Monday, October 7, 2013

Silly rabbits, paint are for humans!

      Above, i have posted the hardcover and paperback versions of the 1977 children's mystery "The Great Rabbit Rip-off" in the McGurk Organisation mystery series.

      In this book, Wanda enters the office (McGurk's basement) sorely troubled. You see, someone has been going around painting the noses, tails and eyes of neighbourhood decorations-rabbits made by a Donny. Donny is a young man of post-hippie aspect who with his girlfriend and two part time employees makes these rabbits for charity from clay. What troubles Wanda is that she and her big brother have previously pulled a prank with garden gnomes, so her parents think it's them and have summarily pulled their allowances as punishment! McGurk jeers and makes sarcastic remarks because he too (along with Joey and even Willie) also think she and her sibling are the culprits, but a visitor arrives. It's none other than her brother Ed! Ed is a senior in high school, a jock and a straight "A" student. In short, he's the most popular kid in town, even nicknamed Grieg (his last name) the greatest! So when he arrives, McGurk trips over himself to please Ed, and says that he will get right on the case.

       Well, McGurk had devised a scheme of paying informants with candy. In an amusing scene, he has his officers split up and hit the streets.  Joey talks to Gerald "Brains" Bellingham (remember that name-he becomes much more prominent in the series-starting with the next book in fact!) and after some haggling (Brains wants the lion's share of the candy, like any self-respecting squealer would) he tells Joey that Burt Raffety is the culprit. He also derides McGurk saying that Burt was bragging so much about it that he would hear it for himself without "paying" informants.

       It's true-the others all heard that Burt was the one as well. When they approach him, he freely admits that he did the painting as a lark. He is tickled pink that it also got Wanda in trouble, but when Ed talks to Burt, and tells him that he's in the soup as well, Burt is only too happy to confess to the Grieg parents and clear the names of their kids.

     But let me back up a bit. As McGurk and co. were investigating this "crime" they went to "the rabbit factory" (Donny's garage) and spoke with them. Donny and Joanne (his girlfriend) seemed unusually sad, but Sam & Fredie (their employees) were in good spirits. The pair were ex-baddies. Sam was a pickpocket and Fredie a car thief. They had a blast teasing McGurk (pretending that he came to arrest them, and even swiping his ID card (Sam does this now as a joke among friends, but does no stealing anymore))  As Joey is taking notes, he misplaces his pencil. Willie sniffs it out-it got mixed in with some clay that Donny and co. use to make their rabbits. Wanda notes that Joanne's engagement ring is missing and surmises that she and Donny might have had a fight which made them split up. The boys of course couldn't care less.

     The night after the puzzle is solved, all the rabbits disappear! They've been ripped off! Much more serious than nose painting, McGurk is determined to solve this mystery.  Donny comes by and says not to sweat it, and that he and his crew are going to replace all the rabbits free of charge. When McGurk gets his rabbit, Willie (remember, he has a super sense of smell) detects the traces of paint remover on the nose. Now the group know that Donny (or his crew swiped them in the first place). Also, it is noted that Joanne has her ring on.

      McGurk figures it out. Joanne had misplaced her ring. She and Donny suspected Sam or Fredie (or both) to have backslid back to their old thieving ways, and so were very circumspect, yet sad. Then with the pencil incident, they realised that the ring got mixed in with the clay, so they took the rabbits back in the middle of the night (they figured that if people knew a valuable ring was inside, they might try to claim it for themselves), broke open the rabbits until they found the ring, made new ones to replace the broken, and removed the paint from the ones that didn't need to be opened.

      Donny and Joanne were so happy to have been given the idea of where the ring was, that they rewarded the organisation with a clay blob. Inside, it was stuffed with candy! Guess they got their "payment" after all!

       Like i said before, these childhood mysteries hold a special place for me-it was my favourite genre as a kid, and even though i did read some adult mysteries (like Agatha Christie) back then, the ones for kids were just the stuff for a young whippersnapper like me. I think you will enjoy reading the McGurk series and see how even trivial things add up to a mystery for the tween sleuths

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

1973-The N American oil crisis, and the 1st McGurk book! Oh, and a couple years before i was born

    Without further ado, i will start talking about a most exciting book-the opener for the series!

     The first book, "The Nose Knows" is where everything is set up. Best friends Joey Rockaway and Jack McGurk befriend a new kid moving into town, Willie Sandowsky. Willie is a champion sniffer, and he is using his talent to try to find a catcher's mitt his mom says she packed by sniffing all the empty boxes his family used to cart their things in when moving to their new house.

    McGurk is so impressed with Willie's rare talent that he decides to open up a detective agency! With his ability to think logically, Joey's book smarts, and Willie's ability to sniff out the clues, he thinks there's no case they can't crack.

    The first one will be the missing mitt. You see, Willie's wealthy aunt bought that mitt for him. As Willie explains, she is VERY generous with spending money on her nephew's hobbies and interests, but if he loses one of her gifts, that's it! The flow of presents will instantly dry up! (A bit mean, i say!) McGurk (seeing a bright shiny $10 bill to be used for detective things (like a fingerprint kit) in the balance) pulls all the stops on hunting the clues.

     When Willie smells the box the mitt was packed in (proving his mom did indeed pack it), the trio logically think about who had opportunity to pinch it. Willie remembers a "welcome wagon" of neighbours who greeted the Sandowskys including a few kids who may be the nabbers. As they interview the kids (with Willie smelling their hands), one of them, a girl named Wanda Grieg asks to join the organization. McGurk agrees once she shows them how they can get away with smelling all the ladies' hands who were a part of the welcome wagon (this includes a hilarious scene of the three boys dressing as the Three Musketeers and going around bowing at the ladies, with Willie kissing their hands (and smelling them too))

     After a time, it is shown that a neighbourhood dog was along too, and he is the one who took the glove. A funny chase thru the area, (with McGurk in his best suit to "make the arrest") later, and the quartet get the glove back!

