Friday, August 28, 2015

Mill Creek #9 Prince Goes West and #10 Three Straw Men

In the Mill Creek Irregulars #9, The Prince Goes West, Sim and Pete go camping on Andy's Island without waiting for Steve, who later catches up.  Sim is dismayed when Steve and Pete take an interest in the strange actions of two men across the river.  The boys investigate after dark and discover a kidnapped prince!

This is the only book in which Steve travels outside of Wisconsin to another state, when he briefly stays in Chicago.  Except for this trip and for a brief passage in another book where Steve is on the Mississippi River between Iowa and Wisconsin, the entire series is set in the state of Wisconsin.  I always like series books best that are set near the main character's home.  This series is that type.

The boys have an acquaintance, Mr. Barton, who is in the Secret Service.  He appears briefly in three of the books, including this one.  On page 149, Mr. Barton is impressed with Steve's ability to solve mysteries.
I didn't say anything more.

Mr. Barton didn't either, but from time to time I caught him looking at me with a twinkle in his eye and a barely concealed smile.

When we drove in toward the landing, he said, "If you should ever consider a career in the Secret Service, let me know."

"No danger," I said.  "I'm going to be a writer."

"What a waste!" he said.
The title of this book is clever.  I knew before reading the book that a prince was involved in the plot.  I thought that the prince would go west, as in going towards the western part of the country.  Instead, the title refers to Steve having the prince wear his old clothing, so the prince went west, as in dressing in a western fashion.

I greatly enjoyed this book.

In the Mill Creek Irregulars #10, The Three Straw Men, Steve notices an unusual delivery of sugar to Folsom's Fashion Center.  Later, Steve eavesdrops on the Folsoms and overhears an argument that could be about something nefarious.

On page 41, I learned that Steve doesn't know how to ride a bicycle.  Back when he had tried to learn, he kept falling off, so he decided not to bother.  I had wondered earlier in the series why Steve and Sim never ride on bicycles, and this explains it.  Since Derleth modeled Steve after himself, I wonder if Derleth never learned how to ride a bicycle.

The title of this book is also clever.  On page 142, Grandfather Adams explains that the culprits "kept on making mistakes to cover up the first ones.  They thought they were iron men, but they were only made of straw—just three straw men who made a career of fooling the village."

Grandfather Adams is one of my favorite characters in this series.  He is full of wisdom, and he comes to Steve's rescue rather often.  He always has faith in Steve and knows that regardless of how a situation looks that Steve is honest.  Grandfather Adams also enjoys hearing about Steve and Sim's escapades.

I greatly enjoyed reading about Steve and Sim.  As I have already stated, this series is, to me, most similar to the Brains Benton books by Charles Morgan, III, and to the Roger Baxter series.  There is a magic that all three series have.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Brad Forrest #4 Calgary Adventure and #5 New York Adventure

In Brad Forrest #4, Calgary Adventure, Brad travels to Calgary to stay at Uncle Pete Smart's ranch with his cousin, John Smart.  Brad and John's friend, James, also travels to Calgary in search of the Abominable Snowman.  At the ranch, Brad learns that the ranch has had trouble with the cattle getting disturbed at night.  Several odd incidents occur soon after Brad arrives.

This is a very good book.  I like it the best of the four I have read so far.  While some things don't completely make sense, nothing comes across as wacky like in the other books.  The idea of searching for the Abominable Snowman may seem silly, but I found it plausible.  Jason is searching for evidence of the snowman because he is writing his doctoral thesis on the legend of the snowman.  Now that is an odd idea for a thesis, but if the reader accepts that idea, then it makes sense for James to research the snowman and look for evidence of it near Calgary. 

I enjoyed this book as much as I did the better Biff Brewster books.

In Brad Forrest #5, New York Adventure, Brad encounters adventure while on the train to New York.  An importer gives Brad a notecase and tells him that another man is after him.  When Brad arrives in New York, he learns that the importer might not have been telling him the truth.  Brad finds himself in the middle of various operatives of a smuggling ring.

On page 38, Mr. Forrest expresses concern for Brad's safety.  This is interesting, since Mr. Forrest has not been at all worried about Brad's safety in the previous books, despite how dangerous Brad's adventures are.

On page 144, Brad must swim 14 miles to shore, and the reader is told that "the few miles to shore should be nothing for him."  Brad must be quite an athlete.

This book is a little wacky but is approximately as good as the average Biff Brewster book.  I enjoyed the story.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Mill Creek #7 House by the River and #8 Watcher on the Heights

In the Mill Creek Irregulars #7, The House by the River, Sim wants to go on a canoe trip down the Wisconsin River to the Mississippi.  Steve turns the tables on Sim by acting like he won't be able to go.  Sim has to manipulate Steve into going on the trip, or so he thinks.

