Sweet Valley Twins #81: Robbery at the Mall by Jamie Suzanne

Sweet Valley Twins #81: Robbery At The Mall

Sweet Valley Twins #81: Robbery at the Mall by Jamie Suzanne

Sweet Valley Twins #81: Robbery at the Mall by Jamie Suzanne

Title: Robbery at the Mall

Tagline: Shopping can be dangerous…

Summary: Elizabeth Wakefield and her friend Maria Slater are filming at the Valley Mall with Maria’s new video camera when a jewelry shop is robbed right in front of their eyes! Elizabeth can’t believe the criminal escaped in broad daylight through the crowded mall. She and Maria decide it’s time to start investigating.

Soon after, both the stereo store and the camera store are robbed. Elizabeth is desperate to crack the case. If only there were a clue… Then Maria’s house is robbed and her entire collection of video tapes is stolen. Why would anyone want Maria’s home movies? Finally Elizabeth thinks she has her clue.

Have she and Maria held the key to the mall mystery all along?

Initial Thoughts:

Ooooh, exciting! Some sixth graders are at the mall, and a robbery occurs.

In all seriousness, is sounds like a decent Plucky Girl Detective romp, and has gotta beat stuff like, I dunno, Ithig or Jonny Buck’s flying limousine.

Also, PINKEST COVER EVER! A pink cover showcasing two girls dressed in pink, outside a jewellers which has an odd essence of pink without being actually pink at all.

Finally, hello! You’re right, it HAS been a while.

[Dove: Maria looks like she’s about to twat Liz with that camera. I hope she does.]

[Wing: They are dressed far too much alike for me.]

[Raven: Also, apologies for the weird formatting. It’ll be back to normal asap!]

Recap:

It’s Friday afternoon, and Elizabeth fucking Wakefield is visiting her friend Maria. Liz is letting her hair down and getting her freak on by reading the latest Amanda Howard mystery, while Maria – famous child actor Maria – is fishing for advice on how to operate her new video camera.

Apparently, Maria – famous child actor Maria – is so dense about video cameras that she doesn’t know what a viewfinder is. Or a lens cap.

Aside:

We are ten lines into the book, and already I hate it.

Why the hell have MARIA – the FAMOUS CHILD ACTOR MARIA – be the one to hold this particular idiot ball? Literally ANY OTHER CHARACTER in the series would be a better choice.

I’m not suggesting that she should be an expert, but having grown up in front of a damn camera, she’d at least know which was the business end of the thing.

Ludicrous.

End aside.

[Dove: This is why I loathed the book from beginning to end. Oh, spoilers. I didn’t like this one.] [Wing: More spoilers: I hate it. Every. single. bit. of. it.]

We learn that Maria, in an effort to cement a backup career now she’s no longer TV-grade-adorable, has offered to film a Booster Squad performance at the mall the following day, being held in celebration of the opening of the next Food Court.

Well, grease my arse and shove me sideways. That sounds RIVETING. A sixth-grade cheer squad vamping over a bucket of nuggets. Sweet Valley won’t know what’s hit ‘em.

As Elizabeth bestows her boundless wisdom on filmmaking and camera technique on a sponge-like Maria, we learn that Liz, in her capacity of Grand Spackled Shit Biscuit [Wing: One of Raven’s delightful descriptions. Aaaah, it’s been so long.] of the Sweet Valley Sixers, is gearing up to reviewing every vendor at the new Food Court. Cute, but a bit pretentious… I can see her doling out a Wakefieldian version of the Michelin stars for some reheated processed Kung Po Chicken.

And talking of food, we cut to the Wakefield Compound later that evening. It’s dinner time.

Predictably, Elizabeth has her nose buried in the new Amanda Howard mystery. This causes much mirth from Steven, along with some oddly prophetic utterances:

“Oh, geez,” Elizabeth’s fourteen-year-old brother, Steven, complained. “I guess this means she’s going to start snooping around again, trying to sniff out some non-existent mystery. ‘Who took my gym socks?’” he said in a falsetto voice. “What clues did they leave? Oh, here’s the scent of the trail!”

Jessica laughs, and we go into the usual same-but-different gubbins.

GO GO CHOCOLATE METAPHOR!

Jessica is a…

Flake!

Flake

Elizabeth and her friends are…

Smarties

Smarties

And of course, Steven often dreams of his sisters treating him to a…

Double Decker

Double Decker

The Elder Wakefields try to shush him, but a laughing Jess doubles down. Elizabeth loves to sleuth. Either way. Conversation soon turns to the…

Boost

Boost

…ers, and this mall performance the next day. As you’d expect, the Unigibbons are pulling out all the stops. New routine, fancy t-shirts, and Jessica’s shit-hot pyramid jump.

They’re planning on using Maria’s videotape as an audition tool. Pretty sure Maria’s going to…

Fudge

Fudge

… that.

[Dove: *blinks* That’s how you tackled the “same but different” thing? You’re right, it’s different.] [Raven: Hey, I gotta be me.] [Wing: … I really want a candy bar now.]

Chapter two!

And we’re at the mall. As the Elders park, Steven fucks off to meet his friends, Jessica fucks off to meet the Boosters, and Elizabeth fucks off to meet Maria.

As Elizabeth checks out Maria’s camera one final time, Maria gestures to the cacophony surrounding them. The Valley Mall Food Court is opening with a grand shebang. Clowns are giving out balloons, presumably without “I Heart Derry” written on them, [Wing: Now that’s a crossover I would pay good money to see.] photo booths with famous cutouts, free samples, maps, the whole nine yards.

Elizabeth notes down the various restaurants:

“Restaurants: Taco Shack, Mexican food; Ding How’s, Chinese; Spuds ‘n’ Stuffin’, potatoes; Figaro’s Pizza, pizza; Smootharama, fruit smoothies and frozen yogurt; Chicken Lickin’, fried chicken; and the Dog House, hot dogs.”

Standard Food Court fare. Will any of these new haunts knock the heralded Casey’s Place or Dairi Burger off the top spot? I doubt it. Continuity isn’t exactly paramount in these books, after all.

Eventually, the Boosters begin preparing for their routine, and Maria springs into action like a coiled cobra! The budding Scorceses haul themselves out front of the Precious Stones jewellery store – THIS MAY BE IMPORTANT – and begin filming the Boosters.

The Boosters are all wearing matching t-shirts that read The Valley Mall: An International Dining Experience. That’s not pretentious at all… love it.

As she starts the camera, Maria is interrupted by a security guard, who brandishes a baton at her and asks her to move away. Elizabeth isn’t convinced that they need to move, but Maria shuffles away obediently. After all, it’s ‘Murica, and she’s black, and he’s a (mall) cop. That only ends badly if she resists.

Bouncy music fills the air. Maria films, Liz notates, and the Boosters boost.

As the crowd lap it up, the Boosters spew out the most asinine bilge I’ve ever heard.

“Tacos, pizza, chicken!
Eggrolls, hot dogs, spuds!
Smoothies are so finger-lickin’,
Come on and bring your buds!
To the Valley Mall! Valley Mall! Valley Mall food court!
An in-ter-na-tional dining extravaganza!

You’d think the worst part of the above would be the terrible ending. Or maybe rhyming “spuds” with “buds.” But no. The worst part is the line “Smoothies are so finger-lickin’.”

