Friday, November 18, 2016

The Secret of Skeleton Reef (#144)

The Secret of Skeleton Reef coverThings work out when you’re a Hardy.

You get stuff, not for what you do but for who you are. Well, maybe not so much stuff — stuff can be stolen, as the Hardys know, or broken or exploded — but experiences. Work hard, or work not at all, and the vacations to exotic places (and the equipment needed to fully enjoy that vacation) are handed to you. Want an internship? A chance to be on TV or on stage? Just wait, and you shall be rewarded.

The Hardys’ reward in The Secret of Skeleton Reef is a trip to St. Lucia, a Caribbean island of about 180,000 people. How did Frank and Joe get to this little island paradise? Their new friend, Jamal Hawkins, invited them down to his uncle’s bungalow on the island. Jamal also flew the brothers and himself down there. Jamal knows competition for Frank and Joe’s friendship is stiff, so he’s pulling out all the stops — he’s on a working holiday while Frank and Joe sit on their fundaments.

And honestly, thank Odin the boys were able to slip away to a tropical paradise. They hadn't been to one since The Treasure at Dolphin Bay (#129), which was fifteen books ago. And they’re not scheduled to go on another tropical vacation until The Caribbean Cruise Caper (#154). After that, they have to wait until Typhoon Island (#180), and they have to go on that trip with their *ugh* girlfriends. To endure that 26-book gap, Frank and Joe have to content themselves with trips to London, Italy, Kenya, and France (twice). Quelle peine!

Skeleton Reef mentions Frank and Joe had gotten to know Jamal on one of their cases, but by now, he’s appeared in two books: Cross-Country Crime (#134) and Slam Dunk Sabotage (#140). (Joe says one of those was their “scariest case yet” [3], but he doesn’t say which that was. The former involves Area 51, and in the latter, Biff gets dosed with rat poison.) Frank is described as “seldom anyone’s fool” (2), but as the last mystery, The Giant Rat of Sumatra (#143), showed, he’s often someone’s punching bag.

The boys’ noses for mystery start twitching when a couple of random guys on the beach tell them they’re part of a treasure-hunting crew, searching Skeleton Reef for a sunken ship … but they are “trying to keep thing quiet” (4). Sure, telling a trio of random boys what you’re doing is a great way to keep things quiet. Loose lips sink ships, guys, and then you can get another ship to salvage that ship.

A local calling herself Auntie Samantha wanders by, offering to tell them a story “if you cross my palm with, oh, just a little bit of coin” (6). This sounds like a come-on — as in, “I’ll tell you this story while naked” — but Frank literally gives Auntie Samantha some pocket change and asks for a pirate story. Whatever turns you on, man. Samantha — the only St. Lucia native the boys engage with during the story — tells them about Rebecca, a 17th-century woman who haunted the pirates who murdered her and stole her diamond necklace. Her ghost is still occasionally seen around the islands, according to Samantha.

As soon as Samantha scuttles off, looking for more men to “tell stories” with, the boys find an unconscious woman in the surf. The narrator notes she wore “only” a bathing-suit top and shorts. As if that’s scandalous! What do you expect someone who washed up on the shore to be wearing? Swimwear, that’s what. I think the narrator was trying to shame the poor girl even as she’s dying.

Frank saves her life — only then does Joe realize “she was tan and pretty” (11) — and they head to the hospital. At the hospital, the girl (name: Chrissy) claims amnesia about how she ended up on the beach, and she begs the boys not to go to the cops. That’s not a problem; Frank and Joe don’t trust first-world cops, so why would they involve some Banana Republic policemen?

The next day, while Jamal ferries passengers around the Caribbean, Frank and Joe check out the treasure-hunting ship, Destiny, whose crew is investigating the sunken Laughing Moon. (I unironically appreciate that name.) While there, the brothers prevent a bear of a man, Lou Brunelli, from flattening a shipmate. Joe, who was evaluating Chrissy the night before, turns his attention to Lou: “Lou … [was] not bad looking as far as bears go” (21). The author has to know what he’s saying there, doesn’t he? I mean, I didn’t know Joe paid attention to bears, and I don’t know if he has a thing for them, but … c’mon.

Frank and Joe learn Chrissy was a member of the crew, but they don’t rat her out. They do offer to look for Chrissy, and while they’re waiting for visiting hours at the hospital, they “notice how relaxed and happy everyone seemed” (26) in the tourist areas. Sure, because why would these simple people be worried about anything? Joe does admit to liking the calypso music, which he also got a kick out of in The Ghost at Skeleton Rock (#37). (Note the similarity in titles; both take place in the Caribbean.)

