Friday, March 26, 2010

The Mystery of the Burning Ocean

In case you were thinking The Mystery of the Burning Ocean might be an eco-thriller with the Power Boys perhaps doing battle with a gang of polluters and their toxic waste, don't get too excited. Much like the last outing, there is no burning ocean in this book. Not literally, anyway.

The burning ocean appears only as an analogy as the boys attempt to teach their newest friend how to scuba dive:
"Okay," Jack said. "Now I'm going to tell you what we were told when we started diving. The big danger [is] all the fears you [have] up here." Jack tapped his head. "You have to control them or you're a goner. You know that if you're trapped in a burning building, panic, and jump out a window, you're a dead duck. The ocean isn't burning, but it will get you just the way a fire will, if you don't keep your head."
And later, while on a night dive:
The pleasant moonlight faded as they went deeper and deeper. The night waters had their own special, ominous quality which was not present during the day. At times the ocean appeared to be burning because of the luminous red wake of swimming worms and jellyfish.
So, yeah, that's it for burning oceans in this particular book.

Page one finds Jack and Chip in Bermuda and complaining about it. They'd rather be in New York already. Them's the breaks, I guess. I never had a trip to Bermuda to lament as a kid, so I can't much relate.

The book quickly turns into another installment of The Mystery of the Absentee Father as Old Man Power ditches the boys for an "assignment" in the Bahamas. Fortunately, Jack and Chip stumble into intrigue immediately. By the end of Chapter One, there are some very strange things afoot.

First off, someone has tied up the innkeeper in her office and rifled through the safe. Nothing was taken, leading the boys to conclude the thief was looking for something very specific. Then, moments later, the boys bump into a lanky, jittery kid who passes out in front of them. Was he poisoned, drugged, bonked over the head? (Turns out he just had the flu, in yet another pointless diversion for the boys.)

Otherwise, the resort is pretty normal. Lots of ping-pong and tourists:
A man and a woman coming out of the house caused Jack to break off. They were laughing and talking about something that obviously struck them as being very funny. Both of them wore white shorts.
There's nothing more normal than white shorts.

Later that night someone breaks into the boys' room, but stepping on Blaze's tail spoils whatever the intruder was up to. Jack and Chip find a nautical chart on the floor, a big red X marked in one spot. It isn't clear if the intruder dropped it by accident, intentionally left it there, or maybe was in the room trying to find it and the boys hadn't seen it before.

Anyway, it turns out the chart belongs to Bob Jillman, the boy they watched collapse earlier. The X marks the spot where his father's yacht, The Texas Queen, sank. Bob convinces Jack and Chip to give him scuba lessons on the sly, so he can make a dive to the yacht to recover something.

When pressed, Bob refuses to say what it is he needs from the yacht, and when his scuba lessons go poorlu, he refuses to let Jack and Chip dive in his place.

Then follows lots of dive lessons and lots of scenes of the boys dining. Really. This goes on for quite a while. Along the way Jack and Chip and Bob meet various vacationers and townsfolk, including Mr. Crossland, a crooked-nosed loudmouth on holiday; Reynolds, a local reporter; and Samson, a reticent boat pilot the kids hire for their diving expeditions.

Their first dive goes poorly. Arriving at the X on the map, they find nothing but fish. No Texas Queen. And then Bob disappears. Jack and Chip surface without their friend. He turns up a few moments later, safe, if not a little rattled.

Bob eventually confesses to Jack and Chip the secret of the Texas Queen. Turns out his late father left a stipulation in his will that Bob had to rescue a solid gold heirloom from the sunken vessel in order to collect his inheritance. If the item isn't retrieved by a certain date, the family fortune goes to Bob's aunt. And that date is just around the corner.

The boys use Reynolds' historical knowledge of the island and locate the correct resting spot of the Texas Queen and promptly arrange for Samson to take them on a night dive. Chip brings along his underwater camera to film the event. This dive too proves unsuccessful. The boys are attacked by an aggressive manta ray and are forced to call off the salvage mission. Samson is confused, stating that mantas are pretty docile.

The next morning, Jack and Bob try another dive while Chip gets his reel of film developed. This dive too goes nowhere, as the boys can't breach the hull. Chip, however, has some intriguing footage to share with them, so the day's not a total wash.

At their hotel room, Chip dims the lights, rolls the film, and something very surprising is revealed: A man's face in the mouth of the manta. Yup, the overly aggressive manta is actually a man in a manta costume, trying to scare the boys away. Who could it be?

Maybe it's cousin Lenny, who just arrived in Bermuda, to show Bob a good time. Bob believes Lenny is just trying to distract him long enough to miss the deadline. Lenny is a smooth talking pretty boy. He probably became a Senator or something. And the way he seems intent on screwing Bob out of his due-and-proper, I'd say he likely ended up a Republican.