Once the boys reach Prairie du Chien on the Mississippi, they spot an old house on the shore of the river.  The house appears to be empty, but the cellar is unlocked.  Steve insists on exploring, against Sim's better judgment.  As always, Steve's impulse uncovers a mystery and gets the boys into trouble.

I really like the cover art for this book.  A house by a river is guaranteed to provide a great mystery.

This is an excellent book. 

In the Mill Creek Irregulars #8, The Watcher on the Heights, Steve convinces Sim to explore the Wisconsin Heights.  While exploring, the boys find evidence that a man is spending time watching another man fish.  They soon realize that the watcher is planning to kill the fisherman.

This is just an outstanding story from start to finish.  I can't really get into why without spoiling it; you just have to read it to understand why.  The book gets deep into discussions of what justice really is, and how justice might be served differently from what one expects.  There's no clear cut answer.

The climax of this book is so funny.  I ended up reading that part slowly, because I kept laughing uncontrollably, and one can't keep reading while laughing hard.

Derleth's descriptions are so wonderful.  From page 113:
The June sunlight slanted into the harness shop from low in the west at this hour, filling it with mellow warmth.  Both doors were open, and a fragrant wind came in at the front, pungent with the musk of the river, and drifted through the shop and out the back, carrying along with it the smell of leather and of the oil dip, and the dusty binder aprons which hand been brought into the shop for repairs.
While reading this book, I finally determined that this series most reminds me of the Brains Benton books by Charles Morgan, III, and the Roger Baxter series. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Brad Forrest #3 Madagascar Adventure

In Brad Forrest #3, Madagascar Adventure, Brad's father is missing while working at a dig in Madagascar.  Brad works with the French Colonial Police as he looks for his father.  Brad fears that his father will be smuggled out of the country before he can be found.

Mr. Forrest's yacht is named the SVAAP.  What the heck kind of name is that?  As I continued reading, I realized that there must be an explanation.  Apparently Svaap is the name of a type of yacht.  At least Mr. Forrest hasn't lost his mind.

Brad meets Colonel Le May on page 24.  On page 25, Brad is told that Sergeant Terez has disappeared while doing underground work.  Brad asks about the kind of work, and the Colonel tells him the specifics, despite having just met Brad.  If an agent has been doing undercover work, why would his superior officer reveal his mission?

On page 100, Brad announces that he can fly a helicopter.  Normally in series books, the adults ask a few questions to make certain, but not these adults!  Just moments later, Brad is flying the helicopter.  These books move fast.  The reader has very little time to get bored.

"Come on" is spelled "common" in the Brad Forrest books.  I'm beginning to get used to it, but it's weird.  Here's an example from page 119.
Brad had seen nothing but Terez cried, "Common!  Somebody just ducked around that corner."
The characters "snapped" at each other all the time.  It took me aback until I realized that the word was often being used in a positive rather than a negative sense.  Another oddity is that "okay" is given as "OKay" throughout all of these books.  That's an odd combination of "OK" and "okay."

This book also has amazing scenes that are not believable.  Brad is flying a plane, and he needs to let down his passenger without landing.  He faces into the wind and flies at just the speed to hold the plane steady near the ground so that his passenger can jump off.

This book reminds me of the Biff Brewster book, Mystery of the Mexican Treasure.  The plots are not the same, but the stories have some obvious similarities.

This is a good book.  The plot isn't convoluted like the first two books, and it isn't nearly as wacky.  The book is roughly as good as the average Biff Brewster story.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Mill Creek #5 Tent Show Summer and #6 Irregulars Strike Again

In the Mill Creek Irregulars #5, The Tent Show Summer, Steve and Sim attend the first performance of the Brooks' Stock Company's tent show.  When Mike Kurth tries to shut down the tent show based on a strange tip, Steve smells a mystery.  With Sim and Pete's help, Steve keeps an eye on the tent show and tries to figure out why someone would want it shut down.

I don't have much to say about this particular title, but I greatly enjoyed it.  I enjoyed #4 in the series more than #2 and #3.  I enjoyed #5 more than #4.  The series gets better and better with each title.

In the Mill Creek Irregulars #6, The Irregulars Strike Again, Steve and Sim return to Great-uncle Joe's farm for a short vacation between Christmas and New Year's.  Steve's real plan is to camp in a cabin, much to Sim's dismay.  Steve gets his way as usual, and the boys get settled in the cabin.  They soon notice that Sepple Bollinger is pretending to fish in the creek.  Steve decides that Sepple is a lookout for a group of poachers, so he drags Sim, protesting all the way, into another mystery.

These books are quite realistic.  The boys come close to being arrested (yet again!) in this book because the adults and law enforcement simply will not believe their wild stories, which just so happen to be true.  In this case, Steve tries to convince the adults that the poachers are carrying the deer off in a hearse.  Now who would believe that?

