39 Clues:    Cahills vs. Vespers                           04-17-2017

          Whenever my wife and I travel, we play audiobooks to keep us entertained. This past Easter Sunday we began a trip from Sacramento to our home on the north-central Oregon coast. The story were listening to is Thirty Nine Clues, Cahills vs. Vespers.  With the collaboration of so many people (Rick Riordan, Gordon Korman, Peter Lerangis, Jude Watson, Patrick Carman, Linda Sue Park, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Roland Smith, David Baldacci, Jeff Hirsch, Natalie Standiford, C. Alexander London, Sarwat Chadda and Jenny Goebel) one would hope for a story would that is near fault free.

          The Protagonists are a sixteen-year-old girl and a thirteen-year-old boy. I suppose my first issue with the premise is that these two adolescents would be living without direct adult supervision. Their so-called guardians are not present in their home one is off in Paris pursuing a cooking education, I am not certain where the other is. There is an assistant who lives on the property and maintains some contact but not in a supervisory role. Meaning the teens are raising themselves.

           The authors have some issues with research. One scene has an older man, in a hot spring at a California Resort and the “bad guys” toss a water moccasin in the water with him. Hmm, I suppose they could have brought the snake halfway across the country to use it so, but why? There are simpler ways to render someone unconscious. Water Moccasin or cotton mouth snakes are indigenous to the Southeastern United States, a thousand miles from California. The speed at which the venom of the Water Moccasin acted, almost instantaneous, isn’t how it would work. Especially not with a water moccasin, whose venom is weakest among American snakes. I’ll buy that the bite was painful, but it is very unlikely that the man would go unconscious at all, let alone in the first minute or so after being bitten. Then “the bad guys” inject the man with a single dose of antivenin and we move on to another scene. Snake bites often require multiple doses of antivenin as many as twenty or more vials, to get a victim through the poison dangers. There is also the question of necrotic skin near where the snake bite occurred. When we next see this particular victim there is no mention of any side effects of the bite, he is healthy and active as if the bite had never occurred. Not likely, snake bite victims take weeks to recover and only with medical attention, something we see later this group of ‘bad guys’ is unwilling to provide.

            Another scene we went through was cutting glass so that the kids could steal a painting from a major museum. I should say that I find the premise of the teens taking the art piece in the first place to be ludicrous. They cut a glass window with a glass cutter. The writers assumed that one could use a glass cutter to slice through the glass as if cutting paper with a knife. That is not how one cuts glass. Using a glass cutter, one must score (scratch) the glass along the line he wants it cut. Once the line is completed, one must still break the glass. There is no way to cut glass where the piece of glass will slide out (I suppose a laser could do that, but that isn’t what we have here.) Even so, the score marks do not guarantee to be the line where the break will occur. It is a guide only the physics of the glass and how the shock to create the break was applied would dictate the actual break.  Why would a person who has access to near unlimited resources, who is supposed to cut a particular sized hole not bring some way to measure the “cuts” he was making? Instead, he estimates 24 inches by 4 inches. And we are to assume he can cut a straight line and perfect rectangle?
Then to have the protagonist kick the wooden shield that serves as the canvas is ridiculous. Let us remember the wood upon which the painting sits is hundreds of years old. It has hung in a gallery for decades at least. Even assuming there are humidity controls in place, the wood would be brittle. Providing a karate kick strong enough to force it through a hole that was too small would almost certainly break the wood and therefore damage the painting.
That idea the museum would have a painting in their gallery that was so readily determined a fake is likewise unbelievable. (The bad guys knew immediately when they turned the picture around and looked at the back side that it was a forgery.) How could a world-renowned museum not have an idea that there was a problem with the painting?

          The second theft, this time of the ‘real painting,’ also left me at a loss. Okay, the kids get the picture, in the chase afterward the kids crash a boat on land and make their escape. Our pursuer sees the crash and assumes the kids are dead and the painting destroyed??? A man who is willing to shoot at the kids for stealing his ill-gotten painting would have gotten out of his boat to investigate and be certain. He would not turn and go back home make such an assumption.

          Action in the story is fast. The characterization is decent in most cases, with the marked exception of the man described in the paragraph above. Maybe I ask too much but even with a young adult story, or maybe this is for preteens and teens, I would hope for more accuracy in the details. The issues I point out are examples not the totality of mistakes. It is the details after all that make a story and its characters believable.

          On a rating scale of 1 to 10, I offer a 4.