     Ok, my thoughts-this is quite an interesting book! Even now, at 37, i enjoyed reading it again. And as a child, i was absolutely drawn in to McGurk's world. This may be a bit dated in places (the kids are actually RESPECTFUL to adults, there are no double entrendres, or anything indecent in the books), but still quite a fun read. Note: this first book was only sold in the UK and Canada i believe, so it is hard to find. But perhaps not-ebay and amazon let you find almost ANYTHING (hey, there may be some redeeming qualities of 21st century living!)

The McGurk Organization

     Hey guys, sorry for the long absence. Also, i guess i'm just too ADD to start one series, finish it, and go to the next. So, i'm going to embrace my inner child, and dash off to another series! This one is the McGurk mysteries by E W Hildick. He started the series of books around 1973, and ended around 1996 with about 2 dozen titles. Unlike the New Bobbsey Twins which started off with real crimes and continued to kiddie crimes (stealing cookies, etc), Hildick did the opposite. But even the solving of the kiddie crimes were interesting enough to keep the series always fresh. That and the fact that he only wrote roughly a book a year (*an ETERNITY for a kid) made his newest volume always welcome.

     Well, a bit of a character and plot overview. Red-head, 10 year old (at series beginning-over the 23 years of the series, the kids aged about 2 years-meaning that every 10 years in the real world was about a year in the series) McGurk is a natural leader and despite being bossy, an all around good guy. His best friend, Joey Rockaway (the "author" of the series) grew up together. When book 1 "The Nose Knows" opens, Willie Sandowsky moves in to the neighbourhood. Turns out, Willie has an extra sensitive sense of smell, and it is because of this, McGurk decides that he can finally open up a detective business like he always wanted! The trio are joined by Wanda Grieg, a tomboy and tree-climber to round out the organisation.

     A few books later, they are joined by Gerald "Brains" Bellingham-a kid scientist who is a genius with gadjets. By the 1980s (about halfway thru the series), Mari Yoshimura, a youngster originally from Japan joins the group. She is a "voice expert". In addition to being able to imitate any voice she hears, she can tell if a person is lying, and usually tell where they are from, and other characteristics about them without even seeing them!

    Towards the end of the series, the stories go from realistic to pure fantasy with Brains inventing walkie-talkie time machines that let our heroes go back to the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages. To me this is about when the series "jumped the shark". I mean even though this was the early 90s, and i was already a teenager, i think it's the radical change of plot that threw me rather than just outgrowing the series.  And i don't think i was the only one since the series ended soon after (or possibly Mr Hildick was just getting tired-he died that many years later)

   Another strange thing is that in the US, the first book "The Nose Knows" was not sold. I don't know why. In fact, i have paperback copies of some of the books in the US editions, and the second book is labelled #1, the third #2 and so on. Interesting!

    Another thing which i find funny is that Hildick's characters are young tweens living in typical US suburbia, and yet Mr Hildick is British! Hehe-although to my eye at least, he does a good job of painting American life for youngsters back then (but what do i know-i was in Canada!)

     Well, i will probably write my synopsis and thoughts on the first book soon, so please stay tuned!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Another excellent series-The Three Investigators #1-The Secret of Terror Castle

   Now don't worry-i will go back to the New Bobbsey Twins, but here is a series that i liked even better-the Three Investigators! Starting in 1964, 43 books were published until 1987, and then a new series started for only about 10 books in 1990. The Three Investigators (or T3i) are three teen detectives kind of like the Hardy Boys. To me, the stories were much more original than the Hardys and usually the trio were called on to investigate mysterious doings that some believed to be supernatural (there was NEVER any supernatural aspect to the stories-it was always bad guys a la Scooby Do that tried to scare people for some villainous reason).

  The trio consists of:

-Jupiter Jones, the "1st investigator". Jupiter (or "Jupe" to his friends) is the brains of the trio. Overweight, he isn't as physically active as the others, especially Pete. But here is a note on childhood obesity-even though Jupe is supposed to be "the fat one", the artwork on the covers show him as only being what we would call stocky. I guess in the 60s, there really weren't a lot of people as heavy as there are now.

-Pete Crenshaw, the "2nd investigator" Pete is the athlete of the trio. By no means a caricature bumbling sidekick, Pete isn't as smart as the other two, and sometimes his courage isn't the greatest when they face things that can't be easily explained. However, Pete is loyal, and faithful to his friends

-Bob Andrews "records & research" Bob is a bookish young man (who today many would call a nerd). Since in the early books he is recovering from a fractured foot, he is usually assigned to research. His part-time job at the library helps with this as well (You know, the place people used to go to research things before the internet!)

   The first book has Jupe winning a contest to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar. The prize is an all-expenses use of a vintage limousine complete with English chauffeur Worthington! Now that these boys (who are too young to drive) have their own wheels, they start the firm of the Three Investigators. Jupe, an orphan lives with his Uncle and Aunt. They own a salvage yard full of all sorts of interesting junk. Jupe has buried an old trailer in the centre of it with old pipes and refuse which the boys cleverly can enter without anyone knowing about it. This serves as their headquarters

  For their first case, Jupe finagles his way to visiting famous movie director Alfred Hitchcock (yes, A.H. allowed his name to be used in these stories-he is the one who writes up the cases for the investigators. After his death, they befriend a fictional writer who does their cases. In later editions of the early books, the director is a fictional name as well (probably because when the early books were reprinted in the 80s and 90s, youths didn't know who Alfred Hitchcock was!) at his Hollywood studios (the rolls-royce with English chauffeur does seem impressive)

   The famous director says that he wants a spooky house that he can use in his next film. Jupiter immediately thinks of "Terror Castle", an old house purported to be haunted and formerly owned by an actor of the silent film era who made horror films.