How the hell are smoothies “finger-lickin’”…? You don’t eat them with your fucking fingers! [Dove: I bet Steven would.] [Wing: That fourth line really should read “Come on in and bring your buds!” in order to have the right rhythm.] [Raven: “Come and bring your buds!” also works, for lines B and D.]

And we’ve ESTABLISHED that it’s the CHICKEN that’s finger-lickin’, because the word “lickin’” is in the name of the fucking chicken shop. In fact, other than spuds, EVERY OTHER represented food group is eaten with the fingers, and thus could be described as finger-lickin’. [Wing: Hey now, even some spuds can be eaten with the fingers.]

I appreciate that the need to rhyme Chicken with Lickin’ in lines one and three is tangible, but what’s wrong with any of the following:

Tacos, smoothies, chicken!
Eggrolls, hot dogs, spuds!
Pizzas are so finger-lickin’,
Come on and bring your buds!

Tacos, pizza, chicken!
Smoothies, hot dogs, spuds!
Eggrolls are so finger-lickin’,
Come on and bring your buds!

Tacos, pizza, chicken!
Eggrolls, smoothies, spuds!
Hot dogs are so finger-lickin’,
Come on and bring your buds!

Smoothies, pizza, chicken!
Eggrolls, hot dogs, spuds!
Tacos are so finger-lickin’,
Come on and bring your buds!

Aside:

Okay, it’s not inconceivable that smoothies was chosen precisely BECAUSE it was shit. In that case, I doff my cap.

But I doubt it.

End aside.

To be fair, the listening tweens all agree that the chant is hot sweaty monkey balls. The nearby Veronica Brooks – the absolute cunt from Jessica the Thief amongst others – slags it off, much to her chum Caroline Pearce’s delight. Since when has Caroline been pally with this waste of fictional skin? [Wing: Looking for gossip? Though I am surprised she doesn’t turn up more often this book. There are plenty of things that could spark off vivid and incorrect gossip.]

The Boosters build to a pyramid-shaped crescendo, with Jessica leaping atop the purple throng, when… bedlam.

Suddenly there was the crashing sound of breaking glass, followed immediately by a piercing alarm. The Boosters, startled, all turned around to see what had happened.

“Ohhh!” Ellen cried, as Janet started to wobble beneath her. Within a split second, the two layers of the pyramid had collapsed to the floor in a heap.

“Aiiieee!” Jessica screamed as she found herself flying through empty air. She bounced against Winston’s shoulder and knocked him down, then tumbled to the floor herself.

At the sound of the shattering glass, Elizabeth spins round to clock the issue. Sure enough, Precious Stones has been burglarised. Watches, rings, necklaces, all gone. The security guard springs into action, clearing people out as his backup arrives. Sure enough, three police officers who arrive, and, instead of arresting Maria, they radio for more backup and run the old “seal all exits” cliché.

As Jessica, Liz and Maria chatter inanely – “I mean, what kind of lamebrain thief would rob a jewelry store right in the middle of a Boosters performance? We hadn’t even finished the pyramid yet.” – the police start asking questions. We learn that nobody really saw anything, but – AND THIS IS IMPORTANT – Maria span around while filming the Boosters when she heard the sound of breaking glass.

[Wing: I love him.]

The police leave their contact details, and then fuck off.

The chapter ends with the girls chattering excitedly about the robbery, with Elizabeth vowing to get to the bottom of it. Attagirl, Liz. Kick ass, take names.

Next morning, after Liz harvests the morning paper from the paperboy Ricky Hammaker (this melon needs a surname, does he?), she checks the news on the robbery.

“Ah!” Her eyes caught the headline: “Robbery at Valley Mall Has Local Police Stumped.”

[Dove: Quick question, has any crime not stumped the Sweet Valley police?]

Engrossed in her notes, Liz lets slip to The Sainted Alice that she’s engrossed in the case, before corrected herself with a very Jess-like white lie…

“I’m working on this case,” Elizabeth said without thinking. Then she jerked her head up. “Uh, I mean, I wanted to set my place. At the table. You know.”

Surprisingly, this doesn’t work. Alice, it seems, is gin-soaked-stupor-free for once.

Alice immediately forbids her studious offspring from meddling in the investigation. She cites precedence from previous misadventure, in which Liz solved the case of a phony Charm School. Liz had solved the mystery that time, but it did lead to the death of the third Wakefield triplet, Tracy. (Note: this is not true.) [Dove: Of course. Their triplet is named Jennifer.] [Wing: It was at this point that I realised I had completely skipped The Charm School Mystery, so, uh, sorry about that.]

Liz remains indignant, and determined to meddle. The police are stumped, at least according to the papers. And who knows, maybe the owners of the Precious Stones jewelry store will offer a…

Bounty

Bounty

… for a successful arrest of the culprit.

Next morning, Elizabeth’s grumpy mood continues. In fact, it seems to have rubbed off on her siblings. This is not to be confused with Steven rubbing off on his siblings, which is an entirely different kettle of fish.

The Elder Wakefields, in a brief stab of actual humour, decree that their offspring are being Bellends of the Most High Order. Both down their breakfast tools, and fuck off to an iHop. The Wakefield kids are to fend for themselves.

I’ll give it twenty minutes before the house looks like this:

Alice and Ned begin to regret their cocaine binge.

Alice and Ned begin to regret their cocaine binge.

At the very least, Steven will have eaten the contents of the fridge, the actual fridge, and everything in the house the same colour as the fridge.

The phone goes. It’s the police!

“Hello?” Steven had reached the phone first. “Who? Elizabeth Wakefield? Yeah, I guess so, Officer. But why do you want to talk to her?”

Elizabeth is excited, but it’s all a sham. It’s actually Amy calling, and Steven is merely twatting about. The girls agree to a bike ride.

We snap-cut to Jessica and Lila, mouthing off at each other across a booth at Casey’s Place while the other Unicorns look on. Jessica is annoyed that some of the Boosters lost their concentration during their robbery-punctuated routine at the mall the previous day. She’s the capstone of the human pyramid, after all, and one false move could mean her death. At least, that’s what Dramatic Jess believes. [Dove: Uh, watching the commentary for Bring It On and reading the comments on TV tropes has taught me that yes, that’s actually true, and any cheerleading team should have an adult present at all time and x amount of spotters to catch them if they fall. Instead of just letting a twelve year old tumble off a pyramid onto the hard floor of the mall.] [Raven: I remember a Pen & Teller Bullshit episode on Cheerleading, I think. It’s proper dangerous, with multiple deaths and life-changing injuries each year.] [Wing: It is truly dangerous. What’s terrible is that it’s only been recently that it was considered an official sport subject to strict sports regulations about safety, which means for years they were doing dangerous stunts and treated as a non-sport that carried very little threat to participants.]

Lila, however, is of the opinion that the routine took a back seat to the hottest…

Topic

Topic

… of conversation: the robbery. And to be fair, she’s got a point. Stolen jewels trumps people in triangles all day long. [Dove: Lila is being obtuse. Geddit? I’m sorry. I’m ashamed of myself for punning.] [Raven: Never mind, you’re still a cutey to me.]

The back and forth badinage culminates in a rather solid sub plot. Lila lays down the gauntlet…

Lila smacked her spoon down on the table. “The contest begins now. We’ll find out who’s a better Booster—you or me.”

Aside:

Oooh, exciting!

Genuinely looking forward to this.

End aside.