Chrissy has already fled, though, leaving a pillow-and-sheet shaped form in the bed to confuse people. (Hospitals in St. Lucia don’t use electronic monitors?) Frank and Joe use their failure to infiltrate the Destiny’s crew. When the expedition’s financial backer, Montclare, mishandles the winch lowering the anchor, the rope catches Frank’s leg, and everyone sees “blood oozing through the sock” (37). “Good thing you had socks on,” the captain says (38), which is weird. Can socks prevent steel hawsers from cutting through your leg? Are socks vital safety equipment on boats?

Joe, who is qualified to scuba dive, is allowed to watch the underwater treasure gathering; Joe (and Frank) have done a considerable amount of underwater salvage already in the original Secret Warning (#17). (They also scuba dived in The Secret of Pirates’ Hill [#36].) After being frightened by a shark, Joe witnesses one of the crew secreting gold artifacts in her wetsuit, and Frank verifies she doesn’t hand them over to the government archaeologist on board. This makes the diver, Peg, a suspect in the attack on Chrissy: “As you know, where there’s one crime, there’s often another,” Joe says (51).

Peg, though, professes ignorance about what happened to Chrissy: “No one would be out to get Chrissy. … She’s a nice girl from the States.” Tell that to Natalee Holloway, Peg. Frank allows the line to pass. Hardy Boys novels often feel like they are in their own little bubble — Panic on Gull Island (#107), in which Iola is kidnapped on Spring Break and no one cares, is the bubbliest — but that unchallenged line takes the cake. (Not that locals are out to prey on white girls from the United States. But not being concerned that someone would assault her for being young and female seems oblivious, especially from another woman.)

Another pair of suspects pop up: Rob and Davy, Australian jackasses who try to poach treasure from sunken ships after someone else finds the ship. They offer to hire on the crew, but Capt. Flask says he has no room. When Frank and Joe take their motorboat — actually Jamal’s uncle’s boat — back toward land, Rob and Davy firebomb the boat, alleging that they want Frank and Joe’s spots on the crew. Frank and Joe survive the bombing, but the boat sinks, and Frank’s bleeding leg attracts sharks. Jamal rescues the brothers by trailing a rope from his plane, which is truly stupid; the plane and the rope would be flying by at more than a hundred miles an hour, which would make it hard to catch and harder to hold onto.

Back on land, Frank offers to buy Jamal’s an uncle a brand-new boat. Must be nice to be able to throw that kind of money around. No mention is made of going to the police, because who would want to report destruction of private property and attempted bodily harm against a pair of dangerous jackasses?

Things speed up from there. Someone sends the boys the Black Spot from Treasure Island. The boys’ next step is a bit of investigatory B&E: Frank heads to Montclare’s home, while Joe and Jamal go to Peg’s. Frank steps into Montclare’s home through an unlocked door, and in an interview, he gets Montclare to admit money problems. Joe and Jamal break into Peg (and Chrissy’s) place and are still there when Peg returns; they see her clean the encrusted treasures she stole, then they squeeze through a bathroom window. Jamal marvels over the close escape, prompting Joe to say, “Stick with me, Hawkins … I’ll show you every trick in the book.” Oh, I doubt that, Joe — you tease.

To round out the day, the boys fly over the ocean to find the Destiny. They find it at the wrong end of Skeleton Reef, and someone on deck shoots at them. When they get back to the hangar, they learn Peg stole the treasure for Capt. Flask, who is using the gold to interest outside investors into buying out Montclare and funding a pirate museum. Flask says he’ll replace the loot when he’s done.

The next day, Frank and Joe head out to find Auntie Samantha to see if she knows of another wreck the Destiny might have been near. After being shot at with spear guns — later referred to as warning shots, even though one skims Frank’s head and another grazes Joe’s arm — they find Auntie Samantha, who tells them a sunken Cuban fishing boat is at the other end of Skeleton Reef. The boat had been used to smuggle uranium out of Cuba during the Cold War. The source of the story is the “husband of a woman who was the sister-in-law of a friend of a cousin of my very own mother” (123). Obviously, that’s trustworthy.

When they get back to Jamal’s uncle’s at sunset, Jamal has struck out looking for Chrissy, but Chrissy has found her way back in an attempt to jog her memory. Frank and Joe try to feed her lines to reinforce what they think has happened, but she doesn’t remember any of it. The boys take it as confirmation anyway.