Lenny introduces Bob to the estate's lawyer, a man named Maule. Maule is actually Crossland. Technically, I guess Crossland is actually Maule, who was lying low and keeping an eye on Bob from afar, to keep abreast of the whole salvage thing with the will, and that's why he never told Bob who he really was. What the fuck?

Bob, Jack and Chip ditch the pestering Lenny and make one last dive. They bring along a crowbar and some balloons and extra air and whatnot. They raise the steamer trunk holding the heirloom, buoying it to the surface, like they did with the Titanic in that Clive Cussler movie (the one with Richard Jordan in the Matthew McConaughey role).

As soon as they surface, the trunk is stolen by hooligans with spearguns and crooked-noses. A chase follows, but the thieves make their escape when Samson steers the boys into the middle of a regatta. Oops! There goes Samson's tip. There goes Bob's inheritance.

Back on land, Bob's aunt shows up just as Bob punches Lenny in the face, accusing him of setting up the robbery. Lenny denies it and so does Aunt Evelyn. Evelyn tells Bob even if the inheritance did default to her, she planned to return it to him anyway, so neither her nor her son Lenny had any motive for stealing the heirloom.

Did you catch that?

Even if Bob failed to retrieve the trinket, his aunt would have seen to it he got his inheritance regardless. So the whole fucking book was been a complete waste of time. The break-ins, the diving lessons, the manta ray: all meaningless. Christ.

So, who robbed the boys? Maule. Yeah, the lawyer. Big fucking surprise there. Jack suddenly remembered that Crossland/Maule had a crooked nose, as did one of the robbers, and well... blah blah blah... they confront him on his yacht and Blaze pulls on a blanket and the trunk is revealed underneath. Just as Reynolds arrives with the cops.


Old Man Power returns from wherever in time for a huge celebration at the hotel. Bob is finally a man, having turned from sniveling little wimp into the kind of guy who punches family members in the face. Yay, Bob! Those diving lessons really paid off. Bob offers Jack and Chip the gold statue as payment for all their help. They refuse, because they're stupid. Bob suggests they take the Texas Queen instead. They refuse that too, because it's a sunk-ass piece of crap.

Just like this book.


  1. Hi. I posted here much earlier, then apparently forgot this site, and have just found it again and read what you've written about the Power Boys series, including your reviews for the first three books. It is obvious that you think these books are just about as bad as any book can be.

    I can't say I found them quite *that* bad when I first read them years ago, even if they are flawed in some ways; so I wonder how I would find them now - it has been a while since I read them. I do grant the plots of the three books you review are rather fragmented, though, and with rather too many loose ends and apparently pointless or thoughtless decisions made by the boys.

    If it makes you feel any better about the series, I think I can tell you that the last three books - well, the last two, at least - are rather more coherent, and do seem to have more tightly-constructed plots that tie up loose ends better. Have you read these? Will you be discussing them here in due course?

    I don't quite remember how coherent the plot of "The Mystery of the Million-Dollar Penny" is, since it's been a long time since I read it. But I do seem to recall it has quite an exciting climax, a tense stand-off between the boys and the main villain, deep in a warren of underground caves.

    The last two books, "The Mystery of the Double Kidnapping" and "The Mystery of the Vanishing Lady" are clearly quite tightly-constructed mysteries with subtle clues used quite cleverly and dramatically near the end to reveal who the villains are.

    Regardless of any flaws, I feel the books do have a certain style which seems to indicate to me that they had a real author, whose existence you doubt. (I presume you think the books were constructed by an assembly line of many different writers, although you didn't give any reason why you doubted that the author existed as an individual.) However, the style seems to indicate a single author to me - plus the fact that the books do seem to improve towards the end of the series.

    I agree with you that some of the titles of the books are disappointing, with the justification for them worked into the text being rather feeble. Anyone who reads the second book expecting to see a literal flying skeleton is going to be sorely disappointed, I think. And a burning ocean is, as you suggest, quite contradictory as an idea.

    You may be right about the quality of the series, although your whole blog, by its own declaration ("about TV and other mistakes"), does seem to be deliberately oriented to finding flaws in what it talks about, seems biased towards finding faults rather than good points. Do you think there is *anything* good about the books? - your reviews seem to find only fault with them, and very harshly. I think the books do have good points too, but you don't seem to mention them.

    But maybe my softer attitude to the books is shaped by the fact that they do have childhood memories for me. I am in Australia, but the books were found in bookshops quite often around the late 1960s. I don't know when they became unavailable in the U.S., but I believe they were on sale as new books (as against used) in Australia at least until around 1970 or so.

    Regards, Michael
    (main author of Wikipedia article on the series, also of (to my knowledge) the only web page (other than here) on the series).

  2. i seem to recall saying the drawings were brilliant. so i definitely loved that part of the books.

    i have read "The Mystery of the Million-Dollar Penny" and do plan to review it as well. just been a bit busy.