Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Potboilers, Anyone? The Hotsy-Totsy by Clive Cussler

"A publishing event that demands an apology to the industry, all children and the trees that gave their lives."

If you are brave enough after that warning by no less than the honorable Kirkus Reviews, read on.

Clive Cussler, whose protagonist Dirk Pitt is a multi-talented hero with everything but X-Ray vision and a cape, has written thrillers which no doubt have saved millions of adults in doctors' or airport waiting rooms from even greater boredom. Cussler has apparently turned, like many another writer of adult genre fiction such as Dave Barry, Carl Hiaasen, and recently John Grisham, (see my review here) to the apparently beckoning backyard of kiddy lit. Cussler has a new entry, his second in a series, The Adventures of Hotsy Totsy (Philomel, 2010) which has debuted, as seen above, to less than universal critical acclaim. Is the Kirkus writer upholding the honor of children's literature against the Philistine invasion, or is he or she just being a literary fuddy duddy?

Well, it depends. Cussler's writing in this parody of the potboiler has everything the reviewer recites--"stilted prose, unrealistic dialog," "gender stereotypes." et al, a-plenty, all an intentional take-off on the style which gave us Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, and many another lesser hero of the 1920s and 1930s dime novel and comic book market. The main characters, fraternal twins Casey and Lacey Nicefolk, live on an exotic herb farm with their genially oblivious parents Ever and Ima Nicefolk. In this second book, the kids begin to itch for another adventure just as their parents head off (how convenient!) for a long weekend visit with Aunt Polly, leaving the ten-year-olds to scratch that itch equally conveniently.

It seems that in their barn rests a magical gizmo capable to turning any model toy into a full-sized simulacrum of the item, complete with added supernatural powers, left there (how convenient) by an itinerant farmhand named Sucoh Sucop (Hocus Pocus, get it?). Having already enjoyed an earlier hair-raising adventure in a model of the Wright Flyer in The Adventures of Vin Fiz, their parents' tire tracks are hardly cool before Lacey and Casey repair to the barn with a fresh model (how convenient) of a vintage racing motorboat called the Hotsy Totsy. And they're off to win a round-trip boat race from San Francisco to Sacramento, with the help of Casey's versatile Swiss Army knife and their equally versatile dog Floopy, both apparently multi-taskers.

We have to have a villain or two, of course, provided here by notorious crook The Boss and his bumbling henchmen who appear en route (how convenient) to exact vengeance on the twins for their unfortunate incarceration in the previous book. It's a hard-knock life for the Nicefolk kids as they are kidnapped and stashed in Al Capone's old cell on Alcatraz Island, but thanks to Floopy, who has managed to elude the bad guys and re-appear just in time (how convenient) to help, the twins break out through the rusty bars of their cell with a string saw Lacey has cleverly constructed from some string and some amazingly abrasive concrete dust.

Back in the race, the twins pile into the Hotsy Totsy, only to discover that those clever crooks have pulled the drain plug on the boat. Casey, of course, deduces that at full throttle the bilge drain is above the bow's waterline, and if the little racer's full speed isn't enough to make up for all the lost time, the twins soon learn that the little mahogany speedster can also fly (very convenient!) Still, she's apparently not self-plugging (I guess Floopy's paw won't fit into the bilge hole, either) and with a couple of rescues of drowning kids and rival crews along the way, the best the Hotsy Totsy can manage is a second-place finish. The twins, however, do earn rewards for corralling the crooks yet again, and it's back to the farm just in time (how convenient) to beat the parents back from Aunt Polly's.

The reader will need twin tongues in both cheeks, a willing suspension of disbelief, a craving for camp, and vaccination against deus-ex-machina fatigue for this one, but in the right mood, it can be a lot of fun to ride with The Adventures of Hotsy Totsy down the Sacramento River on a lazy summer's day.

And, of course, if you dig that ride, there's always Sucoh Sucop's magical mystery machine waiting back there in the barn and another adventure just over the horizon.

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