   Well, so this review won't get TOO long, i'll say that the trio have many adventures, and eventually prove that:


   As i was saying, they prove that, the old actor is really still alive and he is the one "haunting" the old castle. But he really is a nice man-when talkies started, he was out of a job. And since he couldn't afford to keep the castle, he faked his death, and scared any who would try to enter the place. Jupiter helps him make the money he needs to legally keep the castle by having him open the castle to the public. Then he can scare people and they'd pay admission! Also, Jupe suggested he use the old theater room in the castle to show the old reel films he made in the silent era which no one has seen for decades.  Mr. Hitchock didn't get to use the place, but he is still impressed enough with the Investigators that he agrees to introduce and conclude their stories for them

   Ah, T3I series! An absolute favourite of mine! While this still is a product of this system with its faults, it was written during a much more moral time. When kids were kids, this series has no foul language, no sexual innuendo, or even intense violence. (I think a sock to the jaw is as violent as i can remember-the only death in the series that i remember off-hand was someone who died of an illness) It is such a shame that even books for young adults these days have such things in them. As far as spiritistic elements, there is nothing supernatural in the series-like i said before, everything it seems so, it is really bad men trying to scare or fool someone.

   The Three Investigators always had a "cult" following-it was never as universal as the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, which i think is a shame, but it is a lot better known than the "New Bobbsey Twins" series. I will be reviewing these as well as NBT books in the future

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Spies and Techno-thieves! New Bobbsey Twins #9 The Clue in the Classroom

    This is another of my favourite books of the series!  This one starts with older twins Nan and Bert walking to school. They notice a tall man nervously looking over his shoulder as he walks across the street. The twins stop behind a tree to watch him, and see a shorter man with spiked hair and a trench coat stealthily following the tall man. Later, Nan discovers that the tall man is none other than her new science teacher!

     He seems a decent sort of fellow, but as he is new, he doesn't know how to let the movie screen up that covers the blackboard. When the students help Mr Newman (the new teacher) retract the screen, they are all surprised to see a sinister message on the blackboard directing Mr Newman to "give up (his) plans"! Mr. Newman's pale face and over-the-top reaction shows that he has at least some idea of the meaning behind this message.

     The next day, Bert and Flossie decide to go to Mr Newman's house and see if he can find anything. Bert hears odd sounds coming from his house, and sneaks over to the side of the house to investigate.

     He sees a tall stocky silhouette behind the curtain. It keeps falling to the fall. Then as Mr Newman comes home, he sees his tall figure engaged in what looks like quite a brawl with the stocky one. Bert goes around and knocks on the front door, but Mr Newman answers, curtly assures Bert that everything is all right, and quickly closes the door!

    When he rejoins Flossie on the sidewalk, they are approached by a middle-aged woman who says that Mr. Newman used to work for her at DataComp industries. She noticed Bert speaking with the teacher and asks him a few questions. Bert is a bit taken aback, and can't answer most of her questions anyway.  She goes back to her limo and a big guy gets out to open the door for her. They confer briefly as they climb into the car, but Bert and Flossie can't hear much of what they are saying. Then the car drives away.

     The twins still aren't sure what Mr Newman is up to, but it seems that quite a few people are interested in him!

     That night, Mrs. Bobbsey receives a phone call from her editor (she's a part-time reporter for the local paper) that the middle school was broken into and the science lab was turned upside down.  She is assigned to go to cover the story, and the girls persuade Mrs Bobbsey to take them along.

     Nan and Flossie are allowed in by a kindly police officer and they investigate the crime scene thoroughly

          In addition to another sinister message on the blackboard ("Time is running out!" it says), they find a button that looks like it comes off a trench coat

     The next day, the Bobbsey girls are walking down the street when they spot the short, spikey haired, trench coated figure who was following Mr Newman when they first got involved in the mystery. He is walking quickly, and doesn't notice something fall from his pocket. Nan picks it up, and sees that it is an employee badge from DataComp (complete with picture). It identifies the spikey-haired man as Rick Aaron, an engineer at Data Comp Industries. When they look up, the man is approaching them with a wild look in his eyes!

     Not sure whether to run, Nan and Flossie are frozen for a moment until Mr. Aaron approaches and thanks them for finding his badge.  They ask him if he works for Julie Burns (the middle-aged woman in the limo), and he readily confirms this.  He seems a bit twitchy and nervous, but friendly enough, and the girls note that his coat is NOT missing a button (they are trying to match the button found in the ransacked science lab)

    Later, the younger twins bake cookies and go over to Mr Newman's house with the cover that they are selling cookies door-to-door.  Mr. Newman is a bit preoccupied, but he kindly buys a few goodies from them. Flossie manages to see a blueprint titled "LSJ-33" and has a schematic of a robot on it.

     The Bobbseys try to figure out what is going on. They think that Mr. Newman must have stolen the robot from DataComp and Rick Aaron, Julie Burns, and her huge sidekick must be trying to get it back. The plans must be so sensitive that they aren't calling the police yet.

     They decide that while the boys are searching his house that Saturday, the girls will go to the school (where Mr Newman is doing some extra work) and keep an eye on him and keep him busy.

     When the girls get there, they discover more threats against Mr Newman and confide in him. It seems the other way around. DataComp is trying to get ahold of Mr Newman's plans of his new robot invention!  They confide in Mr Newman since if the boys are discovered, they could be in great danger without even realising who the crooks are!  Mr Newman can believe that ruthless Julie Burns might be behind this, but feels that Rick Aaron (an engineer who was one of his best friends at the company) is too honest to be involved in this.

    As they drive back to Mr Newman's house, the girls and the teacher spot Mr Aaron lurking around.  Mr Newman decides to approach his old workmate and find out why he has been following him

     Mr Aaron explains that Mz. Burns told him that Mr Newman stole super-secret plans from the company and asked him if he knew anything about it. Rick Aaron is an absent-minded scientist type, and he decided that his friend couldn't be a crook and was following him to prove to himself that Mr Newman is innocent. They decide that if Mz. Burns is trying to turn her employees against Mr Newman this way, she is probably going to try to steal the robot and claim that Newman stole it from her. They rush back to Newman's home!

     In the meantime, Bert and Freddie enter the house and find cool credit-card sized badges. Freddie is examining one, when a robot bursts into the room! "Intruder!" he booms and heads for Bert.

     Freddie realises that he isn't being attacked because he has a badge. He throws one to Bert, and the robot stops. They then find a switch and turn him off.