Frank gets a brainwave: He has Chrissy impersonate the ghost Rebecca as they row to the Destiny. While the two St. Lucians with rifles are agog, Jamal and Joe swim to the boat, capture them, and throw the rifles overboard. Unfortunately, Brunelli puts a knife to Frank’s throat, and two other Destiny divers turn the tables on the boys and Chrissy. The trauma does jar Chrissy’s memory: She had joined the uranium hunt but had chickened out after she realized uranium’s destructive power. Brunelli tossed her overboard, and she barely made it to land.

After Joe uses the anchor trick that caused Frank’s injuries on Brunelli, the battle spills over into the water. In a speargun battle that desperately wants to be Thunderball, the boys emerge victorious. Jamal is relieved that he’s still alive and that he’ll actually get a vacation; Joe is so excited he squeezes Jamal’s arm, which is more than Iola gets usually.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Giant Rat of Sumatra (#143)

The Giant Rat of Sumatra coverThe giant rat of Sumatra is a loose end that Arthur Conan Doyle left in “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire.” In that short story, Holmes says, “Matilda Briggs … was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared.”

Obviously, you can’t leave an opening like that and not expect someone to try to stick a story in it, although you might expect people to jump on Matilda Briggs rather than a rodent as a subject for a story. “Sussex Vampire” originally appeared in 1924, and within two decades, a story about the Sumatran rodent was featured on an episode of the New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes radio show. Movies and TV shows — including an infamous Doctor Who serial, “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” — have used the concept, and at least seven Sherlock Holmes pastiche novels have had titles that include the phrase “giant rat of Sumatra.”

The Hardy Boys book The Giant Rat of Sumatra (#148) makes eight (well, it comes before many of the others, but for dramatic purposes, I put it at the end). Unlike pretty much all the other stories, the Hardys’ “giant rat” isn't a rodent; instead, he’s a gangland leader in Victorian England who is Sherlock Holmes’s chief antagonist in a new off-Broadway musical uncoincidentally named The Giant Rat of Sumatra. I’m not sure a singing Holmes and Watson is a good idea, but then again, whouda thunk a musical about Alexander Hamilton would be so popular?

The play’s author, Donald O’Lunny, comes to Fenton, hoping the Hardy patriarch will look into some vague intimations of sabotage of the play. O’Lunny is unable to come up with any specific problems he’s encountered — translation: The author ran out of time or space to come up with any — but he’s hoping Fenton will help. I assume O’Lunny wants to hire Fenton, but when Mr. Hardy says he can’t help because he’s got a job in Seattle but the boys can step in, no mention is made of, you know, paying Frank and Joe for their help.

Also: the narrator says Fenton has “enlisted the help of his two sons on many tough cases” (2), which was often true when the Stratemeyer Syndicate controlled the books (#1-83 or 85), but it hasn’t happened much in the digests up to this point. Together, the boys and Fenton solved the mystery in The Desert Thieves (#141), but they were on vacation together rather than working one of Fenton’s cases. Fenton fobbed the theatrical sabotage in Reel Thrills (#127) onto his sons and Chet; that time he and Laura were heading to Paris. The last time Fenton wanted Frank and Joe to work on a case with him was Danger in the Fourth Dimension (#118), which was 25 books (and four years) before Giant Rat Before that, the Hardy males worked together in Shield of Fear (#091). So: two mysteries out of nearly 60 … that’s not “many.”

Frank and Joe are sent undercover to the Bayport Orpheum Theater, where Giant Rat is working out the kinks in its preparations for Broadway. Frank’s cover is as O’Lunny’s assistant, while Joe … Joe gets to be an actor, prancing around in the background as one of Sherlock Holmes’s Baker Street Irregulars. His mother is very proud of him, but by the end of the story, the other actors (without much malice) tell him he’s not very good. We shouldn’t be too surprised, as readers; when one of the stars explains a rather simple plot to him, “Joe looked stunned” (9) — most likely because the explanation focused on a romantic subplot, and Joe has trouble with this emotion you call “love.” (Joe also says, “I don’t know why they call these things plays. Being in one is hard work, not play” [11]. *ugh* If I could reach you, Joe, I would hurt you.)

Remember, Joe: There are no small parts, just crummy actors. You should have been a stagehand instead.

