of non-fiction books, mostly for the publisher Franklin Watts. His fiction includes three sci-fi / fantasy books under his own name (The Seeker, Cross of Empire, and Gateway to Limbo). He also wrote three books under the name Dayle Courtney, the pseudonym for the author of the Thorne Twins book series. The Thorne Twins was a series of nineteen books in which twins Eric and Allison used Christian principles to solve mysteries.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Rock 'n' Roll Renegades (#116)

Rock ‘n’ Roll Renegades coverSo Joe gets yet another “job” in Rock ‘n’ Roll Renegades: he’s a disc jockey at WBBX, which evidently plays classic rock.

Joe started out as a summer intern at WBBX, but he was promoted when a DJ, Keith Wyatt, proved unreliable. After getting the job, Joe immediately becomes insufferable, explaining such difficult-to-understand radio slang as PSA (“public service announcement”) to Chet and Frank. But he’s getting respect from the station management, as Joe’s show is the most popular in his time slot among listeners 12 to 25. (It’s an odd age range, mixing pre-teens with adults, but it’s one Arbitron uses.) Also, Chet is intimidated by the grade-school math Joe uses to make the music and pre-recorded segments, like the news, run on time.

On the other hand, Chet references Joe’s bout of stage fright in Danger on the Air (#95) to put the youngest Hardy in his place. Joe’s witty rejoinder is to call Chet a “spazzo,” and I have to admit, the boys’ verbal sparring here is excellent. Teenage boys always give each other crap, even if they’re good friends, and that’s what Chet, Joe, and Frank do here.

For those playing along at home, WBBX hasn’t been mentioned before; the only radio station that has been mentioned is WMC in The Mystery of the Flying Express (#20). In this book, WBBX has been around a while, but since its first record played was “I Am the Walrus” from Magical Mystery Tour, the station can’t be older than 1967. (Side note: “I Am the Walrus” was actually the B-side of “Hello, Goodbye.”) WBBX, in reality, is an AM gospel station in Kingston, Tenn.

The mystery begins when a pirate radio station, Skull and Bones, knocks WBBX off the air during Joe’s shift by broadcasting at WBBX’s frequency. While Frank discusses the situation with Bill Crandall, the station manager, a fake grenade crashes through the window. Frank rushes outside and finds Wyatt, who denies throwing the grenade and calls Joe a “wimp” (does being a DJ require a superabundance of masculinity? Do DJs have to engage in combat with other DJs and vicious callers? Perhaps toss control boards through windows?). Frank and the police are forced to accept Wyatt’s protestations of innocence. Crandall and the FCC ask the brothers to investigate so that they can jail the pirate leader, Jolly Roger.

As Joe is about to end his shift, he gets shocked by a booby-trapped control board. He’s fine, of course — he has been shocked badly four times in the canon, including getting hit by lightning in The Disappearing Floor (#19) — and he waves away Crandall’s offer of an ambulance. That should teach Wyatt not to call Joe a wimp (if Wyatt had anything to do with the sabotage, which he didn’t).

Frank suggests they follow Wyatt to the Seven Thirty club, which Joe immediately remembers: “Oh, yeah … It’s a real dive, in a crummy neighborhood” (34). How do you think Joe knows about dive bars? Is he secretly a hipster who thinks it’s ironically cool to visit run-down bars? Does Iola crave the danger presented by the sleazy environs and rough habitu├ęs and insist Joe accompany her, flirting with thugs and lowlifes and forcing Joe to fight them?

Oh, sorry, drifting into fanfic again. I really should look into something that will stop me from doing that. Do you think electroshock would work? I mean, it has no effect on Joe, as we’ve established, but he’s a Hardy, impervious to tissue damage and learning.

You might think being underage would make my little Iola fantasy implausible, but Frank and Joe waltz in without opposition, so I see no reason why the Seven Thirty Club would get uptight about an underage girl. Anyway, Frank and Joe immediately spot Wyatt. He’s relatively forthcoming, telling Frank and Joe that Jimmy Collins hires DJs for Skull and Bones after Wyatt gets in a shot calling the brothers “Hardydum and Hardydee” (36). (The insult doesn’t make sense, but Joe still bristles.) The discussion degenerates into an insult contest — Joe wins on points — before Wyatt’s burly friends chases the Hardys away. Joe actually gets to use a karate kick during the escape, but the truth is they had to flee. Hopefully, they edited that part out when they met Iola and Callie at Mr. Pizza later.

The next day, the Hardys get a ride to the SS Marconi, the home of Skull and Bones, from the irritable and insane Capt. Steelheart. Collins hires Frank and Joe as the DJ combo of “Big Brother and the Renegade Kid” (57); when Wyatt shows up looking for a job, the Hardys convince him not to rat them out by promising to do Wyatt a favor. (I’m sure they will never pay off this favor.) While they work for a totally illegal radio operation, Chet fills in at WBBX with delightful radio incompetence; as a bonus, he receives a gas bomb on his first day.