     A moment later, Julie Burns enters with Mr. Caroll-her muscleman. They say that they are here to retrieve their stolen property, the robot. Bert notices a button missing on Mr Caroll's coat. As the two adults try to lift the robot, Freddie says that they can just turn him on and command he follow them to the car. They do so, and the robot lifts the two crooks off the ground! The boys tell them that without badges, the robot will capture them, and they call the police to take them away.

    The book ends with Mr. Aaron asking if he can work with Mr Newman, and the twins happily declaring another case closed

     I really like this story. Robots and techie stuff-all the things a young tween boy like me would love as a kid! Also, the story is a fine mystery-with the red herring of Mr. Aaron, it really keeps you guessing as to who the crook is. In fact, for awhile, it looks as if the villian is Mr. Newman himself. I hope you enjoyed reading this review, and look forward to the next book soon

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Dogs, and Thieves and Twins-oh my! The New Bobbsey Twins #8-The Secret of the Stolen Puppies

     Now i should mention, i am NOT a dog person, nor a pet person in general (besides insects, but that's another story), so this may be why i didn't like this book, but of the really neat first 10 books in the series, to me this one kind of stood out as a stinker. That's not to say it is horrible, it's just that at this point, the bar is VERY high in quality in the series. If this book came out as say, #25, i'd say it was about average with the rest of what was being published.

     Ok, so the story opens with Nan, and the younger twins trying to talk to their mom about their desire to own a puppy (of course they waited until Mrs. Bobbsey was busy and didn't mention it until Bert was actually on his way to the fire hall to pick up a puppy, but that's kids for you!)  Mrs Bobbsey is still on the phone planning a party, and speaking with her neighbours about the catered parties they recently held (i guess this is the season for catered affairs since they all seem to be having them right after each other)  As Mrs Bobbsey is still occupied listening to a friend on the phone speak of the ups and downs of their event (the caterers were perfect, but the party ended in tragedy), the kids continue prepping a dog house and making a list of chores.

     But, soon the Bobbsey kids are startled to see Bert approaching, haggard and out of breath. The puppies have been stolen!

     Bert said that he saw mean buggy Danny Rugg and his sidekick Ronald Jameson hanging around the fire hall quite a bit and thinks they might have something to do with this, but the others want to go to the fire house, look for clues and talk to the chief. The twins split up, and the younger twins and Nan comb the fire house while the old dalmatian (who was the puppies mother) watches

     Nan finds a coupon for dog food and remembers that there is an old hermit who feeds the neighbourhood strays. She thinks he clips this same coupon so she wonders if he was involved.  Surly Danny and Ronald act suspiciously, and it seems as if there has been a rash of puppy-nappings lately. The police have better things to do than investigate this, and Mr and Mrs Bobbsey are very engrossed in the party they are planning, so the twins are on their own.

     Lakeport being the small town that it is, word gets around about the Bobbseys investigations.  It seems that Ronald and Danny are around when mishaps happen too. Freddie is pushed down a hill in his wagon, and Bert & Flossie are locked in the fire hall.

     Not finding any clues, the Bobbseys do some research.   They discover that pedigree puppies can cost big money-meaning that the thief might not be bullies like Danny who would pull cruel pranks, or senile older men who like dogs, it's possible adults committed the thefts for monetary gain

     This puts a new spin on it for the twins when they think about the logistics of the thefts. All the dogs were expensive ones, and they were stolen during times when they wouldn't be missed until later.  In fact, it was during fancy catered parties when houses are in the most chaos and the puppies are sometimes locked away.

     Finally the day arrives for the Bobbseys own party. As adults mingle, the younger twins talk among themselves and think that the new couple that does catering seem to be in a position to know when parties will be held and could whisk away the dogs.

     They go to the Mulligans home/office (the caterers), and after a bit of breaking and entering, careful investigation, they find the puppies!  They are almost caught by the Mulligans as they were returning, but fortunately, the older twins figured out the culprits too, and called the police.

     The story ends with the twins getting a puppy of their own. A sheepdog though instead of a pedigreed dalmatian.

     Like i said earlier, in my opinion, this is the worse book so far of the series. Granted, stolen puppies don't interest me as much as the earlier plots, but also, the book didn't seem as coherent as ones before it.  If the dogs were only stolen during parties hosted by the caterers, it would seem obvious that they were involved and they would have been stopped much earlier. The crooks don't seem too smart, which gives the book that Scooby-Doo feel that i really hate. Sorry, i really don't have much good to say about this one

Monday, July 1, 2013

Framing Huck Finn-NBT #6-Mystery on the Mississippi

    Book 6 finds the twins on vacation on a vintage steamboat chugging down the Misissippi river! Their cruise will take them to Mark Twain's hometown and the whole family is looking forward to the historic trip. They start off as carefree tourists exploring the 4 deck steamboat and meeting the crew of the ship.

     Soon though, they find out that the son of the cook is about the age of the older twins as is a bit of a mischief maker. He plays practical jokes on the crew, and runs around undisciplined since the death of his mother.  He even sometimes dresses the part of Huck Finn, and sure acts like him!

      Things seem to come to a boil when Mr. Ford, a passenger on the  boat says that young Larry stole notes he was taken on the works of Mark Twain. Larry secretly tells the twins that he indeed did take the paper as a joke. He shows it to the twins, but it's just letters and numbers that they can't decipher. They try to convince him to return it regardless.

     To make matters worse, a few hours later, an autographed copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is stolen from the ship's library! This is more serious-since this 19th century copy is valued at $50,000!  Larry's pocketknife is found at the crime scene, and it is apparent that the display case's latch was broken into with a knife. With Larry's history of pranks, Captain Collins, and even Larry's father, the cook, Mr. Granville doesn't believe Larry when he denies stealing the book.  Everyone is inconvenienced-the Captain says that Larry previously stole some rare books from his private collection, (which Larry admits, but reminds the captain that he returned them the same day), Mr. Granville worries that he will lose his job, and Mr. Ford says that he can't use the book as a reference for his essay, so it won't be finished when they reach Hannibal, Missouri.  The captain decides that if the book isn't returned by the time they reach their next port, he's calling the police!