On opening night, the play has a few small snafus: Some VIPs are given duplicate tickets, and a scenery flat nearly falls on the show’s star as he’s arguing with his Watson. O’Lunny smoothes over the former by finding the displaced theater-goers other seats and inviting them to a champagne reception — one that serves potato chips! — although Frank and Fenton are rude enough that they don’t really deserve it. (Fenton rolls his eyes at the inconvenience, and Frank gets darn near belligerent.) Joe pulls Sherlock Holmes (Charles Battenberg) out of the way of the flat, while Frank and some stagehands catch the flat before it falls.

These incidents don’t rise to the level of sabotage — they’re inconveniences, really, since the flat wasn’t life-threateningly heavy — but it gives the boys an idea of what they’re dealing with. (It also introduces me to the word “shindy,” meaning “a noisy disturbance or quarrel,” which I’ve never seen before.) But if I know anything about a Hardy Boys mystery, it’s that the violence will escalate when the boys start investigating, and usually they’ll be the victims. That’s what happens here, as Frank gets sandbagged — literally — while wandering backstage. He manages to avoid passing out, but he’s woozy and unsteady. No one suggests the emergency room.

Before they go home, the Hardys discover a death threat against Battenberg spray painted on a flat. The custodian sees them in front of the damaged scenery and draws the logical conclusion, but the Hardys talk their way out of things and take a sample of the paint. Later, after Joe uses social engineering to guess the theater’s computer password, Frank and Joe discover the ticketing program (written in BASIC! in 1997!) had been altered to double book seats. Seems This implicates Hector, one of the Irregulars, who is also a computer programmer. Why does he want the play to fail? Well, he was offered a part in a TV pilot but turned it down because he’d accepted the role in Giant Rat already. If the play were to fail … well, he’d be out of a job, since the role in the pilot has probably been recast, but for some reason Frank and Joe think producers hold small roles open indefinitely.

Who else might want the play to fail? Battenberg will have to turn down a movie role to continue with the play. Ewan Gordean, who plays Watson, thinks his friend, Will Robertson, should have been Holmes instead of Battenberg. Li Wei, the lyricist, has a secret meeting with Tertius Lestell, a financial backer Gordean says can’t be trusted, after Gilbert Hornby, the producer cuts her favorite song. Even O’Lunny appears to have paint spatters on his shirt that match the graffiti. (Mr. Hiroto, a forensic chemist Fenton knows, says it’s spray talc. He also makes it clear Frank and Joe are burning one of Fenton’s favors; I wonder what the old man will say about that.)

During the next day’s practice, an effigy of Holmes is hanged in front of the cast. You know, effigies get a bad rap these days; they’re too associated with racism. But I long for the days when you could let the bastards in charge know you weren’t going to take their crap with a crude representation of one of them set on fire in the night, followed by some violent chanted slogans. Mom would hand ‘round the Molotov cocktails …

Anyway, the fishing line used in dropping the effigy seems to implicate Gordean, an avid fisherman. Later in the performance, ammonia is put in the fog machine, which creates hazardous fumes. Villains pulled the same trick in Reel Thrills (#127), although that was on a movie set rather than on the stage. (Is the author the same? Reusing this distinctive trick and shuffling Fenton off while Frank and Joe investigate show-biz sabotage makes Giant Rat seem a lazy copy.) Everyone escapes, but Frank is attacked by one of the Irregulars, Max, after Frank finds the ammonia bottle. Max blames Frank for the prank, which is ridiculous; everything gets smoothed out again.

The sabotage continues, of course. Joe almost falls through an open trap-door meant for Battenberg, but he manages to save himself through his “martial arts training” (89). The light system gets shorted out just before the performance one night. Lestell arrives after a performance to look over everyone’s shoulder, obviously setting up a meeting with someone in the cast or crew; Frank and Joe stake out his hotel the next morning, obviously believing detectives and suspects should keep bankers’ hours. This is the brothers’ most common failing: They like sleep more than mysteries, whatever they say.

As the other suspects get cleared, suspicion slides to Hornby, who’s doing an awful job promoting the play. Well, I say Hornby becomes a suspect, but for some reason, Frank doesn’t twig to the possibility when Hornby yells at Frank for looking at a collection of headshots. Hornby claims they’re private, which is ridiculous: They’re headshots. They’re meant to promote actors and the play. Frank’s a little slow in Giant Rat; later, he’s impressed when Joe quotes the “whenever you’ve eliminated the impossible” line, despite that coming up several times in the past.