Jessica eventually accepts the challenge, to be judged and devised by the Unicollective. Janet supplies the forfeit for the loser…

“I have an idea,” Janet said. “You know how we’re supposed to dress up in fancy costumes to promote the food court at the black-tie party next Saturday night?”

“Yeah, so?” Jessica asked.

“Mrs. Richter, the lady who hired us, says we’ll each wear a different costume at the party to represent the different restaurants. Well, whoever wins this contest, Jessica or Lila, gets to have first pick of costume, and the loser takes the last one.”

Calling it now… Lila’s going to be dressed as a hot dog.

We skip to the cycling Liz and Amy, only to find that Liz had dragged Amy from her home under false pretences. She didn’t want to go cycling… she wanted to go INVESTIGATING. And the first stop on this runaway train? Sharing her copious notes with everyone’s favourite lank-haired spunkwaffle.

Despite initial misgivings, Amy soon blazes in fully cocked.

Elizabeth’s notes have the following nuggets of import:

  • Why didn’t the security guard see anything? Jesus, calm down Karen, no need to speak to the manager.
  • Jessica had seen nothing. Liz’s notes from Jess are just moans and groans about the failed Booster pyramid.
  • Steven and his girlfriend (the delightful Cathy Connors) were of no use as they were snogging behind a yukka.

They briefly discuss Maria’s video of the event, before turning back to the robbery. Amy teases her friend with talk of Christina Davenport, the heroine of Elizabeth’s favourite Amanda Howard mysteries.

To her credit, Elizabeth does feel that something is amiss. She points out that the fact that while the police did seal the exits, they didn’t catch anyone trying to leave. Will that be a vital clue?

ONLY TIME WILL TELL.

Only Time Will Tell...

Only Time Will Tell…

It’s soon time for Maria’s grand unveiling. As usual, the host for such a prestigious event is everyone’s favourite poor little rich girl, Lila Fowler.

Before we get to the main event, there’s a tiny throwaway line to cover Round One of the The Great US Boost Off. Apparently, offscreen, Lila beat Jessica in a high jump contest.

If this sub-plot happens Stage Left, I’m gonna flip fucking tables.

Maria, it seems, is proud of her video, despite having never watched it. Maria – famous child actor Maria – apparently doesn’t think that a dollop of editing would improve the obvious fucking perfection she captured at the mall. Indeed, she doesn’t even think a cautious previewing of the footage would have any use, despite having known the bitchy purple narwhals for long enough to appreciate the high price of failure. [Dove: You know when Ellen gets to the stables, she turns from a charmingly clueless idiot to a shrill screaming harpy? Apparently being around a camera turns Maria from a thoughtful, intelligent girl to a wall-licking moron. She must have been a delight to direct when she was a kid if it afflicted her back then. We should name this phenomenon. Maybe The McGuffin Effect?] [Raven: Nice. Could be a tag. Could even apply to Liz in this book, who goes looking for mysteries every time she reads an Amanda Howard book.] [Wing: Except Liz always gets to be successful in the end, unlike everyone else dealing with The McGuffin Effect.]

The video, is, of course, a fucking DISASTER.

Literally everything that could go wrong, DID go wrong. Focussing was off, as was framing. A large portion of the video showed nothing but Liz’s sneakers. When the Boosters WERE on screen, they were ON SCREEN, due to a mammoth close-up of Janet’s bepimpled face

Janet Howell

Janet Howell

The saddest part? After a five-minute focus on Maria’s nose, the video actually showed a brief glimpse of hope as it frames the Boosters for one burst of joy.

Everyone watching the TV cheered and clapped.

“Go, Boosters!” Kimberly said, punching the air.

“Finally!” Jessica said.

The, back to atrocious banality, before there’s a crash, and a tiny shot of Jessica tumbling off the pyramid in the ensuing bedlam.

Maria heard Lila snickering in the darkness.

Poor Maria… her film is appalling, and now she must bear the…

Snickers

Snickers

… of her friends.

Maria is understandably mortified, and the Unicorns pile in with both feet. A few make bizarre placatory statements – comparing Maria to visionaries like Fellini – before Maria takes her video and departs in a hurry. To be honest, she was so shit at shooting video footage I’m astounded she knows how to eject video cassettes.

On the way home, Elizabeth attempts a motivational speech, something twee about not stopping believing or something. Maria ignores her.

Never Give Up! Never Surrender!

Never Give Up! Never Surrender!

The chapter ends with Round Two of The Great US Boost Off. This time, it’s balance, and the plucky competitors teetering on a ten-foot length of Fowler Estate’s perimeter fencing.

Lila manages the walk with ease. As Jessica attempts it, her concentration is broken by Lila squawking like a chicken.

Seriously, Lila? Weaksauce. Win by being badass, not by cheating.

“Lila, two; Jessica, zero,” Lila said triumphantly.

Aside:

Maybe Jessica’s gonna be the Hot Dog…

Loving it.

End Aside.

Next, we’re in the office of the Sweet Valley Sixers, where the paper’s staff are discussing the upcoming edition. Naturally, Elizabeth is front and centre. She’s writing about the robbery, the Boosters, and the food court reviews.

Again, talk turns to the robbery, before we get a rather charming fluff scene in which Amy, Julie and Liz go through some tangible processes regarding the paper’s creation while listening to the radio. They discuss Bruce Patman’s submitted review of his new tennis racket. What the FUCK, Bruce?

“We’re interrupting this program to bring you news of the latest theft at the Valley Mall,” the radio newscaster suddenly announced.

Heads jerked up all over the newsroom, and Elizabeth stared at Amy in shock. Julie ran over to turn up the radio.

“A little more than an hour ago,” the radio announcer said, “another store at the Valley Mall was robbed. Hello Again, a store that sells greeting cards, party decorations, and porcelain figurines, reported that their cash register was forced open and all their cash taken. Also stolen were some of their more expensive figurines and some costume jewelry. The theft occurred while the one salesperson ducked into the storeroom for a moment, she said.”

OH NOES! It’s no longer a robbery. It’s a motherfucking CRIME SPREE!

Elizabeth is LOVING IT. Seriously, ladyjizz everywhere.

The report continues in the usual fashion. There were no witnesses, so the reporter moved on to interview the security guard, Leonard MacDuff.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Mr. MacDuff growled. “I had just walked by there on my regular rounds, and I didn’t see or hear anything unusual. It must be some kind of inside job.”

Elizabeth snorted. “Didn’t see or hear anything! What kind of guard is he? He was right by Precious Stones when it got robbed, and he didn’t see anything then, either.”

“Maybe it is an inside job,” Amy speculated.

Eye-rolling here. Full-on Karen from both Liz and Amy. They’re gonna get this obvious misdirection sacked if they’re not careful.

Todd Wilkins, Elizabeth’s fairytickler, enters. He invites Liz to the mall that afternoon. Liz jumps at the chance, both to be with Todd and to investigate the robberies further. She persuades a reluctant Amy, and by proxy Maria, to join them.

Before we get to the mall, however, there’s the matter of The Great US Boost Off, Round Three! The task at hand? Seeing how many grapes each combatant can fit into her mouth. Devised by Mandy Miller, ostensibly because “somehow, with Jessica and Lila, it just seemed to make sense.”

Aside:

Round 1 was jumping high. That’s fair, for the cheerleading Boosters.

Round 2 was balance. Again, fair for the cheerleading Boosters.

