Friday, April 18, 2014

Choose Your Own Adventure #10: The Lost Jewels of Nabooti

When you last checked in with your hero he was confronting murderous ghosts, holding a campfire sing-a-long and entering a permanent fear coma. After that harrowing experience I'm definitely welcoming the toothless nonsense that's likely to be in this R.A. Montgomery entry. We'll keep an eye out for the usual trademarks: wussy vehicles, incorrectly applied nepotism, horrible deaths described in the most banal fashion possible and the extreme moon bat views of an unreconstructed hippie.

This one has seen several different releases, but I was lucky enough to get the original, complete with always excellent Paul Granger illustrations. You don't fully appreciate how good they were until you read one of the new versions and see art that looks like the result of someone in day five of a ten day cold coughing into an already soiled napkin.

One other thing, I promise we'll start flipping pages soon. I do remember this title from my misspent childhood, although nothing specific about the plot has stayed with me. This isn't necessarily a bad sign, you have to remember a significant amount of my memories have been destroyed by joy stick addiction, NASCAR viewing and inhaling paint thinners. One thing I do remember is I always thought the title was "The Lost Jewels of Nairobi" as in Nairobi, Kenya. That would have made sense, but I guess the African capital heard that it was going to be an R.A. Montgomery book and demanded not to have their name included. So we gin up the fictional and vaguely offensive "Nabooti" and all is well.

40 meter dash through an Afro, falling deaths, the usual.

We don't waste any time, as my "summer vacation" is abruptly spoiled by a telegram (!) from my cousins Peter and Lucy requesting help finding the titular jewels. I would bet a six-pack of Coke Classic that this missive became an e-mail in the updated version. Honestly, a telegram? Even in 1981 that must have seemed pretty dated. Are we going to have to add "poor understanding of how sending messages has evolved since the 19th century" to that R.A. Montgomery trope list?

Anyway, exposition. The jewels are apparently both beautiful and valuable, and were acquired in Morocco by Peter's father many years earlier. We get a shaggy dog story about how the vendor mysteriously died right after the sale and the buyer got a threatening letter demanding their return. "Obviously, he ignored the letter," we are told. I mean, of course, right? Who puts any stock into credible death threats. Then...nothing. Until now, that is. 

Does this count as the not-quite-right nepotism? I'm going to say "yes."

The new cover art sucks.

With that box checked off, I leave my house in New Orleans and head for Boston. Why this specific bit of location detail is included is somewhat of a mystery, considering my Cajun origins are never mentioned again and the bulk of the story takes place in foreign lands. I meet with the cousins and we plan to fly to Paris and then Morocco from there. It's also revealed the jewels play into some ill-conceived prophecy and their loss might lead to DEATH! Yes, "DEATH." Subtlety is usually not the strong suit of the type of person that rambles semi-coherently about fate, destiny, and the secret keys to "health." 

Maybe you could just exercise regularly and eat right instead of assuming jewels control that, just sayin'.

The prophecy, fulfilled!

We get the next flight for Paris. Sadly, it's a commercial jet and not some wussy glider or sissy personal submarine. I'm sure we'll get something like that, let's just be patient. The guy next to me is sketchy, both literally and figuratively. He's illustrated like one the commie spies from Your Code Name is Jonah and is busy doodling on a pad. Yes, kids, there was a time when having your head down and poking at a tiny square surface was considered highly unusual and suspicious. Plus his hands have no nails, so there's that, too.

What is he drawing? Well, it's crude diamond shapes and the word "Nabooti." I guess this is in case he regresses back to the mental state of a toddler and must re-learn basic shapes to complete his evil mission. On the other hand, feel the drama. It's a bad guy! Dun, dun, dun!

"This can not be coincidence!" I decide. Yeah, I think I might be right about that one.

Faced with these shocking revelations I fall asleep. When I wake up we're in Paris and this bumbling villain wants to share a taxi, preferably an unlicensed one, I'm sure. Honestly, there's more telegraphing here than in the message that drew me into this amazing adventure. I tell him "no."

 Cut it out. Seriously, cut it out. Don't make me come back there and stop that unbooked minicab.

I melt into the crowd and then hide in a phone booth, for the second badly dated communications reference so far. It probably became an "internet cafe" in the updated release. Then I'm confronted by a "woman and a midget." They offer a private jet to Nabooti, presumably an unlicensed one, and the Little Person leers menacingly while handling a "small knife with a narrow blade." Maybe I can still get into that kidnap cab.

I try a lame "I know nussink!" routine, which leads to a silent whistle and the arrival of police dogs, I guess of the "just add water" variety because I'm in the middle of a crowd and there was no sign of them before. I'm arrested for "smuggling" and end up in a Parisian shake-down room. All of this seems very familiar.

"We're still cool levitating scimitar, right?"

For some reason there's a pearl on my person, with no plausible explanation of how it got there. Facing both barrels of French "justice" I decide to dodge the guillotine by contacting the American embassy. I have rights, etc. I'm told to give up the quest for the jewels and go back to the good old U.S.A. and agree to do so. Well, that's a tidy little package. 

Thumbs down for this one. Not one, but two obvious traps in a row, followed by the sort of gestapoism that probably seemed novel in 1981 but is commonplace today. I know these books are not intended to stimulate an adult mind full of mature ideas and deep understanding of the world, but this one just felt patronizing. Why would Agent Evil make doodles of his nefarious plans? Why are there scary ankle-biters? How come I can't use my New Orleans upbringing to relate culturally to the French and smooth over the unpleasantness? And where's the wussy vehicles?

Mr. Happy can not save you from your crashed sugar glider.
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Aaron Zehner is the author of "Posts from the Underground," now available in paperback and e-book. Read a free excerpt here.

His first novel The Foolchild Invention is also available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.

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