Bayport has a lot of old mansions, and most of them are abandoned. (It certainly seems that way, at least.) In the original canon, Frank and Joe encountered nine abandoned Bayport showplaces — that’s one every nine (or so) books! The ratio is even greater if we consider the mysteries set primarily in Bayport.
When Simon & Schuster took over the series, it curtailed the amount of time Frank and Joe spent around large, derelict buildings; Cold Cash Caper (#136) had an abandoned mansion, and Warehouse Rumble (#183) takes place in a formerly deserted warehouse, but that about all I’ve run into so far. Day of the Dinosaur is mostly set in an old, Bayport-area mansion — but the Sackville mansion, located on the outskirts of Bayport, isn’t just rotting away. Instead, it’s being refurbished into a prehistory museum, focusing on dinosaurs, and the money for doing so was left by old man Sackville. Let’s hear it for superior estate planning!
Frank and Joe visit the museum, which is about two weeks from opening, to see the animatronic dinosaurs. When I say “visit,” I mean “trespass,” but fortunately they meet their old friend Sally Jenkins, whose father is a detective who worked with Fenton. (Mr. Jenkins was never mentioned in the canon.) Sally is an assistant exhibitions director at the museum, scrambling to get the museum ready in time for its opening. She’s more than happy to have Frank and Joe volunteer, which they do because they like to get access to all the coolest stuff in Bayport and aren’t afraid to use their connections to do so.
What follows is an odd mystery; Frank and Joe have no client, not even by their nebulous “amateur” standards, and no one gets arrested at the end. I don’t know if those two things make Day of the Dinosaur unique, but it’s certainly unusual.
Before they get hired as unpaid gofers, Frank and Joe get a tour from Sally. She shows them the museum’s prize exhibit, a 15,000-year-old clay sculpture of a buffalo from southern France, which I thought was nonsense — clay sculptures that old? — but it turns out to be a real thing. (Shows what I know.) They also meet Dan Parker, who has created the Dinobots, and his rival, academic paleontologist Carl Lubski; Dr. Clarence Smith, the museum director; and Tom Smedly, the head custodian.
How do Frank and Joe get to spend the week working at the museum during the school year? You’ll be surprised to know they aren’t out of school because of some breakdown in the school’s physical plant or some vague administrative holiday … well, they’re not out of school all day because of vague administrative holiday; the first day they work, they have to go to school for only a couple of hours because of “some teacher’s meeting” (10), while on subsequent days they get out early because their last scheduled class is study hall.
Frank and Joe’s support staff is largely missing in this book. Chet, for some unspecified reason, is grounded, and the rest of the gang isn’t mentioned. For most of the book, Fenton is out late / gone early working on a case. Gertrude is in Arizona, visiting “an old friend,” although I think we all know she doesn’t have friends, just people she’s known for a while and doesn’t hate. However, Laura, that perpetual non-entity, is around to cook meals for the boys. She gets no lines, but this is the first time I can remember her appearing in a book in a long time. I can’t even remember a digest I’ve covered this year in which Laura does as much as she does in Dinosaur.
Despite no actual mystery presenting itself, Frank and Joe can’t stay out of trouble. Joe gets a jolt of electricity while trying out Parker’s virtual reality helmet without permission; I thought it was a security feature, but it turns out to be a short in the system. Well, serves you right, Joe. Smedly almost drops a light fixture on Frank’s head — and more importantly, almost on the buffalo sculpture. It’s at this point the Hardys suspect a mystery, although this seems unjustifiable paranoia: by now, Frank and Joe should be used to electrical shocks and heavy objects almost falling on their heads. These things should be second nature to them; Frank is certainly no Flitcraft.
Still, weird things keep happening. A Dinobot picks up Joe in its mouth, and only Frank’s quick thinking saves the day. Parker blames Lubski, saying he must have sabotaged and reprogrammed the Dinobot, but Lubski has shown no programming experience. (Still, it turns out he did do it as a prank.) Lubski can’t be blamed completely, as the Dinobot attacked after Parker and Joe were trying to repair a problem with the Dinobot still on. That has to be an workplace safety violation of some sort.
