Book Review: Revenge of the Phantom Hot Rod

Revenge of the Phantom Hot Rod
Last Chance Detectives #5/6*
by Robert Vernon

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s Christian mystery, adventure

When a car from the past with a ghostly driver begins to terrorize motorists near Ambrosia, the Last Chance Detectives are on the case.

Though this series started in the 90s, this book was written and published this year (2022). It still takes place in the mid-90s, which does tend to limit what the reader might suspect is happening, especially given the genre of the series. However, the target audience (8-12 year olds) would probably not try to solve the mystery while reading and instead simply enjoy the excitement and suspense. And even though I found myself unable to stop speculating on the technique used by the “bad guy,” I did still really enjoy the story. The descriptions of the driver were sufficiently mysterious and even a little creepy, and the way the Last Chance Detectives worked to solve it was smart and interesting.

I like that this series doesn’t generally follow the modern trend for kids books to have the kids breaking rules, ignoring adults, and generally being disrespectful as they protagonize their way through a story (no, that’s not a word, but I like it). Mike, Ben, Spence, and Winnie are just as curious and determined as I remember them being in the LCD movie I grew up watching (The Mystery Lights of Navajo Mesa). And even better, Winnie gets a little more depth to her character in this book (was she shown to be artistic before? If so, I don’t recall). The feud between her and Ben was amusing, and even realistic in the way it began to be less amusing to their friends as it went on and got in the way of the investigation. The culmination of that was a serious heart-stopper for me, and I’m still not sure how I feel about the way the author went with that in the end. Maybe it wouldn’t have affected me so much if the overall series wasn’t so ingrained in my childhood—though I never read any of the books back then and only watched the one movie, I watched it so many times that when I read the respective book for the first time recently, I read many of the lines in the same inflection as the actors said them in the movie.

Overall, this was a great addition to the series. I was leery of new books being written after so long, but now I’m glad to be able to read more about these young detectives from the 90s and am looking forward to the next one.

Find out more about Revenge of the Phantom Hot Rod
*There were 3 books in the series originally, back in the 90s, and then a prequel came out in 2004. For some reason, when the first more recent book was published in 2021, the first one was labeled as book #5 in the series, I guess making the prequel the new #1 and pushing the rest a book later. But the early ones are still labeled as 1-3 in many places, so now it’s just kind of a mess…

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!