Round 3? Grapes in the gob. What the FUCK, Mandy? [Wing: To be fair, Mandy’s fucking with them. But also, cheerleaders need to be loud, which could be called big mouthed, so … it’s a stretch.]

At least Jessica’s likely to have an advantage, after all her ‘capacity training’ with Steven late at night.

Loving the sub plot.

End aside.

To be fair, Kimberley Haver does point out the obvious…

“This is kind of dumb, if you ask me,” Kimberly Haver said with a sniff. “What do grapes have to do with being a good Booster?”

“Nothing,” Winston said. “But you can get Lila and Jessica to compete over anything.”

[Dove: Loving a sassy Winston though. That sounds like a euphemism.]

Lila stretches herself to thirteen. Jessica tops it at fourteen.

Lila equalises at fourteen. Jessica tops it at fifteen.

We are at breaking point.

Lila looked outraged. Her eyes bugged out and her hands clenched on the tabletop. Suddenly she leaned forward and opened her mouth.

“Aiiieee!” someone in the crowd cried.

“Ewwwwwww,” Tamara said, looking away.

“Whoa,” Ken Matthews said, staring in horrified fascination.

A flood of partially crushed green grapes spilled out of Lila’s mouth onto her lunch tray.

Jessica struggles to swallow the grapey goodness, but manages to forge it down with a grim smile.

Lila 2, Jessica 1.

Don’t call it a comeback.

We cut to Smoothierama, where the Sweet Valley Smarties Liz, Amy, Maria and Todd are slurping down some smoothie goodness. Todd in particular is guzzling like a champion. He contemplates ordering a second, like a Greedy Greederson, proving that Liz has actually fallen in love with a slightly less threatening version of her brother.

Liz then scans the mall and makes fatuous notes, trying to jolly Maria and Amy along for the ride. Finally, they drop the bombshell. They want no part of Elizabeth’s shenanigans, as the last time she pulled this shit it all kicked off big style. Despite some rather lukewarm cajoling, Amy and Maria stick to their guns. Elizabeth doesn’t like it, but she has to go along with it. [Dove: Good for them. I kind of love them right now.]

Once Amy and Maria beat a coward’s retreat, Todd treats his beau to a trip to… Sound Trek! He buys a new pair of headphones, that apparently have volume controls on each side. I guess I’m no audiophile, as I had no idea that was actually a thing, but a quick Google shows me that it is.

During the trip and transaction, Liz keeps checking out the mall and its inhabitants. All looks shiny and chrome, until the Sound Trek Sales Clerk shows up. Elizabeth’s first thoughts when she sees him?

That guy’s kind of funny-looking.

Get to FUCK, Liz, and take the goddamn ghostie with you.

Oh look, it’s an ugly person, is it? He must be in cahoots with the bad guys. What is this, Scooby fucking Doo? [Dove: Or Famous Five. While most of the bad guys are “foreign”, they’re always ugly. And their smiles “never reach their eyes”.]

Apparently, this ugly fella also has a long pink scar on his hand. So that’s him being the culprit, then.  WEAK.

We skip with glee to the next chapter, and The Great US Boost Off Round 4. This is at the Wakefield Compound, and has Lila and Jessica battling to do as many lengths of the swimming pool in five minutes. Again, rather an odd measure of a cheerleader’s aptitude to Boost, but better than eating grapes. [Dove: Stamina, maybe?]

Steven  times the contest, which is won handily by Lila with 27 laps in five minutes. Jessica’s score is lost to history.

Jessica, of course, claims her loss was down to Lila’s new racer swimsuit, or cramp, or whatever nonsense springs to mind at the spur of the moment. Lila claps back appropriately, and the Unicorns depart leaving our heroine floundering in the pool. In a sweet exchange, Jessica insists she’s too feeble to exit the pool with grace and elan (not to be confused with exiting the pool with Grace and Ellen), and pleads with Steven for some brotherly aid. He feels sorry for her, and pilots her like a masculine tugboat.

Steven splashed into the water, then swam over to Jessica. “Hold on to my shoulders,” he instructed. She gave him a tiny waterlogged smile and transferred her grip from the bricks.

He swam slowly back to the steps, pretending he was a shark with a barnacle stuck to his back.

Lovely. [Wing: Him pretending to be a shark was surprisingly charming. Okay, Steven, I liked you for one moment. One.]

After dinner, a call from Todd interrupts Elizabeth’s fervent masturbatory food review with news of YET ANOTHER robbery at the mall.

One robbery is a, well, a robbery.

TWO robberies make a Crime Spree.

THREE robberies? Motherfucking EPIDEMIC.

Ten minutes later, Liz is at the mall to meet Todd and the miniscule Ken. Apparently, while the lads played in the video arcade – I reckon they’d be smashing Street Fighter – the dual-controlled headphone purveyors Sound Trek had been burglarised.

Liz takes notes.

“I was whipping Todd at Spacefighter,” Ken said helpfully. “Write that down.”

“Yeah, Ken was cheating at Spacefighter, and then all of a sudden we noticed cops running by. We followed them and saw they were swarming all over the electronics store. Then someone in the crowd said that it had been robbed. So I ran and called you.”

What the blue fuck is Spacefighter?

Apparently, there’s a Space Fighter, a 1978 Space Invaders clone by Sega. Pretty sure it’s not that. I guess it’s just another “we can’t mention actual existing things for fear of litigation” crap. Poor.

The Intrepid Three make their way to Sound Trek, which streams with cops. They push past a clown – a RECURRING clown [Wing: Where are those Derry balloons again?] – and a person dressed as a chicken, to get a better vantage point to eavesdrop on a policeman interviewing the grumpy security guard, one Mr MacDuff.

Again, Elizabeth’s privilege shines through.

Elizabeth instantly recognized Mr. MacDuff, the grumpy security guard. No wonder he’s so mean, Elizabeth thought. Three stores have been robbed, and he’s supposed to be guarding them!

MacDuff tells the cops that he’d been called into work to cover for an ill colleague, Joe Winston. Is that name important? Who knows!

Elizabeth then hits what’s probably Peak Elizabeth in this book… she APPROACHES A POLICEMAN and DEMANDS TO SEE THE CASE FILES OF THE ROBBERIES.

I mean, what the hell?

When the policeman politely tells her to fuck right off, she tries to convince him that, as a reporter for the Sweet Valley Sixers, she can access the files in an official capacity.

Thankfully, the cop tells her, once again, to get to fuck.

Aside:

Of course, I actually like this section. Elizabeth being this ridiculous is by design.

Nice work, ghostie!

End aside.

One development worth noting: Elizabeth casually mentions to the policeman that her lovely friend Maria has a video recording of the action from the FIRST robbery at Precious Stones. She also gives the policeman Maria’s address, and her own, in case they need to get in contact.

As Todd and Liz exit the scene through the burgeoning crowd, they bump into the man the chicken suit… and it transpires he’s a slightly familiar (ugly) face. He’s the scar-handed man that works – or worked – at Sound Trek!

Chicken Guy’s last day at Sound Trek was today, apparently. He clocked off at five pm, and started his new, higher-paid job immediately. At Chicken Lickin’. As a mascot. I’m not looking to piss on anyone’s chips here, but man, Sound Trek need to rethink their payment structure if they can get employees poached by a company that pays people to dress as poultry.

