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review 2020-06-27 00:00
The Hidden Harbor Mystery, Hardy Boys #14
The Hidden Harbor Mystery (Hardy Boys, #14) - J. Clemens Gretter,Franklin W. Dixon

This is the single most notorious of the early Hardy Boys mysteries. 'The Hidden Harbor Mystery' opens with a fantastic set-piece of an ocean liner hitting rough seas and sinking. It is packed with exploding boilers, brawls below decks and panicked passengers. Unfortunately the story veers away from action and into an irredeemable, racist mess.


Valuable papers pertaining to a case of Fenton Hardy's were lost on the ship, meaning the boys will have to obtain new copies. Worse still, a passenger on the ship, Samuel Blackstone, accuses the boys of stealing a large quantity of money and a diamond ring in the chaos. Conveniently, it seems the solution to both problems is heading to the southern town of Hidden Harbor.


The real trouble begins for the reader on the train back to Hidden Harbor. The boys meet black dandy Lukas Jones, who is disrespectful of train-car ettiquette and yet too cowardly to stand up to the conductor. That's a clear signal to readers that Jones is bad news, but the story goes on to describe him as malicious and lazy and dangerous. Spoiler:

Jones is our villain and has contrived to keep the blood feud between the Blackstones and the Rands going strong. Jones also attempts to incite violence against the Rands (and presumably other white people) with his secret society.

(spoiler show)


The Hardy Boys and Chet Morton are accused of participating in the feud between the Blackstone family and the Rands by both sides and have a difficult time getting straight answers from anybody. Chet is an important part of this mystery, mostly so he can be referred to as fat boy by the narrator. The weight jokes seem to be getting lazier and more mean-spirited. That of course pales to the use of lynching as a plot point here and it being discussed as a common, if unfortunate, practice. The disapproval seems to be more in the act being unmannerly than it being against the law and, you know, murder. Frank and Joe begin to have stronger feelings about lynching when they almost wind up in the noose themselves.


I haven't found any comments from ghostwriter Leslie McFarlane about this book, but Harriet Stratemeyer Adam's comments in a private letter before she approved re-writes in the 1950s and '60s make it clear that she doesn't see what the problem is. She hazards a guess that parents disapprove of Jones, his father, and his friends/society-fellows speaking in dialect. Yeah, that's it.


Sloppy plotting is one thing, and I have rolled my eyes through many cringey scenes before with these books, but 'The Hidden Harbor Mystery' is a new low. A lot has changed in 80 years, but there's an increasing ugliness far beyond the stereotypes present in the earliest books. This book, 'The Mark on the Door' and 'Footprints Under the Window' make a point of highlighting the flaws of everyone who isn't "normal", that is, middle class or wealthy, and white. At least 'Window' had Tom Wat, who the boys joked with and protected, and 'Door' found the boys relying on the skill set of the Yaqui Indian guide in the desert. In 'Hidden Harbor' there is only danger and mistrust and a lot of spiteful little details that aren't worth getting into. The disappointment of our white cast members in the disloyalty of Jones and his father towards their employers topped off the book nicely.


The '60s revision scrapped most of the plot - including the ship - in favor of the local newspaper being sued for libel by the Blackstones for publishing a story about their pirate ancestors. Adams also made sure to solve the race problem in the usual way by eliminating any black characters. Urghs, all around.


Hardy Boys


Next: 'The Sinister Signpost'


Previous: 'The Mark on the Door'

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review 2019-09-30 19:59
The Mark on the Door, Hardy Boys #13
The Mark on the Door (Hardy Boys, #13) - Franklin W. Dixon



13 Square: This is the thirteenth book in the series.


Take a long look at that cover, because that's one of the least offensive things about the text of this book.


The Hardy Boys have taken their beloved power boat out for a cruise when a dusky foreigner comes speeding out of the fog, hits them, and keeps going. Some quick action on the boys' part saves their lives and limits the damage done to the boat, but such actions are hardly those of a gentleman.


Determined to get satisfaction, the boys inquire after the boat and discover that it was a rental and the man is unknown in town. Disappointed, the boys go where the action is in Bayport: the city courthouse, to see the ongoing trial of the company that had been selling fraudulent stock in Mexican oil. 


