Monday, March 01, 2010

The Mystery of the Flying Skeleton

Okay, I need to put this out there first thing: The Mystery of the Flying Skeleton features exactly zero flying skeletons. Seriously. It's a total disappointment. I mean, The Mystery of the Haunted Skyscraper had two haunted skyscrapers! So what if they were both debunked by the end of the story, we expect that. But at least the title didn't fucking mislead me any. I'd be willing to bet someone pulled the title out of their ass and wrote the story to suit it. Except they didn't really, because there were no fucking flying skeletons!

I will also mention the story is a bit short on mystery too. The boys investigate stuff, but nothing in particular. The story just meanders around for 200 pages and resolves itself pretty much by accident.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Flying Skeleton begins with the boys touching down in Miami, a layover on their way to Key West. Dad is covering the International Conference, the boys tagging along. I don't know when this is in relation to their adventure in New York, but I suspect that isn't relevant. Jack and Chip live a timeless, ageless existence, forever seventeen and fifteen respectively.

Before the boys can fetch their bags and be reunited with Blaze, their connecting flight bursts into flames. Dad tries to snap some photos but is sternly cautioned by a mysterious gent in a panama hat to not get too close. He's right, the plane explodes. It was no accident, the man says. It should have exploded in flight: Someone is trying to stir up trouble at the conference.

Jack and Chip are sure Panama Hat is responsible, why else would he know so much? Besides, the man had a gun under his jacket. And Dad, he is sure Key West is too dangerous a place to take the boys. So he drops them off in Blue Heron Key, twenty miles from Key West, and puts them up at the Blue Heron Motel. Under the watchful eye of Mr. Kelly, the motel's proprietor, they shouldn't be safe, right?

Their first night in, they overhear voices in the next room. Gruff voices. Maybe spies. Maybe Panama Hat himself. All they are able to pick up through the wall is the phrase "it must be buried at night," and the muttering of a name: Whispering Johnson.

The next morning, Chip steals the key to the neighbouring room from Kelly's office and he and Jack use it to break into the room. They don't find anything, not that they have much time to, as they are promptly busted by Kelly. He lets it slide, buying their bullshit story about finding the spare key in the grass.

Kelly stuffs the boys with pancakes and exposition. Across the street, a fancy new hotel is under construction. It's sure to drive poor Kelly out of business. Because in the Sixties no one ever stayed in a cheap motel. Hurricane Cleo is in the Atlantic, heading toward the Keys.

The boys' friend du livre this time around is a local boy named Matt. "He had a deep tan, and his blond hair had been bleached white by the sun." If I were to describe him, based on Raymond Burns' drawing, I'd call him "ribby." Nonetheless, Jack, Chip and Matt become fast friends. The trio spends the day at the beach looking for dinosaur bones but only uncover a handful of doubloons. Returning to their room, Jack and Chip find an ominous note slipped under their door. Scribbled in pencil are the words "Watch your step!"

So, yeah, the story is deep in mysteries. Maybe too many: Who blew up the plane? Is Panama Hat a spy? What has to be buried at night? Who is Whispering Johnson? Where did the doubloons come from? Who left the ominous note? But here's the thing, most of these things have nothing to do with one other.

Most are answered. But almost all end up being irrelevant.

There are a few real gems in the text. Like this great sentence:

This time they wore swim trunks, remembering that swimming in their long pants hadn't been very satisfactory.
You don't say? This was my favorite line of the whole book:

Instead of playing the jukebox, [Matt] just sat on the stool next to them and spun a quarter on the counter, the quarter he had intended to spend on rock and roll.
That last bit makes me giggle every time I read it.

So, there's more vaguely mysterious goings on, and the boys stumble one night into a group of shady characters burying something on the lot of the construction site. The next morning workers discover dinosaur fossils on the property. The boys quickly put two and two together. I never said Jack and Chip were dumb. Okay, I did, but that was a whole book ago.

The building's owner, a slick gent named Disbareaux, calls in some scientists, has the bones declared legit. He dubs his new hotel The Fabulous Mastodon and quickly has the front of the building redesigned to resemble a woolly mammoth. Meanwhile Kelly cops to slipping the note under the boy's door, admitting it was a ploy to keep them in line. Oh, and Chip tells them he's got a new Whispering Johnson motor for his boat and offers to take them out to an old abandoned fort.

Yeah, there's three mysteries cleared up, rather handily too.

Then a woman named Miss Adams shows up at the hotel's front desk while Jack and Chip are minding the store. Her father has gone missing and she's scouring the keys for him. 150 pages in and we've finally a real mystery. The boys haven't seen him but Miss Adams thanks them and suggests they visit the zoo she owns.

Chip, Jack, and Matt head out to the fort, along with Blaze.

Remember him? Yeah, the dog spends most of the book tied up behind the boy's motel. At one point they're told he's loose, but decide against searching for the dog. They seem content to let the Dalmatian roam the FLA highways and aren't at all concerned he'll be killed. Then again, maybe the boys have learned not to get too attached to anyone or anything.

The boys reach the island and head off toward the fort and Blaze dashes off the other way. The bog pulls a Lassie and returns, barking, and convinces the boys to follow him. Lo and behold, Blaze leads them to Mr. Adams. Jack and Chip have saved the day! Okay, the dog did. And Matt, who brought them here in his boat.

The boys take Mr. Adams back to the motel and Dad finally returns from Key West, just as Hurricane Cleo descends on Blue Heron. Then there's lots of driving in circles as they try to find Ms. Adams and try to escape to Miami and everyone (Kelly, Jack, Chip, Matt, Mr. Adams, Dad, Ms. Adams, and Blaze) eventually ends up hiding out at Kelly's Motel as Cleo blows through.

Mr. Adams explains his son-in-law intercepted a shipment of mastodon bones meant for his zoo, and buried them on Disbareaux's property. When Adams threatened to squeal, his son-in-law kidnapped him and took him to the island the boys found him on. I'm not sure what the son-in-law stood to gain from the ruse. Maybe he was in cahoots with Disbareaux. If so, Adams never mentioned it. Though, that is about the only thing that makes sense. I guess.

While the storm batters Blue Heron Key, Jack, Chip and Matt perform one last act of heroism, and race across the road to the construction site to save the fossils. As they gather up the bones, The Fabulous Mastodon Hotel blows away. Meanwhile, Dad snaps some photos of the daring-do, and is sure the images will win him a big fat prize check. Dad also mentions that he bumped into Panama Hat in Key West. Turns out he's an FBI agent.

I guess that wraps up everything nicely. Mr. Adams is rescued, Disbareaux's hotel is gone, and secret of the Whispering Johnson has been explained.

But what about the flying skeletons, you ask? Yeah, well, that was a pretty shitty cop out, if you ask me. As I said earlier, I bet they came up with the title before the story. So the author needed figure out a creative way to tie the title into the story. That didn't happen. Not creatively anyway:
In spite of the wind and rain, Jack, Chip and their father were held motionless by what they saw. The structure of the mastodon was now being yanked from its moorings. Slowly it rose from the ground. Black against the luminous yellow sky, it sailed off like a monstrous inflated skeleton. A flying skeleton!
Yeah, the flying skeleton was the fa├žade of the unfinished hotel being blown apart by the hurricane. That about says it all, really.

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