Recently Sean introduced us to the first of the New Bobbsey Twins books with his review of the first book in the series, The Secret of Jungle Park. Now he will take us through his favourites from the series starting with book #5, The Case of the Close Encounter.
Sean and I have already covered some back story on the various incarnations of the Bobbsey Twins here.
As before this review contains spoilers.
This is among my favourites of the series, if not THE favourite.
This book starts with Nan coming home sick from school. She asks her twin, Bert to do her babysitting job that night. It is with Artie, the most hyper boy on her list of babysittees! Bert agrees, and there is a wonderful sequence of hi-jinks young Artie gets into. (He’s not a bad kid, he just has a LOT of energy!) He insists on playing hide-and-seek, and runs outside. When Bert follows, with his flashlight, he sees a UFO! First an intensely bright light stops him in his tracks, then he sees a flying saucer looking pattern of multi-coloured lights spinning in a circle. These lights recede in the distance and disappear! Artie (who was hiding) didn’t see them and thinks Bert is “playing pretend”
The next day Bert tells his family what he saw, tells the police (who treat him seriously because Lt Pike put in a good word about the twins), and tells the newspaper (who are VERY sceptical), who makes mention of it on the radio. Later, the twins go to Artie’s neighbourhood to look for clues and after crossing the woods, see burnt grass in a clearing that look like two giant footprints! They also find a paper coffee cup from the Cup ‘n Saucer diner, as well as a yogurt container with an unusual brand. On the way back through the woods there is a small road where a motorbike almost runs them over! The driver is a reddish, wild-eyed man who isn’t very nice.
After leaving Artie’s, on the way home, they spot a café called The Flying Saucer Diner. The name is too good to pass up, so they stop. The owner has a foreign accent, which makes Flossie think he might be an alien. The twins question him on the coffee cup (that looks new), and he says the place used to be called Cup ‘n Saucer, but he changed it when he bought it, and no one has used those old cups for a couple years.
As the twins leave the diner, they spot an audio cassette on the seat of Bert’s bicycle. The recording is a threatening message! Flossie thinks the diner owner (Chuck) left it as he left for a bit while they were in the diner, and she mentioned Bert’s spotting the UFO. Nan thinks it might be the motor scooter guy as a similar tire mark is seen in the dirt, but as they can’t prove anything, they go home. When they arrive, a strange woman is talking to Mrs Bobbsey. She has out-of-state license plates, and says she is writing a book on UFO sightings. She asks Bert a ton of questions about what he saw, but doesn’t seem to want to answer any questions herself (which makes Bert VERY suspicious).
In the meantime, the younger twins (Freddie & Flossie) go back to the diner to investigate Chuck and play his Space Invaders arcade game. When they get there, Chuck and two more bearded men are talking in a foreign language (the alien speech Flossie thinks) and then they come over to watch them play the videogame. They explain how games seem almost like magic to them because there isn’t anything like that where they are from (which they say is a small country in eastern Europe) and they even pay for an extra game for the twins.
Nan, in the meantime is trying to track down the yogurt and finds out that it is only sold in a health-food store in town. As she approaches the store, the scooter guy comes out, accuses her of following him and grabs her arm! The owner runs out and threatens to call the police. The man runs off in a huff. The owner says the man is Usher, he rents a place out of town, and is a little nutso.
The next day, Bert and Flossie go back to the woods to look for clues when they see Lenore Bainbridge (the UFO book writer). She is alone in the clearing talking into the air! Flossie thinks maybe SHE is an alien.
Things get even weirder for Nan and Freddie who are in the woods investigating. A ray-gun noise breaks the silence, and then a nearby tree bursts into flames!
Freddie is all for running away, but Nan stops and goes back. She notices that the burns on the tree are circular and wind around the tree like there was some kind of burning wire looped round it. Hmm.
That night, Flossie is awakened by eerie humming. When she looks out the window, a glowing, alien head is looking back at her! Her screams bring her family to the room, but it is gone when they get there.
The next time the twins go to Artie’s, the older twins stop to look at a parked scooter in the woods. They see a stack of Cup ‘n Saucer cups and an industrial strength flashlight in the back. They remove the flashlight’s bulb, and then figure out that Usher has something to do with the strange happenings (they narrow it down to him through means that I won’t get into here so this doesn’t become TOO long).
They call their friends on the police force to stake out the area near Artie’s house, and since they live in an isolated area, they have all the lights turned off but their big flashlight. That night, a silent helicopter lands! Usher also arrives on his scooter to try to wave away the pilot, but the police arrive and make the pilot come out and arrest both him and Usher. Then Bainbridge arrives. She explains that she is a government agent, and the two of them stole a secret silent chopper from a research and development department.
So, the UFO mystery is solved! The twins may not be able to tell anyone what happened, but the police know and give them even more respect, and they have a neat café they can go to!
This story as I said before is among the best of the books. It is suspenseful (for kids) without being too scary, and there are enough suspects to keep you guessing! Of course (as anyone who reads the series knows) there wouldn’t turn out to be real aliens, but as far as who the bad guys are, there were enough suspects and false leads to make you wonder. Chuck acted alien (or foreign) enough to make him a suspect, Lenore Bainbridge acted suspicious, and had some weird things, like what we would now call a Bluetooth device to make her a suspect. (Remember, this was the 1980s. So, there were no wireless radio communications common to people. Her talking into the air is spooky and strange enough to make one wonder back then. And Usher was always mean, but there was no reason to tie him to the UFO at first. Of course, he was the one who threatened the kids, and then when he heard the radio report of a UFO spotting, he knew the kids had no idea about what was really happening, and so thought he could scare them with the phony ray-gun attack, and the alien in the window (a balloon with phosphorus on it), as well as other things
Overall, this was great! It came out in April 1988, so I was 12. A bit older than I was with the earlier books, but still this flummoxed me as a kid, and was spooky enough for me to read under the covers! Deanna was my only friend who shared my love of reading. It’s a shame, because she’s the only one I never camped out with one-on-one (being a girl) I think we did camp once with Brian, the Murphy boys and I in sleeping bags, and her in my tent, but it wasn’t the same. You can only be spooked with just 2 or maybe 3 kids. When you have about half a dozen, it doesn’t have the same feel.
An interesting addition
Sean has also sent me a photograph which was used in the cover design.