And Then I Read: THE BIG CHUNK OF ICE by Bertrand R. Brinley

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 7.03.42 PMIllustration by Charles Geer.

The final story featuring the Mad Scientists’ Club, published posthumously in 2005. Like “The Big Kerplop!” it’s a novel, but unlike any other adventure in the series, it takes the Club far from Mammoth Falls, to the Alps in Austria.

Professor Stradivarious, the scientist introduced near the end of the previous novel, drives the story this time. He has a research trip planned to a glacier in the Alps which he wants to study, measuring the speed of the ice flow among other things. He needs help, and enlists the entire Mad Scientists’ Club, who will get a free trip with all expenses paid in exchange for their work. Also going are two students of the Professor, Angela and Angelina. The method of travel is unusual, they go by blimp! It seems the Professor has a blimp that he used to escape from Europe during World War Two, and it still works. Not surprisingly, all the parents, and indeed the entire town, are fine with this trip, and give the group a good send-off. The blimp flight is already filled with some unusual adventures, and when they arrive in the town of Heiligenblut, where they will be staying, the entire town there turns out to welcome their old friend, the Professor, too.

Once they get started with their research, things become stranger and stranger. People keep warning them of the dangers around them, and several groups seem to be watching and following them. Indeed, three of the party are trapped in a crevice by an avalanche, one that seems to have been started intentionally by gunshots. When the team moves their base to an ancient, haunted castle overlooking the glacier, things get weirder still. The castle caretaker is a very small man with a malicious bent who likes to play tricks on them. Henry Mulligan and the other Club members soon find plenty of mysteries to solve: who is living in the sealed room and watching them with a telescope? Who is making broadcasts from the castle? What do four lawyers who keep following them want? And what about the mystery of the diamond smugglers who fell into a glacier crevice and died a hundred years earlier reportedly while possessing the world’s largest diamond? Is that what everyone is after? Is that the real big chunk of ice?

I have to say that I didn’t enjoy this book as much as “The Big Kerplop,” for several reasons. First, by taking the group out of their home territory and putting them under the charge of others, much of the group’s independence and initiative is lost. Henry Mulligan still comes up with some good scientific ideas, but it’s not quite as much fun as when they’re free and on their own. Second, Brinley has made heavy use of dialects that get annoying, particularly the German/Austrian one of the Professor. One of the girls speaks in “hippy lingo,” which seems very dated, and the girls also introduce a game of making geographic puns that continues through the book and gets tiresome. The adventures and mysteries are fun, but are wilder and harder to believe than most of the previous ones in the series.

That said, I did enjoy some aspects and parts of the story, and if you are a fan of Brinley’s Mad Scientists’ Club, you’ll certainly want to read this final adventure. Mildly recommended.

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