     The twins believe that Larry is innocent, and search the boat for the book, but when they can't find it, and go back to Larry's cabin to tell him, they discover that he's gone!  The captain has the boat come to a dead stop and they search for him-finally the Bobbseys find him hiding out in their rooms. He begs for their help, which they agree to, but say that he must give himself up.

     Since the book wasn't found, Captain Collins has no choice but to call in the law, and Larry and his father are taken to the police station. They return him a few hours later, and his father locks him in his cabin, but Larry escapes and runs away!

     The Bobbseys realize that this time he would have left the boat (since it's still docked), and they leave the ship to find him (to the displeasure of their parents that don't want them to get involved).

     They have several misadventures including a graveyard search and a spooky cave.

     During these evening searches, the twins encounter Mr. Ford who says that he followed them since they seem to have a better feel for Larry's way of thinking then the adults do, and maybe they can find him and he can get his notes back. He explains that he isn't really writing an essay-he's an undercover policeman. The force received a tip on thieves who steal rare books and sell them, and so he was guarding the Mark Twain book on the boat.

      The twins and Mr. Ford approach a cave that's opening is too small for an adult to fit in, and so the twins enter alone.  They know they are on Larry's trail when they spot Mr. Ford's notes that Larry must have dropped in the cave as he passed.

     In the cave, Nan and Bert get a chance to examine the notes carefully:

and discover that it has a list of buyers for the book on it. Things don't add up, and the twins figure out that Mr. Ford is really the one who stole the book, and the notes he so desperately wants contain the buyers for it!

     The twins were able to stay on Larry's trail by following Huck Finn's hiding spots. They realize that if Larry knows that someone found his graveyard and cave hiding spots, he may have rowed to one of the small islands on the river.  In a final showdown on rowboats, the twins find Larry, and capsize Mr. Ford's boat (he is chasing them as he now realizes that they are wise to him). This showdown makes Captain Collins believe that Larry is innocent and Mr. Ford is the crook as the twins tried to tell him.  They find the antique book, amid Mr. Ford's things, and the captain praises and rewards the Bobbseys for solving the case
This book was ok, but I didn't like it as much as the prior books in the series. Maybe because the Mark Twainish plot doesn't interest me as much as glamourous movie stars, visitors from space, sabotage of an amusement park, and the other plotlines in previous books. But the mystery is appealing, the plot is well constructed and the way everything plays out seems believable. It also does teach the lesson of not crying wolf. Larry's antics make it very difficult to believe in his innocence. If the Bobbsey Twins didn't have such a feel for people, they wouldn't have believed he was framed either, and Larry would have been in REAL trouble.
     I misplaced book #7, so for now, I will skip it and review book #8 next. Please feel free to let me know what you think, and i'll see you next time 

Friday, June 28, 2013

UFOs in the sky! New Bobbsey Twins #5-The Case of the Close Encounter

    Now we come to one of my favourite books in the series. The cover has to include all four Bobbsey Twins (at least at this point-more on that when I get to the later books),  but Bert was the only one of our fab four to view a UFO in the night sky.

     But I get ahead of myself. This book opens with Nan feeling sick. So she asks her twin Bert to handle her babysitting job.  Bert is usually game for anything, but the particular boy that needs babysat is Artie Houlihan-a hyper and mischievous brat! Bert finally agrees and goes. Hilarity ensues as Bert chases the supercharged lad around and tries to keep him out of trouble

Looks like Bert's eggs are scrambled!

    Soon the chase leads to the backyard where Artie hides from Bert. As Bert tries to find the little boy, suddenly a light appears in the sky! First a bright white light, and then multi-coloured spinning lights! As any sci-fi fan worth his Luke Skywalker merit badge can tell you, that spells UFO!

     Bert tries to tell the police and press what he witnessed, but they only humour him at best

"You saw what son? A UFO? Did you see Bigfoot too?"
   Later though, a woman visits who says she is writing a book about people who experience alien encounters. Her name is Lenore Bainbridge and she seems like an X-files type government agent (and this is before X-files came out!)

   Word is getting out about Bert's sighting, and he and his siblings decide to investigate.  It looked like the UFO landed in a field a quarter mile or some from Artie's house, so the Bobbseys (and Artie who begs to tag along) go there. They find a patch of grass that looks blackened and burnt along with flattened areas. They find junk in the grassy field too including a coffee cup with "Cup 'n Saucer Diner" on it. This seems a tenuous link at best, but the Bobbseys know of a "Flying Saucer" diner. The owner is very friendly but has a "foreign" accent. He says that he bought the diner recently, and changed the "Cup 'n" to "Flying" to appeal to kids more who would patronize the shop, as well because the slight letter change was quite cheap. The twins also discover that the Cup 'n Saucer has been out of business for a couple years, but Felix Usher, a young man who lives as a hermit, lives in a shack where the cups were stored, and has access to several hundred of them which he probably uses.  Flossie thinks his accent and strange mannerisms may mean that he is an alien in disguise. The older twins especially scoff at this idea.

     But when the twins go back to their bikes they find a cassette in the basket of one of them. When they play it, they hear strange whooshing sci-fi sounds and a voice comes on telling them to stop searching.

    Later that night, a scary alien head appeared at Flossie's window! Glowing evilly, with the same whooshing alien sound!

     The twins make no progress questioning Felix Usher who is quite mean. Nan and Freddie return to the grassy field, but suddenly a high pitched whine disturbs the quiet of the lonely area! Then there is a blinding flash, and a tree near them bursts into flames!  The two Bobbseys high-tail it to their bikes and pedal away. Freddie is quite terrified, but Nan smells a rat. When she catches up to Freddie, she calms him down and insists on going back to the tree. There is a charred ring that encircles the tree, and it looks like that is where the fire spreads. She determines that someone fastened a flare to the tree with wire and in harmony with sound effects from speakers hidden somewhere  made it seem as if aliens were firing ray guns. Going back home, they see specks of paint on the windowsill of Flossie's room.  It's a kind of phosphorus glow-in-the-dark paint. Looks like the nightly visitation was a trick too!