Frank and Joe’s next step is to find out who owns the warehouse Capt. Steelheart uses as his base. For some reason, Frank and Joe are able to find property records at the library instead of the courthouse; the records and a friendly librarian tell them the warehouse is owned by former radio station owner Ben Harness, who now is a record producer. After Harness’s secretary stonewalls them, Frank and Joe track Wyatt instead. They find him heading out on Barmet Bay on a motorboat. Frank and Joe follow in … in … in …

A rented motorboat. No mention is made of the Sleuth. Honestly, I don’t think the Sleuth has been mentioned yet in the digests; looking over my notes, it seems the Hardys’ motorboat appears only in Crime in the Kennel (#133) and High-Speed Showdown (#137). (During a hovercar chase in The Secret of Sigma Seven [#110], Frank mentions his love of speedboat racing without mentioning the Sleuth.) Wyatt meets a mysterious man; when they follow that man’s boat to his estate, they are quickly caught and “frisked with professional efficiency” (91). (Which is more than Iola and Callie can hope for — zing!) The rich guy is Harness, who allows Frank and Joe to annoy him with questions for longer than I would have, but even his patience runs out eventually. Frank and Joe conclude Harness is working a payola scam with Wyatt.

Frank and Joe think they’re getting somewhere, but Crandall pulls the rug from under them: WBBX is going under, so who cares if they find out who Jolly Roger is? Station owner Charlie Horwitz, who just bought out his partner, promises to give Joe a recommendation if he ever applies at another station, but everyone — even the reader, especially the reader — knows that’s not going to happen.

Of course Frank and Joe soldier on; of course they’re in over their heads. After pulling all the circuit breakers at Harness’s offices, they pose as electricians to look at his records. They learn the Jelly Roll Corp. is renting Steelheart’s warehouse, but Jelly Roll is as fake as Chet’s latest diet plan: the only thing at the company’s address is a wrecking ball, which someone tries to use as a blunt object against them. They manage to escape, of course.

While working their shift at Skull and Bones the next day, Joe figures out who Jolly Roger is when he matches Horwitz’s signature to the address on the envelope the gas bomb was mailed in. Unfortunately, Frank doesn’t cut his mike while they’re talking; Collins stops the revelation from hitting the airways, but he calls his boss to take care of the Hardys. Horwitz and his bodyguard arrive on his yacht to take care of the Hardys permanently, then decides to eliminate Collins and Wyatt as loose ends as well. Just as the explanations end and the executions are about to begin, Steelheart and his men set off an explosion on the Marconi. Horwitz was using Steelheart’s smuggling operations — golly, it’s nice to have a smuggler in the books again — to blackmail him into cooperating, so Steelheart decided to blow up his own ship to spite his blackmailer. Steelheart isn’t all that stable.

A chase between Steelheart’s barge and Horwitz’s yacht ensues, with everyone including the bodyguard chasing Horwitz. (The bodyguard didn't appreciate being abandoned on a sinking ship, and he puts bullet holes in the yacht’s gas tank in retaliation.) Joe not only ends up knocking Horwitz out, but he also sneers at the unconscious man — sneering is what villains do, Joe — and calls him “cream puff” (146). Thus ends Horwitz’s brilliant plan to cheat his business partner out of half of WBBX (Skull and Bones would have gone off the air after the sale was final) while thumbing his nose at old rivals, like Harness and Steelheart.

Another successful mystery. But when Joe wants to return to his “job,” he finds that Chet and his malapropisms are even more popular than Joe was among the youth. Ah, the fickleness of the entertainment business! Also, the fickleness of Chet and Joe, because neither of them will ever talk about their radio careers again.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sabotage / Renegades / Coyote Canyon

So, bad news if you were interested in seeing a write-up of Hardy Boys #115, Sabotage at Sports City: I don’t have it, the local library doesn’t have it, and I ain’t spending $4 to buy it online. (Maybe I will in the future, but not now.)

That means the book I’ll be writing about for Friday is Rock ‘n’ Roll Renegades (#116), a story of pirate radio and Joe Hardy’s career as a disc jockey. Riveting! Trouble at Coyote Canyon (#119) will come after that, since I’ve already written about The Baseball Card Conspiracy (#117) and Danger in the Fourth Dimension (#118).

