April 1, 2014

[Book Review] The Unwilling Umpire (A to Z Mysteries, #21) by Ron Roy


Play ball! The whole town has turned out to watch the Green Lawn women challenge the men in the charity baseball game--and to see Mr. Pocket's prized baseball collection. But sometime during the game, the balls are stolen! The police suspect the umpire of foul play. Can Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose prove he's innocent, or is it strike three for the Green Lawn ump?



In The Unwilling Umpire, the citizens of Green Lawn are hosting a "Battle of the Sexes" baseball game to raise money for a special needs summer camp. Everything seems to be going spectacularly... until the coach's autographed baseball collection goes missing mid-game and the umpire, a newcomer to town named Pete Unkenholz, is pinned as the main suspect. He confesses to the crime almost immediately... but Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose sense shenanigans.

Amusingly, The Unwilling Umpire marks the first time the three sleuths use (or even reference) the Internet. Though the book was published in 2004, the scene has a very "What is this 'Internet' you speak of? Teach me the ways of the World Wide Web!" tone to it. I would've pegged it as 1998-2001, not 2004. Guess Green Lawn's a bit behind on the times. Unfortunately, I think that means this installment's going to age far faster than the other A to Z Mysteries books; since the current generation of chapter book readers can't remember a pre-Internet world, I rather imagine they're going to find the Internet subplot really odd. Disregarding the use of "Web site" instead of "website" and the rather old-fashioned, 1999 diction Roy uses to refer to computer usage, solving the mystery with an eBay knock-off seems very early 2000s. (Do people even still use eBay? They shouldn't.) Then there's the hilarious bit about how the librarian accesses the 'net by "click[ing] on Internet".

Yeah, bro, just click "Internet"!
Another small gripe I have is the unusual friendliness between the fourteen-year-old character, Buddy Unkenholz, and the three nine-year-old main characters. I understand that to the target audience, a nine-year-old is a Big Kid Person and a fourteen-year-old is a Bigger Kid/Young Adult Person, and those are both intimidating when you're five, but there is really a vast difference between the two. Very few fourteen-year-olds are willing to be indebted to a nine-year-old with nothing more than a "Thanks, man", as Buddy is. I remember being fourteen, guys; when you're fifty, a nine-year-old and a fourteen-year-old probably don't seem all that different, but nine-year-olds are like infants when you're fourteen yourself. Sure, Buddy the Individual could be totally cool with treating nine-year-olds like equals, but Buddy the Only Young Prominent Young Teenager in the Series Who Just So Happens to Think of Nine-Year-Olds as Equals is a bit unrealistic.

But the YuBuy nonsense definitely overshadows that. It's just not at all realistic to solve the mystery this way, and it leads to a super weird ending in which the kids participate in the online setup of a sting operation... and then the final arrest is entirely off-screen, the criminal is revealed to be a completely unknown character who gets no pagetime whatsoever, and the story returns to the baseball game as if nothing ever happens. It is really weird, to say the least.

I have to say that of all the A to Z Mysteries books, I think The Unwilling Umpire is the weakest by far. I love the series do death so I still recommend reading it in its entirety, but... I don't know, this one's kind of dumb. Eh.