Lubski almost gets stepped on by a Dinobot the following day — a definite accident, but one that prompts a bit of investigatory B&E from the boys. For some reason, they break into Lubski’s lab. Although Frank and Joe are acting like criminals, I am happy to see Frank uses the proper tool for the job this time: lock picks. (For some reason, Frank didn’t have to go to the van to get them; he just had his lock-picking tool in his pocket.) They find nothing of interest, other than Lubski and Parker having different theories about dinosaur extinction.
The day after that, the bison gets chipped when a wheel falls off the dolly Smedly was using to move it; the sculpture has to be taken to the restoration shed. After work, Joe follows Smedly and discovers him visiting the tony home of Raymond Casada, a name that means nothing to either Hardy boy. Later, the brothers break into the museum, eluding the worst security guard ever. They discover Smedly’s personnel file is missing and spot a figure sabotaging a Dinobot, but the intruder flees before he can do any real damage.
Fenton’s on the couch with Laura when the boys get home, but Frank and Joe don’t ask him if he knows anything about Casada or any criminal connections he might have. Because why fall back on such expert resources? Fortunately Sally clues them in later: he’s a “wealthy antiques dealer … suspected of dealing in forgeries and stolen artifacts” (111).
While Frank and Joe are unloading roof tiles the next day, an unattended Dinobot rampages through the restoration shed. Joe prevents it from running into the lake, but the shed — and the bison sculpture inside — are ruined. Smith quickly sweeps up the sculpture’s remains and double bags them, sealing in that prehistoric goodness. Smedly was injured by the Dinobot, but from the wounds, the Hardys suspect he started the Dinobot and aimed it at the shed. He’s taken to Bayport General by concerned roofers; one of them says, “I’ve had plenty of concussions myself. I know how the guy feels” (108). Plenty! Maybe concussions are just something that happens around Bayport — you’re not a man until you get your first one.
Frank and Joe avoid a concussion on their way home when their van is run off the road. “Not another dent on that side [passenger] of the van,” Joe says (115), blithely ignoring the possibility they could have been killed or seriously injured. They think they recognize Smedly’s pickup as the one that hit them, and the driver, although wearing a ski mask, was also wearing Smedly’s bandanna, or one like it. This, of course, makes Smedly one of the dumbest criminals the Hardys have faced. Couldn’t he at least have stolen a truck to run them off the road?
Now the boys know something’s up. They break into the museum again to get a sample of the destroyed buffalo sculpture, but they find Parker is a step ahead of them. The next day — Saturday — a friend of Parker’s examines the fragment, and she declares it a fake. Somehow they convince Sally to approach Casada as a buyer, but while she and Frank discuss matters with Casada, Joe sneaks into Casada’s office. He’s caught, but he manages to find a receipt for the buffalo, made out to Smith. I have to say I’m disappointed in Casada; he should have had his butler / thug punch Joe a few times or at least intimidate him. But no: all three fakers are politely escorted to the door. I think Burn Notice has led me to expect too much of such criminals.
Sally, Parker, and the boys set a trap: they convince Lubski to tell Smith that he thinks the sculpture was a phony. That night, they find Smith in the process of burying the shards under concrete on the museum’s grounds. (I’m not sure what staff would have made of the sudden appearance of a patch of concrete on the museum grounds, but after the shards are entombed, Smith wouldn’t care.) Smith confesses he unwisely purchased a fake with the museum’s money and blackmailed Smedly, who had lied about his job experience and competence, into destroying the fake. Smedly was as competent at destruction as he was at his job, though, and things spiraled out of control.
That’s where matters are left; the police are not involved, and crime triumphs! The museum trundles toward its opening with a new director. Smedly vanishes. Smith resigns and heads for a tropical vacation. And Casada isn’t mentioned at all, meaning he gets away with peddling a forgery. Great work, Frank and Joe!