The obvious culprit – ahem, I mean, Chicken Guy – spreads some gossip about the robbery. Apparently, the robber forced the clerk into the closet at gunpoint. Maybe that’s what happened to Tom Cruise.

Eventually he leaves, Ken cracks a shit joke about hot dogs and cat burglars, and scene.

Back at school on Wednesday morning, and the Sweet Valley Sixers discuss their next issue. Elizabeth has nixed the story on the mall robbery, as it’s not yet reached a fitting conclusion. So instead, the team discuss the restaurant reviews.

We learn that Julie is a whizz with desktop publishing software. Yay Julie. And we also learn that JULIE INVENTED THE FACEBOOK LIKE.

“That’s a great idea!” Elizabeth said enthusiastically. “What symbol should we choose?”

“Let me see what the computer has already.”

Julie called up a menu on her screen. “This one is perfect,” she said, pointing to the screen. The symbol was a small fist with its thumb sticking up.

Oh, Julie. If only you’d copyrighted that, you’d be a Quillionaire. [Dove: It’s my personal theory that since discovering Julie’s knack for tech, The Sixers looks like a Geocities website circa 1999. Or the front covers of this series from book #109 onwards.]

The Taco Shack review contains this line:

‘The Valley Mall has long ignored our neighbors south of the border in its restaurant offerings, and this reporter, for one, is glad that Latino cuisine is finally being represented.’

And the Taco Shack gets 2.5 thumbs up. Beaten by both the Dog House (3) and Smootharama (4).

Bit racist.

Yay! It’s now back to The Great US Boost Off, Round 5. This time, we see Lila and Jessica hanging upside down from their knees on the playground monkey bars. The Unicorns, usually too cool for school, stand by and watch. Whoever cracks and topples first loses the round.

The hanging proceeds apace, replete with withering banter and a small cameo from Elizabeth. Long story short, Lila topples off the bars a scootch after fourteen minutes and thirty seconds. Jessica punches the air in triumph. Lila 3, Jessica 2. The gap is closing!

Lila is fuming. She offers resolution to the whole debacle. If Lila wins the next event, it’s all over. If Jessica wins, it’s down to a tiebreak. She also adds a sweetener…

“So let’s make the prize a little sweeter. The winner of the best-Booster contest not only gets first pick at our costumes on Saturday but from now on also gets to be on top of the Booster pyramid.”

Oooh, nice work, Lila. Hitting Jessica right where it hurts! And if I’m honest, I’m surprised Lila hasn’t demanded she be Queen of the Pyramid before.

Jessica tries to deflect, but in the end she’s cajoled into agreeing. The next round – and possibly final round – is tomorrow.

Now we’re cooking! Loving the sub plot here.

After school, Elizabeth and Maria head back to the latter’s house, under Elizabeth’s unspoken pretext to request Maria make a video of all the mall’s exits, which is so ridiculous I think I love it. Elizabeth is SO ludicrous in this book.

As they approach Maria’s house, they sense something is wrong. Maria’s front door is not a door… it’s ajar. [Wing: NOPE.]

Sure enough, Maria has been burgled.

For some reason, after that revelation, we snap cut to apres-scran at the Wakefield Compound, with Maria discussing the robbery over the phone with a dismayed Elizabeth.

As you’ve no doubt guessed, it appears that nothing of value has been taken. In fact, the only thing missing is the family’s collection of videotapes. Maria phrases it thusly.

“Isn’t that weird? I mean, what kind of thief breaks into a house and steals their copies of Gone With the Wind and Roots and The Sound of Music?”

The ghostie misses an obvious trick here. [Wing: … movie about white people and black slaves, movie about black slaves and black people who aren’t slaves, movie about a singing Maria. Not sure they missed the trick at all, but those were certainly some choices.] [Raven: *blinks* My god, I legitimately missed this. Just wow.]

If the only thing missing from Maria’s house – Famous Child Actor Maria – was their collection of videotapes, there DEFINITELY should be some sadness from the family. They would for SURE have video copies of all of Maria’s performances through her earlier years, meaning that collection would have some pretty powerful sentimental value. But no. Wasted opportunity. [Wing: Ooh, yeah, that’s fair.]

That night, Jessica and Elizabeth chatter inanely after lights out. Liz is obsessed with the crime epidemic, naturally, while Jessica witters on about the Great US Boost Off. AS the conversation grinds through the motions, Elizabeth tells Jessica that she’s struggling to find a common pattern at all the robberies. Jessica, with the forensic criminal mind we know and love, spots the pattern immediately.

“You have a pattern here,” Jessica crowed. “It’s right here in black and white. Or at least, blue and white. I can’t believe you, with all your Amanda Howard mysteries, didn’t spot this immediately, while I, who don’t even like mysteries, took one look and—”

“Jessica, just tell me what you saw!”

“Don’t you see the one name that keeps coming up in all your notes? Mr. MacDuff! It’s MacDuff, MacDuff, MacDuff, all over the place.

So there we have it. Accusation number one, pointing the finger at the obvious Red Herring. The grumpy security guard.

And once Jessica has put two and two together and equalled seventeen, Elizabeth doubles down.

“Oh, my gosh, Jess,” Elizabeth said again, a horrified expression on her face. “I think I know why Maria’s house got robbed. And I think it was my fault!”

Of course. MacDuff was in the crowd when Elizabeth gave the police her and Maria’s addresses.

(NOTE: SO WAS THE FUCKING CHICKEN, OBV.)

Aside:

I’m actually liking this book. Even if I’m being scathing. I realise that the mystery is pitched for tweens, and if I’m fair, it’s not a bad yarn. I just think I’ve hit upon the solution rather early.

Maybe I’ll be proved wrong.

I really hope the culprit is actually Tony Rizzo. If THAT happened, I’d laugh my fucking spleen out.

End aside.

Next morning, like a proper little wrongun, Elizabeth dashes to Maria’s house for SEVEN am. [Dove: I would cut someone for turning up at my house unannounced at 7am.] [Raven: You’d cut ME for talking to you before 7am.] [Wing: You’d cut someone for turning up at your house unannounced, end of sentence.]

Elizabeth asks Maria the Big Question (not that one) – did the thieves take Maria’s videotape of the Boosters performance / Precious Stones robbery?

Happily for the plot, they did NOT take that one. Maria had luzzed it into her dank and mysterious closet in a fit of auteurial pique.

Before they look for it, and hopefully crack the case, Elizabeth apologises to her friend for leading the crooks to her door. To her credit, she doesn’t outright accuse the security guard of being the culprit; instead, she hedges her bets and says ANYONE could have overheard her pass Maria’s details onto the police.

Aside:

As if the police didn’t have the Slater’s address on record already. Only black family in the neighbourhood, they’d be top of a number of SVPD lists for sure. Fuck tha police, y0.

End aside.

Under a pile of discarded wanksocks, they eventually find it! And with no time to watch it before school, they decide to do the only prudent thing: they bury it under a tree.

Of COURSE they do. [Dove: Wait. What? I know I read this, but I have no recollection of it. That’s probably the dimmest plan ever. Unless it gets dug up several generations down the line like in Buried Treasure.] [Wing: Burying is a bit of an exaggeration, they hide it in a fork in the tree, so up in the branches.] [Raven: Ah, I thought it was buried amongst the roots.]

Before we head to the after-school video-viewing, there’s the little matter of the Great US Boost Off, Round 6!