If you’re wanting a little peek into the future after that, I’ll be covering:

  • The Mystery in the Old Mine (#121)
  • The Robot’s Revenge (#123)
  • Mystery on Makatunk Island (#125)
  • Day of the Dinosaur (#128)
  • The Treasure at Dolphin Bay (#129)

That will take me up to Sidetracked to Danger (#130), which I’ve already covered. Since I’ve written about all the books from Sidetracked to Desert Thieves (#141) as well, I’ll be taking a break after Dolphin Bay, and I’ll start up again in late September / early October. I realize that the many hiatuses this blog has taken might lead you to be suspicious that it won't start again, but I promise it will return in the fall.

Probably.

I mean, why wouldn’t it?

I suppose something could get in the way — a life-changing event, the return of Osiris, a good sale at my local bookstore, a really serious hangnail …

But the chances of something like that happening are really slim.

Really. Cross my heart, even.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Case of the Counterfeit Criminals (#114)

The Case of the Counterfeit Criminals coverAt the beginning of The Case of the Counterfeit Criminals, we are supposed to accept the proposition the Hardy Boys series has long insisted was true: that Frank and / or Joe could be defeated in an athletic competition.

Bayport High’s track team is set to take on Holman High, another of the revolving rivals Bayport has competed against. Outside the track facility, Joe almost gets in a scuffle with Holman’s Eric Dresser, who, like Joe, competes in the 100-meter dash. In fact, according to a Holman teammate, Dresser “almost” set the state record in the event. Someone should tell him “almost” counts only in hand shoes, horse grenades, and thermonuclear war, but it unnerves Joe as he goes into the locker room the two teams share. Wait — they share a locker room? Bayport’s athletic department is not making enough money off the Hardys.

Joe slips into his brand-new Wombat athletic shoes … listen, “Wombat” is an awful name for a shoe company, but if I go into why, we’re going to be here all day. Suffice it to say wombats are not fast animals, and if you’re going to name anything after a marsupial, it’s going to be the Tasmanian devil (although Warner Brothers would probably sue you) or the extinct thylacine. Frank is doing well in his event — the long jump — and has a chance to win, but before his competition ends, he watches Joe run. Joe is neck-and-neck with Dresser until his Wombats blow out and give him a twisted ankle. Joe wants to accuse his rival because Dresser was messing with Joe’s shoes before the meet, but it’s obvious he didn’t do it; Dresser’s name might as well be “Red Herring.” The problem must be with the shoes.

The narration never says how Frank finished in the long jump, but Holman High wins the meet. It’s likely that this has happened before, but I can’t remember it. Even more remarkable is that Joe resists Dresser’s needling and lets Bayport teammate Fred Tolliver call Dresser out on his lack of class.

Joe still believes Dresser is the culprit, and he bristles when Frank thinks the accusation has no merit. “Logic … That’s all I ever get from you is logic [sic]” (14). Joe knows, subconsciously if not in a way he can enunciate, that the Hardy Boys never get anywhere using logic. Cases are solved by random blundering and the ineffable machinations of chaos, not through logic.

After a brief stop at Benlow’s, where other shoe buyers nearly riot over their defective Wombats, Frank and Joe head home. Gertrude and Fenton make a brief appearance, then are heard of no more in Counterfeit. Back in the family cellar crime lab, the brothers notice an ultraviolet quality control mark in Frank’s genuine Wombat sneaker but not in Joe’s; on Monday, they head not to school (because why would they do that?) but to the Wombat corporate offices in Holman Heights, about twenty miles from Bayport. After a brief misunderstanding — one which Joe apologizes for — Frank and Joe gets Karla Newhouse, the head of customer relations, and Winston Brinkstead, VP of national sales, to “hire” them to investigate the counterfeit Wombats. Well, no money changes hands, but Brinkstead and Newhouse do loan Frank and Joe their authority, which is as good as Frank and Joe get in the digests.

Almost immediately, Frank and Joe get a baseball with a threatening message written on it thrown at them. I appreciate that someone has decided to use an aerodynamic object with a writing surface to deliver the message, but the threat is lacking: “Back off, or you’ll be out of the game for good” (40). The “game” pun just isn’t good enough. Also, the baseball is Wickford brand (Ted Goring model), which sounds like a line of cricket goods, not baseball.

While Frank and Joe are poking around local Wombat retailers, Frank gets a chance to use his martial arts skills to beat up a pair of attackers. (“Martial arts” in general, not any specific one.) Unfortunately for him, he was attacked by three guys, and he ends up unconscious. After he regains consciousness, Frank and Joe decide they’ve questioned enough shoe sellers and decide one of them — Joe, in this case — needs to go undercover at Wombat’s factory. The standard discouragement follows: someone drops a stack of shoes on Joe, someone tries to poison Frank, a gang tries to road haul Joe … you know, the usual stuff. (Joe does meet Norm Weiss at the factory; Norm’s a cool guy who loves Wombat shoes and gives Joe a cover story when Joe takes too long investigating. Frank and Joe don’t meet too many helpful, nice people in the digests.)