Even though Sim complains all the time, I realized, even in the first book in the series, that he genuinely likes Steve.  Derleth does not come out and state it in the earlier books, but I had pegged Sim as someone who is too cautious and just loves to complain.  By this point in the series, Derleth makes clear how Sim really feels, despite his complaints.

On page 58, Sim does his usual complaining, claiming that he won't go.
"Stay here," I said.  "Go on.  Stay. —The fact is they couldn't pay you to keep away from Ferry Bluff."

Sim grinned a little sheepishly.  He knew it was true.  He knew that for all the bucking and kicking he did, it was second nature for him to do it, and he meant to stick by me.  He always did.  Oh, I had to suffer for it, hearing his complaints, but he always stuck.
And on page 72.
Sim grunted.  "I got the feeling you're heading me into trouble again."

I had to grin.  Always going on about getting into trouble.  Always griping about what I got him into, and sure to be angrier than a wet cat if he missed out on anything.
Steve's other friend, Pete, has a knack for looking stupid while obtaining information.  Pete is described as follows on page 137.
No one would have suspected, looking at him, that Pete was sharp enough for even rudimentary thinking.  He had one of those bland, expressionless faces that persuade people to believe their owners have rooms for rent between their ears.  Pete's rooms were highly organized, even if he didn't advertise it.
This is another excellent entry in the series.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Brad Forrest #2 Los Angeles Adventure

In Brad Forrest #2, Los Angeles Adventure, Brad has important papers to deliver to his father in Los Angeles.  Brad receives a threatening phone call as he prepares to fly to Los Angeles, and another plane passenger seems a little too interested in Brad's plans.  In Los Angeles, Brad discovers that actor Dick Devore is his double, and multiple attempts are made to abduct both Brad and Dick at different times.  It's all a bit convoluted, just like in the first Brad Forrest book.

I was not at all surprised that Brad has a double, since the same happens to Biff Brewster in Mystery of the Caribbean Pearls.  The first Brad Forrest book seems to have been partially modeled after that book, and this one was as well. 

Brad is told to trust no one.  So when a man meets him at the airport, planning to take Brad to his father, Brad goes with him, trusting that he is telling the truth.  Needless to say, the man is up to no good.

Brad is accidentally abducted instead of Dick.  Now why wasn't I surprised?  Because that's exactly what happens in Caribbean Pearls with Biff and his double!

Brad is caught in a fire with his hands and feet bound.  He sticks his hands into the fire, enduring the searing heat, to burn through the rope.  Ouch!  Believable, nope.

On page 120, Brad swims under Dick's boat and notices a bomb stuck to the underside.  He removes the bomb, gets back on the boat, hands the bomb to Dick, and asks, "What'll we do with it?"  Um...  Dick then notices the timer, which moves the boys into action.  They throw the bomb overboard and get the boat started as fast as they can.  Whew!  I thought maybe they were going to keep the bomb as a souvenir. 

Brad, while in disguise (dyed hair and glasses will do the trick every time), strikes up a conversation with one of the suspects.  Brad admires the suspect's Aston Martin, while the suspect prepares to leave in another vehicle.  Now why does the suspect have two vehicles in the parking lot where he works?  The suspect gives Brad the keys to the Aston Martin and tells him to try out the car.  The suspect leaves in the other vehicle, and Brad decides to follow him... in the Aston Martin!  Like, are you kidding me?!  Nothing about this makes any sense at all!

A short while later, Brad and Dick leave the Aston Martin at Dick's house.  We're talking about a borrowed and rather expensive car, which has now been left in a random location.  Anyway, the two boys blunder onto another suspect's property.  They notice on page 137 that no one is in the backyard.  "Even though it was a hot day, [name withheld] and his pals seemed to prefer the air-conditioned house to the shade of the palm trees and the umbrellas around the swimming pool."  Well, duh!  If I have air conditioning, why would I hang around outside in the heat to discuss my schemes?  Besides, someone might overhear!

This book is as big of a mess as the first book.  I did overall enjoy it, however.  It's weak, but decent.  I did skim the last couple of chapters, since I became bored and didn't really care any longer at that point. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Mill Creek Irregulars #3 Pinkertons Ride Again and #4 Black Hawk Island

In the Mill Creek Irregulars #3, The Pinkertons Ride Again, Steve and Sim overhear some men talking about robbing the train just before it pulls into Sac Prairie.  The boys have no doubt about what the men's plans are, but every adult they tell refuses to believe them.  In fact, Grandfather Adams is convinced that Steve is writing a story, and he tells Steve to call it The Pinkertons Ride Again!  And perhaps he will, someday.

It should be noted that August Derleth published some of his work under the pseudonym, Stephen Grendon, so Steve is a semi-autobiographical character.