This time, it’s a battle of the bikes, in which Jessica and Lila face off on a bike course involving obstacles, muddy puddles and a ramp.

For some reason, I’m reminded of Junior Kickstart.

Jessica careers round the course with aplomb. Apparently, Steven helped her switch tyres on her bike to off-road specials. HE’s actually been a decent brother in this book, even with the odd bout of trolling now and then. Up ramp, down slope, through puddle and brook, nothing seems to phase her. Eventually, she sticks the landing.

“All right!” she yelled. “Jessica Wakefield is through and clean! A perfect round! The crowd cheers!”

While the applause wasn’t unanimous, there was definitely an appreciative…

Ripple

Ripple

Lila takes up her position, looking to outshine our pretty little psychopath. Unfortunately for her, things don’t quite go to plan. If her performance was a fraction, it’d be arse over tit.

“Lila, watch out!” Janet yelled.

Finally, with a strangled yelp, Lila lost the balance battle and fell sideways with a loud plop—right into the puddle. She blinked in horror, sitting practically waist-deep in a sopping wet puddle of yucky, oozy mud.

“Lila,” Jessica said sweetly, trying not to laugh, “you look so great in brown.”

“You’ll pay for this, Jessica,” Lila snarled, whipping off her goggles.

Lila 3, Jessica 3. Tiebreaker: 4pm tomorrow, at the mall! SO EXCITING!

After school, we have a glimpse of Elizabeth’s review of the Dog House as she, Amy and Maria head back to watch the robbery video. Maria is still embarrassed about the quality, but they power through all ten minutes.

Clues? Zero.

They watch it again. Still nothing.

Third time’s the charm in fiction, as we all know, so once more with feeling… this time, at the crucial moment, Elizabeth switches the image to slow motion.

I don’t know about you, but when I was eleven, my family’s video player didn’t have a slow motion setting. Sure, it had a pause function that you could step on frame by frame, but that was barely fit for purpose. And by “purpose”, I obviously mean “for pausing the video to capture fleeting nipple slips”. [Dove: Mine had a noise cancel button, which would move the pause lines off screen… after about 17 minutes of gently tapping it to precisely the right place. And yes, every time I paused it, I did have to move the noise lines, because even as a kid I had neatness issues about all the wrong things.]

Through this mythical slow motion function, the girls establish security guard MacDuff’s presence at the scene. Which is good, especially considering Elizabeth’s prejudice, but it’s hardly conclusive.

Then, the money shot.

“Oh!” she gasped. “Did you see that?” She grabbed the remote and rewound the tape a few seconds. “Did you see what I saw?”

“I’m not sure,” Maria said. “I think I saw something…”

“It was a hand,” Amy breathed. “Wasn’t it?”

Elizabeth hit the “play” button, and the tape began to play in slow motion again. This time, all three girls saw it. At the very bottom of the screen, small and out of focus, a hand was pulling a gold watch out of the corner of Precious Stones’ broken window.

“Wow!” Elizabeth jumped up and punched the air. “A clue! We found a clue!”

A hand!

And who’s the only non-regular character that has had their hand specifically mentioned in this book?

That’s right!

Mr Ugly Creepy Dude, aka Chicken Guy, formerly known as Dual Control Headphone Clerk at Sound Trek! The guy with the scar on his hand!

Naturally, Elizabeth thinks it’s MacDuff’s hands. And hey, at least it’s not a black hand, which blows the SVPD’s Operation Frame Maria Slater plan out of the water.

Full of vim and vigour, the girls head straight to the mall in search of the red herring MacDuff. They hope to catch him casing a joint, or generally looking shifty, but despite their searching he’s nowhere to be found. He must be having a night off, and good for him.

So to avoid their journey being wasted, they dine at Spuds n Stuffin’, and we’re treated to another couple of food review paragraphs. I’m beginning to think this ghostie has a side gig as a restaurant critic.

Aside:

I’m liking the “n” in Spuds n’ Stuffin’. Very Guns n’ Roses.

Welcome to the Spud Shop, we’ve got Jacket Spuds
Baked potatoes by the score, honey we’ve got the goods
We are the people that can find, the topping that you need,
If you want the tuna, Boomer, we’ll add mayo for free.

In the Spud Shop, Welcome to the Spud Shop,
Watch us dollop on the baked b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-beans, beans!
Uh! I want some grated cheese!

End aside.

Eventually, they decide to go home, but as they leave, they spot MacDuff, obviously off duty, checking out the menu at Ding How’s. Guy’s gotta eat, right?

Not according to Elizabeth.

“It looks like he’s reading the menu of Ding How’s,” Amy said uncertainly.

“It looks that way, but I bet he’s really casing the place!” Elizabeth whispered. “I wonder if that’s going to be his next target. We have to stay and watch him.”

For once, Amy and Maria call Liz on her bullshit. Or at least, they convince her that they all should leave. Elizabeth reluctantly acquiesces, shaking her fist at the sky in an impotent range. She’ll get you next time, Gadget!

We’re back at the Wakefield Compound, after dinner. Jessica is on a high because of her biking performance. She and Elizabeth agree to head to the mall together, the following day at 4pm. Jessica needs to compete in the Booster tiebreak, while Liz still wants to crack the crime epidemic and check out the mall exit strategies.

Steven enters and flicks on the TV – Highway Patrol – which is soon interrupted by a newsflash.

Yep, you’ve guessed it.

Ding How’s has been hit.

One robbery is a robbery.

TWO robberies make a Crime Spree.

THREE robberies? A Crime EPIDEMIC.

FOUR robberies? ROBBERGEDDON!

Also, why the fuck is “Local Eatery Gets Takings Stolen” a newsflash-worthy event? To stop a scheduled television broadcast, it’d have to be a mass murder, declaration of war, or death of a VERY popular celebrity. I’d also accept the disclosure of a celebrity paedophile.

(Hang on, that sounds like someone who’s famous for being a talented paedophile, rather than a celebrity that is discovered to BE a paedophile. You know what I mean.)

School drags the next day, until the two strands of this book congregate on the mall at 4pm for the book’s swelling denouement. The Unicorns are ready for the final Booster tiebreak, and the Liz / Maria / Amy Coalition are ready to solve Robbergeddon and bring down the dastardly MacDuff (who I’ll admit might be more red-handed than red-herring at this point, but I do hope he’s still innocent as I don’t like a mystery book that operates at face value… there has to be a “twist” of sorts at some point).

Eventually, we’re at the mall, and the fun begins!

We’re now on Chapter Ten, and both this mofo and the Eleventh mofo bounce back and forth like a pinball machine in a washing machine in a tennis ball on a trampoline. Or something. They are a flit skip between each twin’s antics, one at the Great US Boost Off Tiebreaker, the other trying to crack Robbergeddon. They are nicely written, and things build well.

For clarity, I’ll be bulleting the flips as they happen.

  • Elizabeth, Amy and Maria decamp to the food court, to keep an eye out for MacDuff shenanigans.
  • Jessica, Lila and the Unicorns congregate at the Dog House, the home of the Tiebreaker: a hot dog eating contest! Both competitors are leery about the challenge ahead, mostly do to overestimating the greed and capacity of their opponent. It leads to the following exchange, which is possibly my favourite in the entire book:

“Janet, I’m still kind of queasy about the grapes. I just don’t think this is a good idea,” Jessica complained.

“I agree,” Lila said. “Besides, we all know how much food Jessica can put away. It’s not fair.”