But remember: Frank’s been hit hard in the head. He gets conked again on the head and placed, unconscious, on the turntable stage so he’s likely to be crushed; Joe saves him, but Frank gets a long gash on his leg. Frank refuses a hospital visit, although that’s only for the bloody leg wound, not the head injury. Even Frank can’t ignore Hornby as a suspect when he and Joe find an important file has been deleted from the computer — a computer Hornby was one of the few to have access to — although it takes both him and Joe a while to admit it.

Now the game is afoot! (But not before Battenberg accuses Frank of being the saboteur; Frank drops the name of the rarely mentioned Chief Collig to slip the charges. A BPD officer actually calls Frank “Mr. Hardy” [129] after the false accusation.) After a stage gun fires a real bullet, narrowly missing a cast member, Frank and Joe have an incentive to wrap up the mystery. (Frank’s head injury’s hardly constitutes an inducement. I’m beginning to think he likes them.)

When they search the play’s office, the Hardys find all the evidence on the pranks; Hornby sees the jig is up and tries to make a break for it. Like with everything else, Hornby fails, and he’s caught by Joe after the chase spills onto the stage. His motive? Thinking the musical was going down the tubes, he hoped to cash in on a $1 million insurance policy on Battenberg’s availability to play the lead role. With Hornby out of the way, Lestell steps in to make The Giant Rat of Sumatra into a hit. Hornby’s henchman, Max, escapes, and it’s uncertain whether anyone will be bothered to bring him back to face justice.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Lost in Gator Swamp (#142)

Hi! This week I decided to do something different, mainly because it will give me more time to do other things. I bought an app called LitBot 2999 from ConHugeCo, which promises to analyze texts in a real, nearly human-like manner, using electronic sources. I hope you enjoy the results as much as I enjoy the time I’m doing something else!

Lost in Gator Swamp coverSometimes it only takes a few pages to realize how awful a book is. In the case of Lost in Gator Swamp, it takes less than two.

Gator Swamp begins with Frank, Joe, and Chet riding in a hydroplane piloted by Dusty Cole to the Swampland Rodeo in Florida. That sentence has a lot to unpack, like one would unpack a suitcase full of slightly rotten tomatoes and spiders.

“Rodeo” is an inauspicious start. Why would the Hardys wander a thousand miles from home to watch a rodeo, even if it takes place over several days? They have been lured to this rodeo to sate Chet’s burgeoning cattle-roping hobby, but the Hardys themselves have no real interest in the sport. Yes, spending time with a best friend is one thing, but the Hardys don’t have to enable every damn hobby Chet comes up with.

The next bit of trouble is “Florida.” The Hardys have been to Florida before — Panic on Gull Island (#107) was their most recent visit, but they went to the Sunshine State frequently in the ‘80s— and “Florida” goes with rodeo like “pizza” goes with “motor oil.” Florida is more of an agricultural state than those outside of the state usually think, but it’s not a cowboy state, and the area where this rodeo is held — the swamps around Miami — is a thematically poor place to hold a rodeo. It’s also a poor area to be a cattle rancher, and cattle ranching is the occupation associated with rodeo.

Swamps are also an unthematic place for a guy named “Dusty” to be living, as swamps are not dusty locales. Oh, people named Dusty can live in the swamps; that’s no crime. But this particular pilot / rodeo competitor / fishing camp operator, Dusty Cole — the pun is marginally preferable to “Dusty Rhodes” — seems too perfect a fit for the swamps to have gained the nickname Dusty.

It’s true that life isn’t thematically consistent. It isn’t consistent at all, really. But a Hardy Boys book is literature, of a sort. It has needs beyond what is possible. It needs to come together into a coherent whole, and it needs not to make readers ask questions about rodeos in a swamp before they can get into the story.

And then — then! — Franklin W. Dixon uses confusing terminology. “Hydroplane” is usually used to describe a boat, one that has a lifting surface that elevates it out of the water, similar to the ferry Frank and Joe protected in the revised Mystery of the Flying Express (#21). (That ship was a hydrofoil, though.) The term is sometimes misused to describe an airboat, those swamp boats with a big fan in the back. According to Wikipedia [UPGRADE TO SCHOLARLY SOURCES FOR ONLY $20 / MONTH!], though, a hydroplane is sort of a speedboat. The author, on the other hand, thinks a hydroplane is a seaplane, specifically a floatplane — like the plane the Hardys flew in The Viking Symbol Mystery (#42) and were passengers on in the revised Hidden Harbor Mystery (#14). That definition shows up on the Wikipedia disambiguation page for hydroplane, but “floatplane” and “seaplane” are much better terms.