     The twins do a background check on Milios, the cafĂ© owner, and he checks out. So, what is the reason for the hoax?  The twins spot the woman who claimed to be an author a few times too.

     The twins backtrack the events. It seems that everything started with Bert's sighting. He remembers that he spotted the UFO shortly after he turned on a powerful spotlight to look for Artie. The Houlihans live in an isolated area that has no lights around it. In fact, the only light they spotted came from an area near the grassy field. The Bobbseys triangulate and realize that that is near where Felix Usher lives. They decide he is involved and call the police.

     Long story short, the twins sabotage Felix's light, and with the police aiding them and the Houlihan's consent use a spotlight at night again. Turns out, Usher is part of a gang that stole a top-secret government helicopter that has a stealth "silent running" mode! Lenore is a government agent who was following up on all UFO sightings because the running lights on the chopper are as the spotters describe. They lure the chopper to land and arrest the villians

     This is an EXCELLENT book! I loved (and still do) sci-fi, and this has a dash of that, along with creepiness (I remember getting chills when Flossie's room was invaded), and overall mystery. I had no idea what was happening (but figured it wasn't real aliens), and was very satisfied with the way everything wound up. A splendid book!

    Take care 'till next time folks!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A spooky house, and a gold hunt. The New Bobbsey Twins #4-The Secret in the Sand Castle

    This book marks a change in illustrations from George Tsui to Paul Jennis. The transition was very smooth (unlike the one when Mr. Jennis left, but we'll get to that later)

     Ok, onto the story!

     The Bobbseys are on vacation at the shore! Well, a working vacation-Mrs. Bobbsey needs to write an article for the travel section of the newspaper for her part time job, and Mr. Bobbsey was asked to help a real estate agent by providing lumber advice on a house he is renovating (Mr. Bobbsey owns a lumberyard) Speaking of said house, that is where the Bobbseys will stay-it's an old Victorian or Edwardian era house by the beach complete with rusty weathervane and old shuttered windows

     As the Bobbseys arrive, and Flossie enters the house to explore, she is frightened by what she believes to be a ghost! Turns out, it's just the caretaker carrying a bunch of sheets that were flapping in the wind


     The caretaker does tell them though that the house is supposed to be haunted by the brother and sister that lived in it years ago (don't worry-it's not)

     The Bobbseys laugh this off, and as the parents go to take care of their business dealings, the kids unpack the car and pick their rooms. To their surprise, as they are downstairs, they are disturbed by shattering glass! Going up to Flossie's room they see a full-length mirror has been completely destroyed

  Since their parents are still away talking to Mr. Reade, the realtor, Freddie and Nan decide to bike over to the local library and look up the history of the house.  The brother and sister that owned it were a bad lot. He was a sculptor and she was a painter, but they turned to a life of crime and stole gold from an armoured car! When the police tried to arrest them, they attempted to escape out to sea, but the boat sank and they were killed. It is believed that the gold is somewhere on the premises of the house since it was established that they didn't have it with them when the boat went down. These interesting researches are cut short when the two hear a crash and look out the window to see their bikes knocked over! Freddie leaps into action and stops a kid who just pulled this prank.

    Freddie and the boy get into a short scuffle, but the librarian and Nan arrives and make them clean up the mess of scattered books they made. Mr. Reade also puts in an appearance and says that he's come to take the boy home (turns out it's his son). When the siblings go back to their table, they discover that the book on the house they are staying in is gone!

    Nan and Freddie go back to the house and tell the other Bobbsey kids what happened. They decide to put the mysterious into their subconscious for awhile and have a clambake. The girls go off to buy ingredients while the boys go into the root cellar. But someone shuts the door on them and locks them in!

    The boys are trapped until the girls return from the store, hear them banging and let them out

     When they go back in the house, they discover that all of their things on the ground floor have been disturbed. Articles of clothing were moved, and so on. Then strange noises are heard! But the Bobbseys may be frightened, but they aren't put off so easily. They discover that the old house is full of secret passageways and tunnels.

     Despite a few scary moments, they go down these tunnels and find out that someone who knows them can easily get access to the house and make noises to scare people

     Worn out from detecting, the kids decide to prepare for the clambake, and then make an early night of it.

     The house is BIG as i mentioned earlier, so each kid has their own room in a wing away from their parents. They are sleeping peacefully when a scream erupts! It's Nan-a face was starring at her from the window of her second floor room! The parents and other kids investigate, but can find no trace of the midnight visitor nor any sign he was ever there.

     The next day, the Bobbseys discuss the case and their suspects. There is Jimmy Reade, the young son of Mr Reade who seems to be a troublemaker and ne'er do well, there is Mr Reade who it is discovered has financial problems, and may want to keep the house unrestored for his own ends, and of course if the gold story is true, it could be almost anyone else that might want to find the gold.  And then old Pete Smedley the caretaker seems to really believe ghosts are involved.

     Nan decides to clear her head by busying herself with her artwork-she wants to draw the rambling old house and so gathers her gear for an enjoyable pasttime

     She notices that the trellis is broken though-that would make a perfect ladder for someone who wanted to climb up on her window! As she thinks about this, she gets the creepy feeling that she is being watched. Whirling around, she catches the glint of binoculars-someone WAS watching her!

     Going back in the house, she encounters Bert who tells her that he continued exploring the passages and found a treasure map! It leads to a small shack on a point of land that stretched out into the ocean. They decide to gather the younger twins and bike out there

   They get to the shack, but all they dig up is a message in a bottle warning them to go away! The bottle is new, so the twins know that someone is watching them closely. At that point, Mr. Reade appears with binoculars round his neck and yells at them that the shack is his property and they mustn't trespass. Cold, and wet (the tide came in, and they had to swim from the shack to the shore), they prepare to leave, when Pete appears and says that he was sent to pick them up. He explains that the road only leads to the shack, so when they were spotted biking on it, he knew where to find them.