Frank and Joe go to Con Riley, who has “mixed feelings about taking help from” the Hardys (96). I’m sure I would, too — on one hand, they make things easy, gift wrapping investigations, but you’d also have to wonder about your competence after a while. On the other hand, if Frank and Joe are more competent than the crooks, that’s all that matters. Con suggests Frank and Joe were attacked by a criminal from a previous case, but that’s stupid: Frank and Joe’s enemies never come back. They get thrown into the Black Hole of Bayport and never return. No one asks about the Black Hole, lest they end up there as well.

Joe realizes his foreman is part of the counterfeit shoe ring while playing a pickup baseball game during lunch. Frank, back at Benlow’s, is attacked in a dark storeroom and uses a “rabbit punch” (106) that he hoped hit his opponent in the throat. (I’m not sure what Frank and Dixon think a “rabbit punch” is, but it’s a punch to the back of the neck or head. It’s illegal in boxing because it’s too dangerous.) The attacker is either the owner, Benlow, or Dresser, who works for him, but Frank doesn’t know who.

But Frank and Joe are making progress! Since the only one they know who is in on the conspiracy is the foreman, Lincoln Metairie (really), the boys head to the warehouse, where they hear about something happening that night. (The gang also disposes of its paperwork by tearing the evidence into pieces, as if they hadn't heard of paper shredders.) When the brothers return that night, they are fortunate the gang is punctual, as the boys are about to fall asleep at around 10 o’clock or so. Frank and Joe sneak in and find Metairie and three others wrapping up the operation; the boys are discovered, and in the tussle afterward, Joe is captured and Frank knocks himself out on a handtruck.

Metairie and one of his co-conspirators take the trussed-up Hardys in their own van, planning to sink them in a deep pond. But Metairie decides to add a co-conspirator to the body count — one who was in favor of sparing the Hardys — and knocks him out, planning to split his $62,500 among the others. ($62,500 in 1992 is the equivalent to more than $100,000 today.) But of course no knot can hold the Hardys; Joe springs free, and after he surprises Metairie, Frank kicks him into the pond. Saving Metairie has to wait until Frank is freed of his ropes, though; it wouldn’t do for Joe to rescue the villain single handed. The Hardys then call the BPD, which calls the Holman Heights police (because that’s where the Wombat factory is).

At the police station, Joe obliquely references the stateroom scene (“the scene where everybody ended up in a small room”) from A Night at the Opera (“that Marx Brothers movie we saw a while back”). Why can’t he just say the stateroom scene from A Night at the Opera? No one’s going to get mad. It’s a hilarious scene, and more young people should know about. Anyway, Frank and Joe reveal retailers (like Benlow) are involved in the scheme, and they out Brinkstead as the mastermind. Brinkstead blusters, but Metairie promises to testify against him. The criminals in the Hardy Boys books are always running a weird version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, except instead of making their choices isolated from the other, one prisoner always confesses in front of the others so everyone loses. It seems like a low-reward strategy, but what do I know?

The boys’ reward is a new pair of Wombats for Joe, but it doesn’t help him defeat Dresser in the rematch. (Although Wombat’s return policy should have resulted in him getting a new pair anyway.) Dangit, Joe, what’s the point of solving these mysteries if the rewards don’t help you become more famous and more accomplished? You did all that work to save a large corporation some money! Corporations aren’t your friends — they’re just taking advantage of you.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Radical Moves (#113)

Radical Moves coverYou know, Chet gets laughed at for his numerous hobbies, but no one says anything about all the avocations Frank and Joe pick up for a mystery and then never refer to again.

Take, for instance, Radical Moves. Frank and Joe start skateboarding; Joe, in particular, is pretty good at it. Will this be referred to again? No. No, it will not. Just like Joe playing video games in Attack of the Video Villains (#106) and both brothers firefighting in The Smoke Screen Mystery (#105), skateboarding will be forgotten. And how many hobbies has Chet had in that same eight-book period? Two, if you count his attempts to win a costume contest in The Secret of Sigma Seven (#110). Well, three, if you count him playing video games with Frank and Joe in Video Villains, but frankly, Chet didn’t expend enough enthusiasm for the video games or the costume contest to qualify, and in neither case was he completely blind to his incompetence.

So Radical Moves is based on the idea that Frank and Joe are skateboarders now, and Joe’s pretty good. The narrator explains skateboarding to the readers, often using Frank’s thoughts, and yes, it sounds exactly like a middle-aged guy explaining the latest hip youth craze to aliens. By page 40, I was thoroughly sick of the word “thrash” and all its variations, and I despaired that I still had more than 100 thrashin’ pages left to go.