“Oh, really?” Jessica said, getting a dangerous look in her eyes. “Who’s the only Unicorn ever to finish the Great White Whale sundae at Casey’s? I thought ice cream was going to start coming out of your ears.”

Lila’s eyes narrowed. “Ice cream is different. It melts, and then it’s smaller in your stomach.”

Oh Lila. I wish it were true. Lovely stuff!

  • We’re back with the sleuths! They spot MacDuff, swinging his nightstick like Billy Big Bollocks. They stealthily tail him, skipping from mall plant to mall plant. They spot him talking to another guard, but hear nothing. Eventually, he slips through a door marked Private – Security. And Elizabeth, so very snoopy and privileged and convinced she is right about every goddamn thing, follows him
  • And it’s the Dog House! After pounding down gastronomic delights such as the Dog Biscuit, the Dog-Eat-Dog and the Puppy Pack, it’s time for Jessica to try the Poodle: hot dog and chips. Lila has the Frankenweenie, your basic hot dog with beans. The challengers share the delicacy, bite for bite, snarling at each other all the while.
  • Snap back to Team Boring. Amy and Maria stare at the Private – Security door, and wish for Elizabeth to get back soon.
  • Snap to Elizabeth! She slinks down the corridor. It ends in a door, behind which Elizabeth can hear MacDuff talking on the telephone. With a gruff demeanour, he appears to be discussing his next blag with the person on the other end! Maybe Elizabeth is right after all.

“No, no, you worry too much. It’s a piece of cake. No one suspects a thing. All I have to do is keep cool and quiet and everything will be OK. What? No, won’t be long now. Maybe one, two days. Then we’ll be sitting pretty.”

Yeah, this is pretty damning. It looks like he’s actually the Bad Guy. Weak.

  • As she listens intently, Elizabeth is suddenly hauled off her feet by a rough arm! She’s been captured by the enemy!
  • Back to Amy and Maria. It’s been twelve minutes. They are worrying.
  • Back to the Dog House! Lila, coached and cajoled by Janet, fights her way through a tempestuous looking Firehouse Dog. Winston, firmly batting for Team Jessica, tries his best to get Jessica to follow suit with her own hot dog, but sadly it is not to be. Jessica ends the section threatening to blow proverbial chunks over the table. It’s all over! Jessica has lost.
  • And it’s Elizabeth once more. Who is her mysterious kidnapper? It’s… a naked Mr Nydick! Nope, its… MacDuff! Elizabeth had been focussing on making notes, and her engrossment cost her her liberty. But is he the criminal mastermind? He begins by disarming Elizabeth (metaphorically), by accusing HER of stealing. Liz snaps back with accusations of her own, before MacDuff does the adult thing when dealing with adolescent bullshit: he makes Liz call her parents. Oooh, the Elder Wakefields are gonna be super-pissed.
  • Now we time-skip to see the Elder Wakefields collecting their fatuous offspring. Alice is marching Liz by the arm, her eyes ablaze with genuine fury. My Wakefield is carrying a moaning and burping Jessica, which considering she’s now packed full of sausages is no mean feat. They are both bundled into the van and driven home, with threats of punishment and grounding ringing in Elizabeth’s ears.
  • Next, we see Steven chatting to his friend Joe on the phone, laughing at the plights of both his sisters.
  • The it’s Elizabeth in her bedroom, bemoaning her fate. Grounded for two weeks. Worst thing? She hadn’t proved anything.
  • We jump to Fowler Manor, where Lila is getting some frankly unfathomable pampering from her usually-absent father. She milks it for all her worth, as one would expect from Sweet Valleys pampered princess, before daydreaming about her prize… she gets to choose the best costume for tomorrow’s invitation-only black tie event at the mall. Bliss!
  • Before she goes to sleep, Elizabeth is visited by Alice, who lets her daughter know that IN NO WAY is she to meddle in Robbergeddon going forward. Disobedience will NOT be tolerated. Elizabeth tries her best to state her case, STILL convinced that MacDuff is the mastermind, but her mother is resolved.
  • We now slip into Elizabeth’s dream, in which the ghostie rather heavy-handedly lays clues down for the reader (and Liz, I guess). The dream sees Liz in the mall, where the burgled stores are conveniently numbered one to four. She is then charged by a nightstick-wielding MacDuff, and she shrinks down in size to avoid him. However, he thunders past her, instead intent on chasing down a huge chicken. The chicken is pursued through each store in numerical order, culminating in Ding How’s kitchen. Liz then runs away, to the room in which she’d overheard MacDuff. There, she finds a clown, with balloons in one hand and a bag marked ‘Clues’ in the other. He goes to hand Elizabeth a clue, before Jessica wakes her up on the quest for pink neon socks. OKAY THEN. I guess the Chicken Suit / Sound Trek guys IS the culprit after all. I was right all along!

And that’s the end of a barnstorming pair of chapters! Rollicking good reads, with pace and skill. One minor gripe? It wasn’t explicitly clear that Jessica had lost the tiebreaker.

We’re now on the downward…

Spira

Spira

…l, so batten down the hatches while we kick on to the horizon!

Saturday evening, and the Unicorns are dressing for the party at Jessica’s house. They’re collecting their costumes at the mall, so for the time being it’s base-black. They are down to serve at the party, so it’s uniform… for now at least.

As Liz is grounded for two weeks, and rightly fucking so in this 46-year-old’s opinion, she is not attending the party. It’s also adults only, which means HARDCORE DOGGING. Alice and Ned have invites, through some dodgy interior design connection [Dove: peach and oatmeal tones for a mall?], and with Jessica also attending, the Elder Wakefields have relented a little and invited Amy and Maria to keep Elizabeth company. Fuck Steven though, he can make his own plans. Bellend.

Once the ‘rents have departed, Steven immediately lives up to his stereotype by trying to boss the girls around while eating a chicken leg. The girls are having none of it, which is nice. They settle down in the family room, to watch Maria’s goddamn tape one more time.

They fast-forward to the Infamous Hand Scene, and THIS time, they spot the most pertinent of pertinent clues…

Amy suddenly sat up straight. “It’s a scar,” she said excitedly.

“What?” Elizabeth cried.

“It’s a scar.” Amy paused the tape and pointed to the screen. “This hand has a scar on it. Definitely.” Her finger traced along the shadowy line.

AT LAST we’re getting there. It’s a scar. On a hand. And Elizabeth has met someone with a scar on his hand…

“Omigod!” Elizabeth gasped. “I know who it is!”

Guess who Liz thinks it is.

Go on.

I fucking dare you.

Before we have the grand reveal, we skip to the mall, where the Unicorns are excitedly choosing their costumes from the organiser Mrs Richter. Each mall restaurant will have a representative costume, and of course the first pick of the outfits will be Lila. Then the other Unicorns can chose, down to Jessica who’s lumped with the final unchosen design.

Here’s how things stack up:

  • Lila chooses a traditional Chinese silk dress – a cheongsam – for Ding How’s.
  • Janet chooses a cute farm girl outfit for Spuds n’ Stuffin’.
  • Winston plumps for a sombrero and Mexican scrape, for Taco Shack.
  • Grace lands a toga for Figaro’s Pizza.
  • Tamara goes full Hawaiian for Smootharama.

Which leaves Chicken Lickin’ and the Dog House, so Jessica’s either a Chicken or a Hot Dog. Standard.