On page 63, Steve and Sim try to figure out why the men plan to rob the train.  Sim suggests that the bank's money is the only possible reason, but Steve has an idea of his own.
"Sure.  But what about something we don't know about?  Like maybe somebody's last will and testament is coming in on that train, and if it's stolen, then an earlier will stands up in court, and these fellows are hired to steal the will..."

Sim began to giggle.  "I can see what your ma means when she says you read too much of the wrong kind of stuff."
Yeah, like series books!

The plot of this book creeps along.  This book is not quite as good as the first two books, but I still very much enjoyed it.  The climax is hilarious

In the Mill Creek Irregulars #4, The Ghost of Black Hawk Island, Steve convinces Sim to go camping on Black Hawk Island.  The boys camp in a tent near an old ruin, and at night, a ghostly Indian appears and then disappears.  Steve is certain that someone is trying to scare the boys away.  He believes that something valuable has been hidden on the island, so the boys investigate.

With this book, the premise for the series falls into a pattern that continues through the rest of the books.  It's like Derleth was feeling his way into a series with the first three books, and with this book, all elements come together perfectly. 

Every book begins with Steve trying to convince Sim to go on a trip.  Sim is overcautious and never wants to commit.  Steve uses reverse psychology on Sim, and Sim always agrees to go, complaining all the way.  The boys get into trouble, as predicted by Sim, and often end up in jail, since the adults don't believe their side of the story.  Ending up in jail is a running gag through the series.

Page 56 has a fun exchange between Steve, Sim, and an Indian boy.
At the last minute he heard us and turned, and the moment he turned I knew why he was so dark-skinned.  He was an Indian boy, about our own age—one of those Winnebago from the camp on the other side of Upham woods.

"How!" I said.

He backed out and got to his feet.  He was slender—but not as skinny as Sim—and there wasn't a bit of abashment on his face for having been caught snooping around our tent.  Before he could say something, Sim began talking to him in sign language—a hangover from his Lone Scout days.

The Indian boy looked from me to Sim and back to me.  Then he began to laugh.

"Can't you talk?"  he asked Sim.  And to me he just repeated, " 'How!' " and laughed all the harder.
Those silly white boys!

This is an excellent book.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Brad Forrest #1 Hong Kong Adventure

In Brad Forrest #1, Hong Kong Adventure, Daryl Hays, business associate of Brad's father, has disappeared.  Brad and his father go to Hong Kong to search for clues.  Mr. Forrest is injured when the Forrests' taxi is bombed, so Brad must enter China alone to search for Hays.

The gang responsible for the abduction is known as the Crippled Dragon Tong.  What kind of stupid name is that?

What's interesting about Mr. Forrest's injury is that it happened after the villains throw a bomb at the vehicle carrying Brad and his father.  Somehow, Brad's father manages to sprain his ankle without getting out of the vehicle. 

I find lots of things about these books make absolutely no sense, like Brad's maneuver on page 43.  Actually, after reading the passage around six times, I can finally picture it.  However, it is still incredible.  Brad is pulling himself out of a hole by bracing his back on one side and feet on the opposite side, inching up bit by bit.
Just a step from the top his left foot jammed into the first small crevice he'd found then his right foot slipped out of control.

Instantly Brad called all of his finely tuned muscles and razor-sharp reflexes into play.  Twisting his body in the air, he pushed hard with his left foot

His left shoulder dropped but with his right hand he grasped the chimney's lip.

S-m-a-c-k!  Brad's left hand joined his right and he was hanging full length from the top.

Then as easily as chinning himself on a bar Brad pulled up his weight and wiggled out on the edge.
Brad is quite an athlete.

Later in the story, two Chinese officials come aboard the junk and conveniently speak about their private plans in English.  Right...

Brad pulls a Biff Brewster.  Brad decides to go ashore to be captured on purpose so that he can find out where Mr. Hays is held.  This is assuming that Brad will be taken to the same place.  Like Biff, Brad ends up regretting that he let himself get captured.

Brad is almost executed by firing squad in this story.  How many series book characters can you think of who have nearly been executed by firing squad? 

The Chinese names chosen are distracting.  Soon and How are two such names which happen to be both English words, so when the names were used in the middle of sentences, I sometimes misunderstood and had to read the sentence again.  Another Chinese name used is Pi, which is also a Greek letter.  The odd choice of names, as well as the strangeness of the plot, causes this book to read like a crazy, campy spy story.

I didn't really care for this book.  It's similar to the Biff Brewster book Mystery of the Chinese Ring, which I also found hard to believe at times.  The Biff Brewster book is better.  I assume that whoever wrote this book read the Biff Brewster books, which were published first, and copied ideas from them.  Unfortunately, the ideas copied were not the best ones to choose.