The place is packed, of course, and the boys arrive in time to hear the case being delayed because a star witness has gone missing. They also see the dark foreign man! In tracking him, the boys discover his link with the fake oil stocks, his gifting of sickly hairless dogs, and his penchant for carving his sigil on doors. As a reward for their sleuthing, their father takes them along on the search for the missing witness and they end up in Mexico.


This was a difficult one to read. The book relies on the trope that the only good foreigner (Mexicans in Mexico are foreigners, fyi) is a rich one and the only good Native Americans are full-blooded strong and silent types. A lot of disdain is given to the "half-breeds" that live in hovels and caves.


The only reason this gets a full star at all is that after the boys are captured by a gang and mistreated by those cads and Frank and Joe's bluster is met with laughter. They ask their Indian guide what will happen to them out in this desert (where nobody knows where they are).


Die, probably.


Which, yes. Finally. Thank you, realism.


There was very little else to redeem this book. I imagine the 1960s rewrite scrapped the lot.


Hardy Boys


Next: 'The Hidden Harbor Mystery'


Previous: 'Footprints Under the Window'

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review 2019-09-23 21:07
Footprints Under the Window, Hardy Boys #12 by Franklin W. Dixon
Footprints Under the Window (Hardy Boys, #12) - Franklin W. Dixon,J. Clemens Gretta


Free Square!


Frank and Joe have been left to their own devices while their parents are away on yet another vacation, when suddenly there's a phone call: Aunt Gertrude is coming! That formidable lady of indeterminate years will wring their necks if the house isn't spotless when she arrives. Being boys the Hardy Boys have neglected their linens and make haste to drop it all off at the best Chinese laundry in town.


Unfortunately instead of the friendly Sam Lee, they are greeted by the sinister Louie Fong who accuses the boys of eavesdropping and doesn't see at all reliable as far as laundry. Spoiler alert: they never get their laundry back!


Things keep going wrong for the Hardy Boys. Their aunt fails to turn up at the docks, a young man they invite to stay overnight goes missing along with many important papers of their father, and Aunt Gertrude complains of a vision of a Chinamen coming in through the window - you may have guessed that the boys find footprints under the window shortly thereafter.


The mystery this time is all about the illegal smuggling of Chinese into Bayport (which is on the Atlantic coast and therefore convenient for this) and a curious case of duplicate identities. Along the way Tom Wat, a young Chinese man whose life is in jeopardy may or may not be dressed up as a girl by the boys to avoid detection.


There is a mix of tone-deaf cultural depiction in here and outdated terms (read: Chinamen), but also a lot of racially charged associations that are a real problem. Language changes over time and I can't fault the author for trying to write in the, uh, "pidgin English" of the Chinese immigrant....well, maybe a little.  However, when we're constantly reminded of the dusky or yellow cast of the skin of our villain, and reminders of the suspicious differences between our heroes and villains you know we're supposed to make certain associations.


Bad form Hardy Boys, bad form.


Speaking of bad form, our good friend Chet has a good-sized part in the novel, but Biff is on to my game and refused to make an appearance.


The revision of this 1934 novel came out in 1965 and involves the Hardy Boys investigating illegal immigration in a fictional island nation and stolen blueprints to a miniature spy camera. I'm sure laundry has something to do with it.


Hardy Boys


Next: 'The Mark on the Door'


Previous: 'While the Clock Ticked'

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review 2019-09-12 20:22
While the Clock Ticked, Hardy Boys #11 by Franklin W. Dixon
While the Clock Ticked - J. Clemens Gretta,Franklin W. Dixon


Baker Street Irregulars Square: The Hardy Boys, regressed to high school age, investigate a mystery while their parents are on vacation.


With their parents away on a long-overdue vacation, the boys are under the strict rule of Aunt Gertrude. While she approves of their skills and resourcefulness, she would never tell them she was proud of them to their faces. That would fill their heads up with air. So at every turn she is critical, demanding, and obstructionist, and I love her for it.


Aunt Gertrude turns a man away at the door when he comes asking to see Fenton Hardy. She doesn't tell him Fenton Hardy is away, because one doesn't let a man know you're alone in the house, however well dressed. I'd like to see Aunt Gertrude in a 'Fear Street' novel, she would straighten those kids out in a heartbeat.