Let’s take a second to reflect on Grace’s costume…

For Figaro’s Pizza, Grace ended up with a white toga trimmed in gold, and leather sandals that laced halfway up her legs. A plastic olive branch perched on her dark hair. “Toga party!” she cried, spinning in a circle.

Nice one, Grace. We all appreciate a…

Twirl

Twirl

Okay. So.

Cultural appropriation.

I’m not touching that with a ten-foot pole. I’ll leave it to the professional. Wing? [Dove: I have, however, added a tag, because this is happening so often, we ought to note it.] [Wing: I hate everything. Everything. Except the hot dog and the chicken, I guess. And the farm girl outfit is fine. But I hate this book so much I don’t even have the energy to specifically hate the cultural appropriation with my own words. I’ll just leave this here.]

Moving on…

We cut back to Team Boring, and Elizabeth’s realisation that she knows who’s behind Robbergeddon. Its… a naked Mr Nydick!

Of course it isn’t.

It’s…

MACDUFF.

Facepalm

So close…

Liz, Liz Liz.

Elizabeth.

You FUCKING MELON.

The girls decide that MacDuff must be planning another robbery tonight, for some unfathomable reason, because why WOULDN’T he try and rob a store when the mall is packed with party guests? They decide to crash the party and catch him red-handed.

They arrive at the party, and squeak in through the entrance despite a) having no invitation, and b) being children at an Adults Only event. It seems that claiming to be covering the party on behalf of the Sweet Valley Sixers is enough.

Once inside, they check their coats. The cloakroom attendant is none other than the guy from Sound Trek, who now works for Chicken Lickin’. Y’know, the guy with the MOTHERFUCKING SCAR ON HIS HAND.

Thankfully, Elizabeth spots the scar and finally, finally, FINALLY, comes to the correct conclusion.

The cloakroom attendant is the main offender in this whole debacle!

Amy and Maria both gasped. “Are you sure?”

Elizabeth nodded quickly. “I definitely saw it. It must have been that guy all along. After all, he’s worked at both Sound Trek and Ding How’s. And he must have been the down handing out balloons in back of us when you were filming the Boosters, Maria. In my dream last night, when Mr. MacDuff was chasing a chicken, it was because the last job I knew that guy had was at Chicken Lickin’. I just can’t believe I was so wrong about Mr. MacDuff. All the clues pointed in his direction.”

Well done, love. About damn time.

Before they can make moves to accost him, they are confronted by a giant chicken. But wait! It’s not a real giant chicken… it’s Kimberley Haver! Which means, by process of deduction, that Jessica must be dressed as a hot dog. But that reveal is left for later.

In a surprisingly mature move, Elizabeth decides to approach MacDuff and tell him that’s she’s solved the case. Apparently, he’s also talking to the Elder Wakefields, who are rather annoyed that their grounded daughter is making such a scene.

As she explains, Jessica – who is still wearing an unidentified costume – gets some stick from an attendant Bruce Patman, who is now somehow at this Adults Only party despite being in the seventh grade. She is upset by the ridicule, and dashes off to hide her obviously-hot-dog-shaped shame.

Back to the action, and Elizabeth has finished explaining all fourteen chapters of this book to MacDuff and her parents. However, it’s not over yet!

“Elizabeth,” Amy whispered, tugging on her sleeve. “That guy is looking at us.”

Elizabeth turned around and looked over at the coat-check guy. Sure enough, he was staring right at her, her parents, and Mr. MacDuff. His eyes looked pale and suspicious.

Maria is instructed to surreptitiously record the suspect on her camera, which I’m sure will go swimmingly. MacDuff quietly radios for backup. Then, in a move no one saw coming, Scar-Hand panics and bolts for freedom!

Elizabeth gives chase immediately, closely followed by Amy, Maria and MacDuff. The chase has twists and turns, and Amy wipes out in a potted plant. Bystanders are pushed into fountains [Dove: I see the chase going down like this.], and even MacDuff seems reluctant to give the pursuit 100%, in case Scar-Hand has a gun. But Liz is on a mission, and will not be denied. [Wing: She solved the crime, she’s going to make him do the time. Because Liz has to do everything and win at everything.]

Round and round they go, almost circling the entire mall. Then, there’s a hot dog shaped MIRACLE, as a despondant Jessica, dressed as we expected, meanders from behind a plant straight into the path of the fleeing robber. She’d been hiding from the other Unicorns to avoid their ridicule, before seeing the commotion… MacDuff is chasing Elizabeth, so she has to act to save her sister!

POW!

Quite by chance, Jessica the Hot Dog, in an attempt to stop MacDuff kidnapping Elizabeth, barrels straight into Scar-Hand, who’s sent crashing into a concrete plant pot and is knocked unconscious! [Wing: Oooh, where’s Dove with her Concussions are Serious Business rant? Because I’m certain this book is not going to treat it properly.]

Aside:

What an exciting ending!

It ties up the sub plot and the main plot nicely, and barrels along at a great pace.

Fun dialogue, great action sequences, the lot!

Nice work, Ghostie.

End aside

All that’s left is the Epilogue.

Jessica and Elizabeth are in the paper, Liz’s grounding becomes less impactful, Maria’s video of the part is suitably crap, Lila and Jessica are friends again, and the next book is set up when the Unicorns see a cute high school boy in Casey’s Place. Who can that be?

Who’s the mysterious new boy in Sweet Valley? Find out in Sweet Valley Twins No. 82, Steven’s Enemy.

I’m guessing the new boy is an enemy of Steven. Just a hunch, mind.

Oh! One more thing… there’s no retraction of Lila being the Booster Pyramid Capstone. I wonder if they keep that continuity going forward… [Dove: lol]

Tune in next week to find out!

Final Thoughts:

I enjoyed this one a lot more that I initially thought. It’s an exciting, fun romp.

The action holds up, the dialogue is fun, and the sub plot is fantastic. I’m a bit hard on it for being “obvious”, but I think it was suitably twisty at the end. Liz being OTT and super-involved despite her friends’ and parents’ protestations is always good value, and the Jessica / Lila dynamic works a treat.

The only thing that truly irritated me is Maria’s apparent idiocy regarding camerawork. They could have LITERALLY used anyone else. Oh, and I guess the restaurant review pieces were filler. Other than that?

Gold!

Gold!

[Dove: I couldn’t get into this one. Maria’s constant moronic flailing irritated me too much. Possibly if she was always a moron, then it might not have annoyed me so much, but to see them Flanderize Maria was just far too irritating. I know I’m in the minority here, but Elizabeth’s drive to solve mysteries is more frustrating than amusing to me. The b-plot was fine. I do like a Lila/Jessica rivalry, and the odd bit of snark from the bystanding Unicorns was pretty awesome. Overall, it was fine-ish. I won’t re-read.]

[Wing: I hate everything. Everyone held the idiot ball, everyone was obnoxious, Elizabeth’s plot and inability to learn from her mistakes annoyed me so much I couldn’t even enjoy the ridiculousness of the Booster Off. We’re back, and I hate everything Sweet Valley again. All is well.]

[Raven: … So, just me then? Alrgihty.]

Looking back at things I've enjoyed, and smashing them to pieces with the Snark-Hammer. Lover of games of every stripe and hue. NOT A REAL BIRD.

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One comment on “Sweet Valley Twins #81: Robbery At The Mall

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