Mortensen continues his exciting but confusing adventures in time in The Red Ruby and The Secret Mummy. I had hoped that the confusion in the first two volumes — especially in Santa Fe Jail — would be cleared up (I am a very hopeful person) but no such luck.
The Red Ruby is the most linear of the stories so far. Mortensen hops back and forth through time from 1937 to 1993, with a side trip to Burma in 1802 and the Titanic in 1912, as he tracks down a fabulous ruby. There are gang members, a naïve but sweet librarian, and help for Mortensen in unexpected places throughout the story. In the end, Mortensen manages to repair time and the villains are foiled…for now. The back matter includes information on the Titanic, rubies and ruby mines, the Hope Diamond, and Versailles.
The Secret Mummy is so bewildering I’m not even sure how to describe it. First of all, it’s not about a mummy at all, it’s about vampires. Are they real or is it a scientific hoax carried out through time? There are sarcophagi in the plot, but only as a minor element in the criminal schemes and Mortensen’s unmasking. The real plot of the story is a medical crime and involves the history of medicine. There’s also a side trip into the Bosnian war and the United Nations’ involvement.
The art continues in the same style as the first two titles and is the most attractive element of the books. It easily reminds the reader of many of the classic comic detectives, including Tintin, but has a brisk, sketchy quality. The characters are never repeated and even within the confines of caricature each has an individual quality.
What annoys me most about these books, besides the random jumping back and forth in time and confusing plots, is the way they constantly hint at a larger, overarching plot. Each story begins with the same introduction, saying that time is being re-written and time agents have to repair it. The introduction implies that there’s some vast conspiracy, but each of the books introduces a totally unrelated set of characters. At the end of The Red Ruby, the villain says she will come back and Mortensen promises they will continue to track her through time, but the fourth book starts a completely different plot with different villains. Despite the constant hints, by the fourth book there’s no connecting theme or plot other than Mortensen wandering through history solving crimes.
The idea behind this series is good and the art is engaging, two reasons I kept working through the series up to the fourth book. Kids’ resurgence of interest in Tintin and in mystery/time fantasy novel series like 39 Clues and Infinity Ring would have made Mortensen a good pick. However, it’s clear by this time that the plots simply don’t work. Either they don’t translate well to English or they never made sense in the first place. Hopefully Lerner will try the popular adventure/nonfiction mix again with a different series.