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The Mystery of the Flaming Footprints (Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators, #15)The Mystery of the Flaming Footprints by M.V. Carey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a relatively late and inferior entry in the Three Investigators series. The series was created by Robert Arthur, a woefully neglected author who did a great deal of work with Alfred Hitchcock; Arthur wrote the first nine and the eleventh book in the series. Unfortunately M.V. Carey was no Robert Arthur!

I recently read the book to my son. We've read many of the books in the series together. In this one, there were several ways in which the book simply didn't work. Oh, Carey included the usual iconic elements of the series; Jupiter Jones' family, and the hidden Headquarters (a trailer buried under a pile of junk), and Pete, and Bob. But there are several false notes.

One that was particularly annoying was the use of Jupiter's name. Arthur usually referred to him as "Jupiter" or "Jupiter Jones". Once in a while his fellow Investigators, Pete or Bob, would refer to him as "Jupe". But in this book, he is almost always called "Jupe" - not just by other people, but by the narrator. I'm not that picky, but seeing "Jupe" repeated over and over in paragraph after paragraph just got weird! It started to become a meaningless sound - you know how some words get when you say them over and over? I ended up auto-correcting it to "Jupiter" when I read it aloud, except when it was said by Pete or Bob.

The mystery itself was just...okay. Nothing particularly clever or memorable about it. If anything, the resolution was rather anticlimactic. I won't bother to give it away, though.

But another thing that was quite irritating was a dramatic change in a long-standing supporting character, Police Chief Reynolds. In the early books in the series he was supportive and friendly to the Three Investigators, even going so far as to give them official cards identifying them as Junior Deputies or something like that. In Flaming Footprints, he has been completely changed. He's sneering, abusive, hostile, and sarcastic. The change was so extreme that my son remarked on it. Personally, I found the recasting of Chief Reynolds as a stereotypical negative adult authority figure so irksome that I couldn't resist editorializing: "'What do you want now, Jones?' snarled Chief Reynolds, while busily stomping on a cute kitten and simultaneously farting on a helpless old lady."

My son is more generous and/or uncritical than I am. He gave the book 4.5 stars. I feel I'm being generous in giving it three.

Oh, as always I should note that there are probably two different versions of the text extant. Older versions feature the character of Alfred Hitchcock. For legal reasons newer editions have been rewritten to replace Hitchcock with a lame-ass ersatz version. If you decide to pick this one up, try to go for an older edition. But if you're new to the series, I strongly recommend starting with the original nine books by Robert A. Arthur.

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The 13 Crimes of Science FictionThe 13 Crimes of Science Fiction by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A good collection of science fiction mysteries, along with an explanation of that relatively obscure sub-genre from Isaac Asimov. I've read a fair number of SF mysteries, and had read most of the ones in the book; most of them are excellent examples of the form. The leading story, "The Detweiler Boy" by Tom Reamy, was not particularly good; putting a relatively weak story first in an anthology is an unfortunate flaw.

But there are a number of gems here, including Larry Niven's "Arm". "War Games" by Philip K. Dick, was simply not readable for me; I can take some PKD, but only in mild doses - and not a lot of it. I don't know if it was the mood I was in, or if the story was particularly Dick-ish (sorry, couldn't resist), but after a page or two I simply skipped that story altogether.

That said, the vast majority of the book is excellent and well worth reading.

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The Mystery of the Talking Skull (Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators, #11)The Mystery of the Talking Skull by Robert Arthur

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Read more... )
There was one small additional chuckle for me when I read the books to my son recently; I'm pretty sure I caught a shout-out from Robert Arthur to one of his contemporaries, one who happens to be another favorite author of mine. I didn't know if they knew each other (although their writing styles are actually rather similar), but a reporter who helps the boys out a bit is named Fred Brown. If that's not a reference to Fredric Brown...well, I'm pretty sure that it must be. For one thing, the real Brown was also a newspaper reporter, at least for a while.

It's an outstanding book, one that belongs in the collection of anyone who enjoys exciting, thought-provoking mysteries.

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The Da Vinci Code The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars

Is the human race getting dumber? Or is it just the literary establishment?

I picked up a mint-condition hardcover copy of The Da Vinci Code at my local public library's permanent book sale for $1. At that price, I couldn't lose; I was going on a six-hour drive with my wife, and I needed something to read. My one concern was that the book might be too complex to be a relaxing car read. After all, according to the blurbs on the cover the New York Times said it was a work of "genius"!

It's not. It's a fairly fast-paced and somewhat over-talky action/mystery/conspiracy theory novel; a potboiler, really. I was surprised by several aspects of the novel. The writing actually betrayed a slightly juvenile touch. No offense to Mr. Brown; he's a competent writer. But standards seem to have gone down in the last twenty years or so. Back in the early 1980s I ended up reading a number of best-sellers. Several of them went on to become some of my favorite books: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Shogun, Marathon Man. All of these were much better-written than The Da Vinci Code, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was far and away more intellectually challenging.

Not to mention authors like Frank Herbert and Roger Zelazny. Their works require real thought on the part of the reader. Not so The Da Vinci Code. It's a decent potboiler with some mildly interesting secret-society conspiracy theory stuff, but even that is hardly anything new to anyone who has done even a little light reading on the topic.

On the plus side, at least Mr. Brown didn't get too disgusting. At one point I was afraid he'd pull a Wingrove or Chalker on me, with secret cult ceremonies that might turn out to be truly disturbing. Instead, the ceremony was hardly anything new; in fact, it couldn't have been older.

The characters were rather flat. The plot was a series of wham-bam escapes and secret-society deductions; the pace keeps moving along well enough, but the story becomes a bit repetitive and predictable. It was a decent time-killer (and I got an extra fillip from the odd coincidence that the hotel I stayed at while finishing the book was hosting a Knights of Columbus event, in full regalia), but it wasn't really memorable.

I'll probably give Brown another try, but only because I run out of reading material so quickly. I have to wonder, though: are all of these supposedly "brilliant" modern best-sellers so simplistic and unchallenging? I'd thought that the Left Behind series was unbelievably stupid, but now I'm starting to suspect that it's merely slightly sub-par.

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P.S. - When your "shocking revelation" has already been widely featured in popular culture (including movies like Dogma), it doesn't really qualify as "shocking"!
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Touch of Evil Touch of Evil by Whit Masterson

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

The best of the old pulp noir mystery and detective novels have an immediacy that really grabs you. They don't feel dated at all, even sixty or more years after publication. Almost all of Fredric Brown's work has that quality. So does Catcher in the Rye, although of course that's not a mystery or noir.

Touch of Evil (originally titled Badge of Evil, but renamed after the release of the Orson Welles movie that was loosely based on the book) has that timeless quality, too. It's short, particularly compared to modern novels, but the story is gripping and carries the reader along. It's a tale of corruption as old as the institution of law itself.

The plot moves swiftly, with no slow patches at all. If anything, it seems to draw to a close a little too quickly, and be a little too sparse; I'd have liked to read a bit more detail about the lives of the Holt family. But all in all it's a very enjoyable book, and re-reads well. I strongly recommend it, and will be searching out other books by the authors ("Whit Masterson" being the pseudonym of two co-authors).

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Jan. 7th, 2008 03:51 pm
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I just walked into the men's room and smelled an overpowering smell of...Froot Loops.

No, I don't know why.


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