That’s just page 1. On page 2, readers are treated to this ham-handed characterization:

“Egrets!” Frank shouted. He glanced at the travel book he had brought with him from the Bayport Library.
“Anybody else hungry?” Chet asked, stuffing a handful of potato chips into his mouth.

The author makes his point in the most obvious way possible: Frank is studious and boring yet prone to random ejaculations, while Chet eats to get attention; paradoxically, Chet’s constant use of food as a proxy for a personality has caused people to grow tired of Chet’s eating displays. It’s just so disconnected and stupid and lazy and stupid and stupid and stupid and stupid —

(Sorry. LitBot got hung up there, and I can’t get it to restart. I think it may have committed suicide. I’ll have to write the rest myself.

Once the Hardys get to the colorfully and unbelievably named Frog’s Peninsula, they learn a mystery is afoot. A bank has been robbed in Miami, but the airboat the thieves stole for their getaway is found at the bottom of Florida Bay. Everyone thinks the thieves are dead, claimed by the storm that sank their pilfered boat, but not the Hardys! No, no. The Hardys figure the thieves are still around. Clever boys! Unfortunately, they can’t see the thieves, even when they look them in the eyes, and it takes them a while to figure out the bank robbers have stuck around Frog’s Peninsula.

The reader will not be fooled. With weird lights, strange animal behavior in the swamp, and suspiciously acting newcomers, the villains and their motivations couldn’t be more obvious if they wore trucker caps with “Bank Robbers Do It in the Swamp (‘It’ Refers to Searching for Lost Loot)” written on them. In fact, headgear does play an important part in this book: Frank, Joe, and Chet suspect one of the rodeo riders of being a thief because he wears a distinctive cowboy hat that one of the thieves wore. But, as it turns out, hats can be worn by people other than their owners. An astonishing twist!

Frank, Joe, and Chet also spend an inordinate amount of time suspicious of a local Native American, Reuben Tallwalker. Reuben is obsessed with the spiritual and ecological status of the land, yet for some reason the kids think Reuben might be a bank robber. It is not their finest moment. I can only imagine their thinking has been swayed after Reuben makes a slashing gesture across his throat toward the Hardys. (He thinks the Hardys are behind the strange happenings in the swamp.)

So Frank, Joe, and Chet, with help from Reuben and other locals, solve the case. Along the way, Frank and Joe are asked to square dance by a pair of girls, who are never described, never named, and their reactions to their partners taking off after a suspect go unnoted. (While dancing, they “dig for the oyster” [35], which is not as interesting as it sounds.) The boys hit the swamp highlights — they survive a couple of alligator attacks, and Joe almost drowns in quicksand — and steal a pedal boat, which sinks when a disguised robber attacks it. No one gets mad about the theft or lost boat, though; the boat’s owner actually apologizes for getting angry at them.

To his credit, Frank does quickly connect the dots between an alligator stolen from an alligator farm and the big gator that shows up near Dusty’s fishing camp. And when the boys need information about the robbery to continue with their unauthorized, unpaid investigation, Frank comes up with the idea to call Fenton, who can get information from anyone in law enforcement.

No other adults believe their hunches, of course, and Chet and Joe are partially discredited by the thieves’ unexplained bilocation. But they continue with their investigation. Chet and Joe board the thieves’ boat as they are about to recover the lost loot in another storm, and they free a pair of captives from the hold. (Joe gets a job offer from the police officer he frees; unsurprisingly, he ignores the chance to join a backwater police department.) Then, with an advantage of two-to-one over the thieves, they completely botch everything, getting only a partial message to allies before being recaptured. Frank manages to steal — er, borrow — Dusty’s hydroplane and makes it in time to rescue the captives after they are thrown overboard by the thieves. And who do you think catches the bad guys?

The Coast Guard, of course. The Coast Guard cutter’s presence is never explained; it’s doubtful they were summoned, as the people Joe contacted lost their radio during the conversation and were still struggling to get it back when Frank stole the plane. Presumably the Coast Guard was performing storm rescue efforts and happened across the chaotic scene with two boats trying to bring down a hydroplane.

All in all, Gator Swamp is a sad entry in the Hardy Boys series and a rough hour or so of my life when I could have used something uplifting. That’s to say nothing of the effect this book had on LitBot 2099 … Poor LitBot.