While at the Bayport skatepark a few days ahead of the Bayport (*ugh*) Thrashathon, the Hardy brothers meet Zach “the Hawk” Michaels, whom Joe immediately recognizes as a great professional skateboarder. Frank embarrasses himself by asking about skater lingo (“Hey, just what is a thrasher, anyway?” [3]), and Joe embarrasses himself with his adulation of the Hawk. Zach emulates the Hardys’ stilted speech, and I’m sure he’s making fun of them without them knowing it. But after Frank and Joe foil an attempt to steal Zach’s skateboard by a motorcyclist all in black, Zach decides they’re all right and takes them up on their offer to investigate the attack, even if he’s not willing to tell Frank and Joe about his past.

If you’re wondering: By the time this book was published in 1992, Tony Hawk had been a professional skater for a decade, and he’d been winning championships for almost that entire time. (We have always had Tony Hawk with us.) That’s obviously what the author is referencing with the “Hawk” nickname; when Zach performs a “pop off” — going up over the edge of a half-pipe, then descending — Frank “could see why his nickname was ‘Hawk’” (9). Given that actual hawks can get quite a bit higher (Frank doesn’t seem all that impressed by Zach’s altitude) and aren’t that good at skateboarding, I have to think it’s a reference to Tony.

Zach introduces Frank and Joe to the skateboarding world gathering in Bayport: Rick “Rocket” Torrez, a competitor who is Zach’s ex-best friend; Barb Myers, who sponsors Rocket, used to sponsor Zach, and now doesn’t like Zach very much; Maggie Barnes, a skateboarding reporter “on cable” (18; Joe repeats “on cable” throughout the book, as if skateboarding is equally likely to be found on C-SPAN, The Nashville Network, or ESPN); rival Danny Hayashi, who Zach says “leaves a bad taste in my mouth” (28; I just bet he does, wink wink nudge nudge); and Chris Hall, president of Scorpion Boards and Danny’s sponsor.

Zach is evasive about the root of his bad blood with Barb, Rocket, and Danny, and he won’t tell the brothers about secret deals he’s making with skateboarding companies; Frank and Joe find this extremely suspicious, although why should he trust Frank and Joe with intimate details of his personal life? And why would he divulge information about deals that could net him a fortune? (He eventually tells the brothers about his plans to sell his skateboard design to Hall, and Frank blabs it to Rocket like a total Chet.)

The attacks / attempted thefts keep coming. At Zach’s house, the mysterious rider pushes Zach into an empty pool, then drives off with Zach’s board; in the ensuing chase, Joe tries to run him off the road — total villain behavior from Joe — and the motorcyclist tries the half Ghost Rider, swinging a chain at the Hardys van. (Not a flaming chain, unfortunately.) The chase ends in the Bayport Mall parking lot when the motorcyclist takes a spill going around a delivery van. The rider beats up Frank and Joe but loses the board before he flees. The motorcycle is stolen, which closes up the lead the Hardys bade Lt. Con Riley to follow up on. While the Hardys and Zach were chasing the thief, Zach’s workshop is trashed.

Zach eventually reveals his secrets. Rocket hates him because they used to work together, but Zach robbed the place for skateboard components, and Rocket was fired; Zach then quit Myers’s team out of guilt, which caused Myers to hate him. Zach apologizes to Rocket and says he’ll get Rocket’s job back, even pay back their former employer, but he doesn’t admit he stole Rocket’s idea for a skateboard. (He does say he’ll split the profits 50/50, though, after Frank spills the beans.)

Frank and Joe are left home alone for the second straight mystery; this time the adults are on vacation. It’s a good thing, though, because someone turns on the gas in the Hardy home to … discourage Frank and Joe? No, it seems more likely that someone was trying to kill them, since they were asleep when the gas was turned on and no vague threat was issued, as the villains so often do. Frank and Joe are not concerned, though. I mean, they survived, after all, and the house didn’t explode. Why should they care?

Well, perhaps because Joe at least is left with a “fuzzy feeling and … [a] throbbing at his temples” (77) the next morning. That suggests there might be lingering effects they might want to get checked out, but whatever — that’s not the Hardy way. Frank uses the gas as an excuse to laugh at Joe’s suggestion that someone is watching Zach’s home from the vacant house across the street. Joe’s right, though, and they find food wrappers and a cup with lipstick on it when they finally investigate. Immediately Myers becomes a suspect. Frank and Joe even let the police know about the break-in … eventually. But they don’t visit Riley to tell him what’s going on; they don’t want to get caught up in his “questioning” and “investigating” and “documentation.” The Hardys have to be free to fly and “carve large” (78), just like the Hawk, dude!