    When the twins get home, they are fairly stymied. None of their hunches seem to be paying off

     To make matters worse, suddenly all the lights go off! Mr. Bobbsey discovers that the circuit breaker was shut off and the cables were cut. This is no ordinary power outage, but sabotage! Just then, a shadow passes the window! Bert springs into action, leaves the house, and tackles the intruder! It's Jim Reade! Bert presses him, but Jim seems genuinely scared. He says that he was going to scare the Bobbseys with a mask, but then a "real" ghost came and shut off their electricity! Mr. Bobbsey and Bert realise that Jim isn't acting-he really is terrified, so they don't push him further.

   The next morning, the kids are hard at working building a sand castle (see! Sand castles do play a part in the story). They decided to make one based on the old house they are staying in. Since they no longer have the picture of the house from the library book that was taken, they are using Nan's half completed drawing as a guideline. They discuss the details of the house, and talk about how they can build a stationary weathervane like the one on the roof. Then they talk about how the weathervane never moves with the wind. Could it be sculpted and painted by the siblings and made of gold?

   They then catch the glint of binocs again and realise they were being watched. They race back to the house to find Pete with a ladder trying to climb to the roof! Whilst going back, Nan realises that it has to be Pete doing all the evil deeds since as caretaker, he would know about the secret passages, and have access to the property without looking suspicious. As Pete is on the roof, Bert knocks down the ladder trapping him until the police arrive.

    Turns out, the kids were right, the weathervane WAS made of gold! And old Pete was the driver of the getaway car when the former house owners stole the gold. He scared away any tenants to the house and attempted to find the gold for himself. So, another case wrapped up!

   I did like this story, but i thought the ending was a little rushed. Also, maybe it's just me, but i always thought Jim Reade was a little creepy. It seems to be implied that while Pete did most of the troubles, Jim was the one who snuck up to Nan's room. This seems a bit...disturbing, especially in a kids book (but maybe it's not the way i think)

   Either way, the story does hold the interest of the reader, and the new artist does a fab job!

   See you in the next review!

A brief overview of the books

A few people mentioned to me that they didn't know there even were Bobbsey Twins books in paperback after the original series ended, so i thought i'd give a brief explanation of how the series progressed.

    Most of you know the original series. It had a total of 72 books and was printed from 1904 thru 1979.

    Then in 1980, Wanderer marketed another Bobbsey Twins series as kid mysteries in the format of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. This series is here:

In 1986, Minstrel books took over the series, titled it "The New Bobbsey Twins" and started again from #1. I started reading the series with the end of the Wanderer books, but it was REALLY hard for me to find the earlier books in the series (i was a kid, and the one bookstore i could easily visit wouldn't order them), so i remember the New Bobbseys much better than the Wanderer books:

     While i enjoy the entire collection, after #17 of the new series, the stories got a LOT more babyish and less interesting. For example in books 1-17, the Bobbseys stopped a jewel thief, enemy spies stealing plans for a US helicopter, a smuggling ring etc. In books 18-30, they stopped some kid planning to mess up the science fair, a mother who tried to sabotage someone's cookies at a bake sale, a prize pig owner, etc. UGH! Maybe the publishers thought these kiddie mysteries would better appeal to younger readers, but not so much for me!

    Also, i thought i'd give a sneak preview of things to come: a couple years ago, i bought the old pictures used by Paul Jennis (the artist of the New Bobbsey Twins books 4-17) that he used to draw the illustrations. I'll show them when i get to the books, but as a sample, here's one of my favourites where Nan is chased by a (model) airplane on a pier a la North by Northwest:

     So stick around! Plenty more to come!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Jewels stolen! Flossie kidnapped! A young girl terrorised into silence! New Bobbsey Twins #3-The Clue That Flew Away

    This book has plenty of thrills as this blog post's title suggests!

    A wealthy friend of the Bobbseys is having a party whose guest list included not only the twins and their parents, but also movie stars! The mother of their friend, Mrs Armstrong has a small hot air balloon model made of jewels, which will be used in a movie about a balloon race as the grand prize for the winner. One of the full-size hot air balloons that will be used in the movie is suspended 50 feet off the ground in the yard of the estate manned by the head ballonist, and tied down with ropes and anchors as a showpiece at the party.

  Everyone at the party is a little star struck to meet such celebrities as the stars, the director, and the crew, but the young tween girls are especially enthralled by Tim Archer-a young teenage actor who is starring in the film. Even level headed Nan is tongue-tied-especially when he asks her to dance at the party! She only enjoys this for a few minutes because a 20-something woman cuts in and says that Tim promised her the first dance. (If this was written today, i don't think they'd have an adult woman dancing with a young teen, but this was before the world was quite as mad as it is today) A bit stung, Nan notices that the young lady is quite pretty, and is the same height as Tim.

    Suddenly. a scream disrupts the social get-together! It is a hysterical Mrs. Armstrong-her jewels (including the Armstrong flyer) has been stolen! The twins rush over to her. Nan from the ballroom, Freddie from upstairs (where he was hiding with the Armstrong's son from Flossie who was trying to make them dance with her), and Bert from the gameroom.

     The police are called, and soon Lt. Pike arrives leading the rest of the police officers (doesn't the guy ever get a break?) He questions Mrs. Armstrong, and says that since there is a guard at the mansion's front gate, no one could have left yet, so the clues are fresh, and the thief is probably still present. As he looks around, he spots the Bobbseys. After a bit of teasing, he agrees to let them come upstairs with him to Mrs. Armstrong's bedrrom where the jewels were kept (he really is kind to them despite his gruff exterior).

     While searching the room, they find a charm engraved to Tim.  When they go downstairs, Flossie says that she saw Tim entering the bedroom some time ago. This clinches things for Lt. Pike, and he accuses Tim of being the robber

     Tim is taken away "for questioning", and the party soon breaks up (with the police searching everyone on the way out)

     The next day, the Bobbseys go to the field where the filming for the balloon launches take place (i guess they decided to film it in the Bobbsey's small town of Lakeport too). They get there just Ross Benton, the movie director is listening to young actress Jessica Gordon cry in terror when she has to ride in the balloon. Mysteriously, she is suddenly scared of riding in hot air balloons (even though she had no problem with it before). In despair, Mr. Benton looks around, and spots Flossie. The little Bobbsey girl looks enough like Jessica that he realises that with a little makeup, she can play Jessica in the distance shots in the balloon (convenient, eh?)