In any case, the man comes back and theboys let him in - they wouldn't last a day on Fear Street - and tell him they'll try to wire their father, but they'd be happy to look into any mysteries. The man laughs, but gives them a hint and ultimately hires them. The man, Raymond Dalrymple, is a wealthy banker who bought the furnished Purdy Mansion along the Shore Road as an investment. The house had been built by a paranoid miser and contained a secret room with a time-locked vault door. Dalrymple is so harried by business he decides to use this room as a private office and uses it occasionally without exploring the rest of the house.


The mystery, he tells the boys, is that he's been receiving threatening notes that he discovers inside this locked room. There is no way in but through the vault door, even the chimney is too small for entry and barred besides, and the room itself is a closely guarded secrets. The immigrant laborers who even built the room were sent far away after construction was completed. Nice.


There is another appearance by Hurd Applegate, from 'The Tower Treasure', who has devolved into a man whose only passion left is stamps. Valuable, valuable stamps. The disappearance of some of Hurd's stamps gets him involved. The disappearance of his sister is of no consequence apparently. The police are also investigating 'River Thieves' who have been stealing goods for months. 


This was a pretty lackluster mystery with some bizarre elements including a doppelgangers, screams in the night, mad inventors, time bombs, and even a crook named 'Indian Tom' who was likely expunged in the 1960s rewrite, but who can say? There's some serious bumbling police tropes that are more likely to have been cut, and perhaps, maybe, the boys should have a break from rescuing valuable stamps. I was disappointed that the forward momentum of the boys' lives - namely their high school graduation in 'The Great Airport Mystery' - was so abruptly cut short. I looked back and 'What Happened at Midnight' merely describes the boys as still being in high school as they head out to Morton Farm for a party. There must have been some reader backlash, or the editors realized by themselves - after printing - that it was a mistake to let the boys grow up.


It also seems that Chet and Biff are aware of my scrutiny, as neither of them obliged me with a scene for my slash fic of them, but those chums and the rest of the gang did make a fuss about the Hardy Boys not including them in this latest caper. For that realism, and Aunt Gertrude's curling papers, I give this an extra star.


Hardy Boys


Next: 'Footprints Under the Window'


Previous: 'What Happened at Midnight'

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review 2019-08-13 19:19
The Great Airport Mystery, Hardy Boys #9
The Great Airport Mystery (Hardy Boys, #9) - Franklin W. Dixon

Frank and Joe are out for a ride in their new coupe, they intend to have a look at the new airport being built outside of Bayport. Suddenly, a plane come swooping down, erratically, and starts heading right for them! It's only with quick thinking and a lucky turn that the boys get out of the plane's way before it crashes on the road.


They help the pilot out of the wreckage only to be accused of causing the crash! The boys are upset and, helped by the plane being an air-mail carrier, coverage of the dispute gets into the papers. Aunt Gertrude was not available for comment, but she would have had some harsh words to say about this kind of scandal.


This is only the beginning. The boys are about the graduate high school, that is, they will if they can get the marks they need on their examinations. A decision has to be made about their futures, too. What happens after high school? There's a lot at stake as thefts begin occurring at the airport and the Hardy Boys are in it up to their necks. 


The mystery and adventure here, as usual, come second place to me to the surrounding character and feel of the book. This book is just as much about the Hardys confronting the end of high school, the break-up of their friend group, and thoughts of the future as it is about air-mail theft. This is well-travelled ground, but the "gang" getting together to plan a Class Picnic as one last hurrah together before real life sets in brought back some good memories. A nice addition to my pet theory of Chet + Biff = Love was Chet's initial objection to inviting the girls because "he didn't care for girls". He got over his objection once he was reminded who was doing the baking! 


If the above plot sounds confusing, it's because this was another novel that was completely over-hauled in the early 1960s for no good reason. I suppose the wonder of aviation had grown thin in thirty years? The revision involves the boys jetting off to the Caribbean and Montana and thwarting thieves from within a mining company...it's a little much if you ask me. I don't recall, but at what point do they send the boys back to high school? I read 'What Happened at Midnight' early on in my renewed interest in this series, but that was a summer book and still floated the idea that the boys may be forced into college. Admissions must have been a whole lot simpler in 1930.


Hardy Boys


Next: 'What Happened at Midnight'


Previous: 'The Mystery of Cabin Island'

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