Later, Zach cracks his shoulder after someone pours silicon lubricant at the bottom of the pool he uses for skateboarding practice. Zach asks Joe to compete in his place, but after another failed attempt to steal Zach’s board, the Hardys, Zach, and Rocket construct a decoy board. (Frank cannibalizes “an old shortwave radio that had been gathering dust in a closet” [116] for some of the electronics, in case you wondered what had happened to their shortwave sets.) They let the board be stolen and follow the thief to the Bayport Arms Hotel, and they hear the thief’s first name — Danny — before the tracker and bug are destroyed.

After they figure out who the thief is, Frank and Joe are stumped at what to do next. Although it’s true that they might not have much evidence against Danny, they have two weapons in their arsenal they never use, despite how effective they would be: they could accuse Danny of the many crimes that went along with his mugging attempts (fleeing the scene of an accident, assault and battery, and attempted murder), and they could call upon the Bayport Police Department to use its full majesty and authority against him. I mean, this guy attempted to gas Frank and Joe to death! He’s more than a petty thief or even an industrial spy — he’s a menace! Well, really, it was his employer who broke into the Hardy home, but they could still say that unless Danny gave up his boss, Danny was the one who was going to go to jail.

While Joe competes, Frank uses library resources to discover Myers’s company is great shape, so she could pay for Zach’s board design if she wanted. Hall’s company, however, is about to go under, so he probably couldn’t pay Zach anything, despite what Hall promised Zach. Frank is so excited by this discovery he “almost [forgot] to return the volume … to the periodical room” (136). My God, Frank — you’re a monster!

At the competition, Joe battles Danny, but Danny uses his board to knock Joe down. Danny is DQed, and Frank advises having Danny arrested while he investigates Hall. Frank picks the lock on the back of Hall’s truck and finds lockpicks, silicon lubricants, and a black motorcycle riding costume. Hall smacks Frank upside the head and drives away, but Frank rallies the skateboarding community, who pursue Hall. Joe and Rick grab onto the back of Hall’s truck — bad example for the kids! — before vaulting onto the back of the truck. Frank, following on a borrowed board, chases down Hall when he abandons his truck.

Oh, that lipstick on the coffee cup? Total red herring. Myers previously dated Hall and hoped to be cut in on his new skateboard deal (or theft). So … she watched Zach’s place from the vacant house with Hall, witnessing his attempted larceny, vandalism, and bodily harm? Geez. And she gets away scot-free, despite her horrible morals.

The bad guys are arrested; Zach gets Rocket his job back and convinces his old employer to produce his radical board design. Joe, despite his high-intensity training with Hawk and relatively good showing at the *sigh* Thrashathon, decides to give up skateboarding and thrashing.

Thank Odin for that, at least.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Schedule / Notes on Fear on Wheels

The next digest I’ll be writing about is #113, Radical Moves. I don’t have #112, Demolition Mission, and neither does my local library. If I ever get my hands on a copy, I’ll fill in this blank later.

After Radical Moves will be The Case of the Counterfeit Criminals, #114. Unfortunately, I’ll have to skip #115, Sabotage at Sports City, when its turn comes up because, again, I can’t easily lay my hands on a copy, and I’m not going to spend $4 or more to buy a book on eBay or Amazon every time this happens.

If you want to send me a copy, though, let me know in the comments.

***

Some stuff I’ve been meaning to post but just keep forgetting:

The back cover of Fear on Wheels has some odd copy. The description ends like this:

“The only way the Hardys can put [the blackmailer] out of business is to ride straight into the mud pits of his raging diesel-powered bulls!”

I understand “diesel-powered”; I assume some of the trucks and hot rods involved in the show use diesel fuel. But I’ve never heard monster trucks, classic cars, or dragsters referred to as “bulls.” (None of the vehicles drive through mud pits in the book, although I have seen that in truck / tractor pulling contests.)

Using “diesel” and “bulls” so close together concerns me. The only connection I can see between those words is that they are both used, with another slur, to rudely describe certain masculine lesbians. (From what I saw on the Internet before writing this, those terms are sometimes used within the LGBT community but are still seen as insults when used by those outside the community.) But the book only has one female character, Jessica, whose sexual identity is unexplored in the book … although it does describe her as having a “tough, boyish look” because of her black jeans, t-shirt, and boots (17). (That’s her on the cover, although she doesn’t look boyish to me.) That description kinda fits with those slurs, and her career spent on motorcycles would emphasize that masculinity to some people. But you have to squint to make those terms fit well — especially when the next sentence says she has a “childish” face when viewed up close, and her makeup “made her dark eyes look huge.”

And Jessica isn’t the blackmailer, which means puts us back at the beginning: I have no idea why whoever wrote the copy used the word “bulls.”