Freddie is a little jealous!
A dimpled smile!

     After getting Mrs. Bobbsey's approval (and signing off a contract), Flossie is made up, and compared with Jessica. Yes-it will work! Flossie's going to be in a movie!

     The rest of the Bobbseys meet the rest of the crew and do a bit of investigating. Among the crew is Lara, the makeup lady (who Nan recognises as the woman who wanted to dance with Tim), Ron Keller (the head ballonist, and a real grouch!), Pete (one of the balloon operates who makes friends with the twins and explains how the balloons work, and others.

  With Flossie being so busy, the older twins ask Freddie to befriend Jessica and try to get her to explain why she is so afraid of balloons. He is talking to her when overhead a hot air balloon hovers quite close, and drops a sandbag! It lands very near them, giving them quite a scare!

  But Jessica then tells Freddie that she saw something at the party, but seems very afraid to say more. Then the false front of a building falls and almost crushes them! Bert and others examine the wooden support that gave way and realise that it was cut, that was no accident! Freddie mentions how balloons are an integral part of this mystery. Even at the party, he saw a party favour balloon floating past a window while he was hiding from Flossie. And it seemed to be heading to the big balloon suspended above the yard. Balloons everywhere!

  In the meantime, the filming goes on. Tim is released by the police, with a caveat that he is not to leave town, and he films his scene where he leaves in a balloon at the start of the film's race. Flossie too is filmed being launched in a balloon. She is having a great time, but while flying in the balloon, she notices a shiny object glinting at the bottom of the gondola. She shows it to Pete (he is flying the balloon), and he says that he thinks it's a real ruby!  When they land, they are met by Ron Keller and the balloon crew who deflate and pack up the balloon in a van and drive them back to the set. Flossie shows Ron the ruby. He stiffens and says that it needs to be taken to the police right away, and drives like a maniac to get back to the set!

     As soon as they get back, Flossie wants to tell her siblings what she found, but doesn't get a chance to because director Ross Benton approaches saying that Jessica has disappeared somewhere and he needs a long range shot before the light changes. He wants Flossie to run across the field towards the camera. She does this, but a balloon zooms in!

     Flossie is too far away for anyone to react, but a figure that looks very much like Tim Archer reaches out of the balloon, snatches Flossie, and prepares to fly away! The fighting girl manages to grab the hair of her assailant, but it comes off! It was a wig! The wig flutters to the ground, and the balloon gains altitude, with Flossie kidnapped in it!

     Pete says that he thinks he can calculate the trajectory of the balloon based on the wind and other factors, and hopes to have a pretty accurate idea of where it is by the time the police are called and arrive. While chaos reigns on the set, the remaining twins examine the wig. It is cut to look precisely like Tim's hair. That must be how Flossie thought she saw Tim entering Mrs. Armstrong's bedroom-someone was dressed to look like Tim to frame him. The twins figure out that Lara's makeup and costume tent has everything that would be needed to disguise someone this way, and since she and Tim are the same size and build, she is likely in on the theft. Since Tim (a ballonist) is innocent, and Pete is with the twins, the only other person who can operate a balloon is Ron Keller, so he must be the second villian. By the time, Lt. Pike arrives, the twins have this figured out, and Pete has the direction of the balloon triangulated.

     Meanwhile, in the balloon, Ron is bragging over his evil deeds, but Lara seems upset at the part she played. Jessica tells Flossie that at the party, she saw "Tim" from the back releasing a party favour balloon up to the main balloon where Ron Keller was waiting. But when "Tim" turned around, the face was really Lara. Ron threatened and terrorised her into silence. Ron unashamedly agrees and then says that with the balloon and the strong wind, they can make a clean escape. He calls Lara over to make plans. Flossie, seeing her moment, grabs the cord that leads to the vent, and kills power to the burner! They begin to fall-fast! Ron manages to decelerate them, but can't get them to gain altitude again before they hit. He grabs Flossie in anger and says that she and Jessica will be hostages now, but Lara refuses to go along with his scheme and tells him to let the kids go. Soon police sirens can be heard, and Ron panics, picks up a sandbag and runs. When the police cars appear in the distance, he drops the sandbag and heads for the woods.

  Lt. Pike, the other twins, and a handful of police officers arrive and Flossie tells them to open the sandbag. When they do, the missing jewels are discovered amidst the sand!

     The book ends with Tim's name cleared, Jessica now unafraid to ride in balloons, Flossie "retiring" from acting, and a grateful crew letting Pete take the Bobbseys and Jessica up in the hot air balloon for a ride!

     I really liked this story when i was a kid (and still do). I've said it before, the first 17 stories of the new Bobbsey Twins was the absolute peak of the Bobbseys 100 year publishing of books to me. The story is exciting, action-packed, and suspenseful enough for youngsters without being too much. Something that the ghostwriter (all Bobbsey Twins books are written under the pseudonym "Laura Lee Hope") is very good at doing is sprinkling the clues throughout the book, so it makes sense who the villian is, but it isn't so obvious that the average 10-12 year old will figure it out in the first few chapters.

     The only thing i think is a bit contrived is how Jessica and Flossie look so much alike (i mean, yes, they were going to just use Flossie in long-range shots, but the artwork shows them looking like identical twins!

     Also, i didn't explain this in the synopsis, but in case you are wondering where Jessica's parents were during all of this, it is explained that they are actors too, and are working on another movie elsewhere. Lara is Jessica's guardian (that's kind of like the fox guarding the henhouse, eh?)

     Well, i don't know what else to say, so i'll just bid you adieu for now, and hope to see you when i review book #4 in the NBT (New Bobbsey Twins) series!