***

If Fear has a major weakness, it lies in the idea that people are interested in what Grant Tucker is selling. Well, let me rephrase that: obviously people are interested in attending auto shows and auto stunt exhibitions; there’s a reason I know a monster truck named Bigfoot exists, after all. But the ghostwriter (or editor) seems to think the auto stunts can find a place on TV in the early ‘90s, and I’m not sure that’s true. Tucker sold the rights for a live television broadcast of his show, but it’s never stated what kind of television station it is. Is it a local channel airing the show? Maybe, but setting up for an entire TV show — you have to figure it’s going to be an hour broadcast at least, maybe two or more — is beyond a lot of local affiliates’ capabilities. It’s definitely not one of the major networks; they would have much better things to air than a regional stunt show. It could be a cable network, but it’s doubtful any of those (like ESPN) would air it live; the show would benefit greatly from editing.

And then Jessica is rumored to be trying to make a stunt-show pilot for TV. It’s easy to envision a reality show featuring stunt motorcycle riding being successful (or at least being plausible enough to make it to pilot) today, but in 1991? That’s difficult to believe.

Also: Tucker thinks the threats of violence will cause the TV people to back out of the broadcast. Yeah, because TV people hate spontaneity and the prospect of being live at the scene of a tragedy / news event.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Three-Ring Terror (#111)

Three-Ring Terror coverIn 2016, it’s kinda sad to read about the Hardy Boys working a circus mystery.

In the Hardys’ heyday, circuses and the Hardy Boys series were extremely popular. But by 1991, when Three-Ring Terror was published, neither had the cachet they previously held. The Hardy Boys were still popular, of course, but with the original series up to #111 and a dozen titles being published per year across two series, none of the individual books felt as special as they once had. At the same time, the number of circuses was shrinking as their costs rose and ticket sales fell. Today, more than a decade and a half into the 21st century, the Hardy Boys have had their second reboot in less than a decade and seem to be looking for a hook that will attract young readers, while ethical concerns (like the treatment of animals) are chipping away at what little appeal the modern profusion of entertainment options have left circuses.

I believe I’m going to try to forget about that line of thinking and start talking about what happens in the book.

Anyway: Three-Ring Terror. The cover makes it look like some sort of cloning and / or time travel book, with Frank and Joe fighting in the background while Frank and Joe perform on the trapeze in the foreground. But that’s not what the story is about!

Chet wants to be clown, and when the Montero Brothers Circus hits the Bayport Arena with their circus training program, he has his chance. He gets a “clown internship” (4), and he’s planning to spend the entire winter vacation learning the trade; when I was a kid, that would have been extremely unimpressive, as winter vacation was usually about ten days long if you counted Christmas and New Year’s Day. Anyway, Chet’s so eager that Frank and Joe don’t remind him of his numerous hobbies or his propensity for dropping them. In fact, they’re sold on his enthusiasm being more or less permanent: “Boy, you’re serious about this clowning thing,” Frank says after letting out a whistle (26).

Actually, Chet’s already been a clown before, performing as Chesterton the Great for Solo’s Super Carnival in The Mystery of the Whale Tattoo (#47). The last time Chet worked for a circus, in Track of the Zombie (#71), he manned the refreshment stand for the Big Top Circus, which seems like a step back. On the other hand, he planned to stick with the circus for the entire summer, along with Biff Hooper, Phil Cohen, and Tony Prito, so who knows what he got up to? OK, he probably quit after two weeks, either because something else caught his fancy or the Hardys needed his help, but the possibility remains he might have performed in some capacity at the Big Top Circus.

When the Hardys first are introduced to Montero Bros. Circus, Frank and Joe are amazed by the tiger act, although whenever tigers pop up in a Hardy Boys book, I can’t help but remember the boys bringing down a tiger by winging rocks at it in the original Disappearing Floor (#19). The tiger is forgotten when a mystery gets its hooks into them: a juggler drops a ball covered with rhinestones and gropes through Chet’s bag for it, and when Frank confronts the juggler about him rifling through Chet’s stuff, the juggler pushes Frank into the refreshment table and makes a break for it. The juggler escapes easily, while Frank is soaked with soda and punch — ha! — but the boys find a secret code inside the ball: CN / 1220, JL / 103, GU / 214.

The boys are on their own, as Fenton is in Philadelphia “to run a check on someone” at police headquarters (perhaps calling in a favor from Commissioner Andrew Crawford that his boys earned in Shield of Fear [#91]), and Gertrude and Laura are in New York to visit friends (23). They can’t consult ask their father for help, then, or even get a hot meal when their simple secret code mystery is superseded / confused by sabotage at the Montero Brothers Circus. OK: Paul Turner, dean of Circus U. and a member of the circus’s board of directors, doesn’t want to believe the series of accidents is anything malicious, but listen, all y’all, it’s sabotage.

Turner’s job is endangered as more “accidents” occur (such as short stilts being sawed partially through, causing Chet to fall *gasp* five feet), and Frank and Joe are stumped by the both the sabotage and the code. But that may be because their brains had a bad reaction to clown white or something: they find “Bo Costello” and “Clown Alley” remarkably funny names, for instance, and after Turner is stuck in a cannon, the opening of the barrel pointed out of reach above their heads, their rescue is delayed for the minutes it takes them to recall the ladder Turner just used to climb into the cannon. Their work ethic is also top-notch again: when they have an indication that something important, perhaps another act of sabotage, will happen at the circus the next day, they decide to take a night off and watch the circus instead: “One night’s not going to make a difference … we need some R and R [after less than two days of work],” Joe says (97).

Eventually, Frank and Joe link the letters in the code to three people: trapeze artists Carl Nash and Justine Leone and Turner’s assistant Georgianne Unger. Nash and Leone are just performers, but Turner thinks Unger might want to oust him in a circus coup so she can take his job. Turner also says Bo Costello, the director of admissions, would be a better choice to take his job.

(Note: “Circus coup” is one of the coolest things I’ve typed in a while.)

The revelation about the initials doesn’t shed any light on the code itself, so the brothers argue about the code’s purpose and meaning. Joe comes up with a cockamamie theory, but he defends it against his brother’s reasonable objections; when Frank comes up with his own hunches, Joe gleefully punches holes in them. It’s the rare sort of not-nice brotherly interaction between Frank and Joe that rings true while maintaining their partnership, and that’s very much to Three-Ring’s credit.

The only progress they make is to ID the juggler who dropped the ball, Ralph Rosen. The boys spot and chase him a couple of times, but he eludes them. The second time he escapes because Frank and Joe are in clown costumes, but they discover Rosen has just handed another rhinestone-encrusted ball to Leone, who admits she’s supposed to give the ball to Nash. There’s no code inside the ball, but one of its rhinestones does turn out to be a real diamond — so add jewel thefts to the crimes in the book.

Oh, about the clown costumes … early in the novel, Joe is adamant that he will not be a clown: “No way will I put on a clown costume,” he says (41). But he already has performed as a clown, as part of the Big Top Circus in Track of the Zombie. (He was also a clown for the school variety show in the same book.) When Chet invites them to the circus, Joe is afraid Chet will show up in his clown getup: “You wouldn’t embarrass us like that, would you?” (89). When Frank suggests wearing clown costumes to blend in, Joe says, “No way are you getting me in that [costume]” (106). Of course he wears the costume; he protests the wig and clown white separately, but gives way both times. Unfortunately, the comedy of the situation is underplayed, with the author not really referring back to Joe’s embarrassment after he dons the costume.

Back to the mystery: Nash is definitely implicated, as he also was the best suspect for a break-in at the Hardy home; the burglar fled through a window in a very trapeze-like move, and the thief roared away in a car with Texas plates. (Nash is from Texas.) Nash showed up to relieve Chet at the refreshment table the first night, after Rosen lost his juggling ball, so Frank and Joe surmise that might have been a botched handoff between Rosen and Nash. Since Costello assigned workers to the refreshment table, Frank and Joe use a safety pin to perform an investigatory B&E to Costello’s office. (Not even lockpicks! I’m disappointed Frank and Joe didn’t come prepared.) They note dates that correspond to numbers in the code — December 20, January 3, February 14 — marked on Costello’s calendar, and then the realize the letters correspond to appreciations for each city the circus is in on those days; Bayport is abbreviated BP, which becomes CN by moving the first letter one forward in the alphabet and the second two back, while Indianapolis goes from IN to JL and Fort Worth is transformed to FW and GU.

As soon as they make this revelation, Frank and Joe are discovered by Costello and Nash. They tie the two up while they admit the code refers to handoffs of stolen jewels; Costello fences the gems in a different city from the handoff. To get rid of the boys, Costello rigs a fireworks explosion in his office, then he and Nash take off. Frank and Joe manage to escape before the pyrotechnics go off, of course, and they easily find Costello and Nash, who aren’t even trying to hide.

The criminals make a break for it, and they climb onto the trapeze to … well, it’s not really clear what the two are going to do after making it onto the trapeze platforms. The narration hints they’re going to try to escape on a catwalk, but that’s not clear. The brothers climb up the trapeze after them and manage to subdue the crooks. This sounds absurd — two newcomers to the trapeze being able to work at such a height and outfight experienced trapeze artists — but Joe and Frank worked the trapeze in “Big Top” Hinchman’s circus in the original Clue of the Broken Blade.

Rosen isn’t captured at the end, most of the evidence the boys needed was in Costello’s office when it blew up, and no one explained why Costello’s gang needed such complicated handoffs, but other than that, everything’s wrapped up neatly. Great job, kids!