Tag Archives: Rudi Nappi

39: THE MYSTERY OF THE CHINESE JUNK

39

 

Who Wrote It?: Franklin W. Dixon

C’mon, Who Really Wrote it?: James D. Lawrence in 1960.  His third of three in a row.

Was It Revised?: No.  There will be no more revisions from here on out.  When we reach 1960, we reach the final versions of these classic tales.

Cover: Rudy Nappi.  A realism cover with classic red and yellow.  Frank and Joe are staring at a junk.  It’s OK, not my favorite.

Setting: Bayport, with a brief sojourn to Staten Island, New York to buy the junk.  

Where’s Fenton This Time?: California.  With the missus.  He never shows up.

Which Chums Show Up?: Chet, Tony, Callie, Iola . . . and Biff!  Mr. Lawrence does like Biff after all!

What’s Chet’s Hobby This Time?: Spelunking.  You know, exploring caves.  No, no matter how often Chet will wind up in a cave throughout the rest of the series, rest assured his knowledge of spelunking will be ignored.  

Aunt Gertrude’s Dessert: Wow!  We hit the jackpot here.  Angel cake on one occasion.  Then strawberry shortcake.  Then chocolate pies.  Finally on the last occasion we get ice cream.  It’s as if Mr. Lawrence tried to make up for his lack of Aunt Gertrude cooking by shoving every dessert in the world in this book.  Ol’ Gerty is cooking up a storm in this book.

Plot: The boys have a chance to buy a Chinese Junk, and they decide that this would be a great way to spend their summer by ferrying passengers around the Bay and making some bucks.  But the moment they buy the ship, everyone else suddenly needs that ship for some unknown reason.  Death threats follow.

Review:  An OK story that takes place in Bayport with the usual gang.  The bad guys do the usual rough stuff, and the goal is the usual treasure that is treated like a MacGuffin.  And there is increasing awareness of cultural sensitivity.  In the old days this first sentence would not have been followed by this second sentence:

“Welcome aboard, honored guys,” Joe said solemnly, bowing low in Oriental manner.

The Chinese-American lad chuckled.  “Boy, that’s corny enough for a Grade D movie about China!”

OK, they are trying.

Score: 6

38: MYSTERY AT DEVIL’S PAW

38

 

Who Wrote It?: Franklin W. Dixon

C’mon, Who Really Wrote it?: James D. Lawrence in 1959.  His second of three in a row.

Was It Revised?: Yes, in 1973 by Pricilla Baker-Carr.  And with that we bid a fond farewell to Ms. Baker-Carr for this was the last book she ever revised.  Thank you for your fine work over the years!  That means from now on we are dealing with original writing only.  No more revisions.

Cover: Rudy Nappi.  A symbolic cover awash in white and tan, with only Joe’s red upholding the tradition.  I like this cover.  It has the classic Hollywood movie poster look: one character looks left, one character looks right, the totem pole looks ahead.  It’s striking and it’s unique in its subject matter.

Setting: Bayport and Alaska with a brief dip into British Columbia.  In 1959 Alaska became a state.  Mr. Lawrence immediately welcomed the newest state into the crime-ridden world of the Hardys.  

May I once again point out the absurdity of the criminal networks working all over the world, but always having a henchman stationed in Bayport so that the moment the Hardy Boys get a case the henchman can try to kill them to prevent them from traveling to where the crime is occurring.  Amazing how all these gangs can always spare someone for Bayport duty, and how that someone can be so attuned to everything that happens to the Hardy Boys that the moment someone gets a phone call or a telegram or even a conversation, that henchman is on the case!

Where’s Fenton This Time?: Bayport.  The entire stinking time.  The Boys are on their own this adventure.  Well, not exactly alone.  See my review below.

Which Chums Show Up?: Chet, Tony, Callie, Iola.  Did Mr. Lawrence not like Biff?

What’s Chet’s Hobby This Time?: Nothing.  

Aunt Gertrude’s Dessert: Who?  She barely shows up.  I think Mr. Lawrence was more into Boys Own Adventure Tales than cooking up goodies from Gertrude.

Plot: This is an odd one.  Not too much mystery other than ‘why are the crooks acting this way.’  This is really Frank and Joe Travel to Alaska and meet bears, salmon spawning, locals, indiginous people, totem poles (see cover) and glaciers.  The actually mystery of the totem pole is not much.  The mystery at Devil’s Paw is not much.  The crooks here are not so much crooks, and more folks engaging in foreign espionage.  I won’t give it away, but the objective of the bad guys has nothing to do with crime.  No, this is less a mystery and more a guide to the Alaskan wilderness.

Review:  This is not a typical Hardy Boys book, so I’m not as fond of it.  In all long-running books or TV series, after a while the writers think, hey, let’s put our characters in Hawaii this week, or something.  I’m not fond of these “special” episodes, and that’s what this one felt like.

A couple of amusing notes:

1. At one point the boys are enjoying a feast in an Indian village and this happens:

“The first course consisted of slabs of pink salmon,  “Good night!  It’s raw!” Joe whispered.

Welcome to sushi, Joe.  Guess that wasn’t much of a thing back in 1959.

2. Maybe Fenton doesn’t show up in Chapter XX, but check out who does:

“As if by magic, the darkness suddenly turned to daylight.  Powerful magnesium flares attached to parachutes illuminated the entire area.  This was followed by more billowing chutes — paratroops!”

Holy cow, they finally called in the infantry!  That’s some serious firepower at the Boy’s beck and call!

Oh well, it’s an OK read.  if your child is interested in Alaska or the wilderness, this is his or her book.  But as a Hardy Boy mystery, eh..

Score: 5

37: THE GHOST AT SKELETON ROCK

 

37

Who Wrote It?: Franklin W. Dixon

C’mon, Who Really Wrote it?: James D. Lawrence in 1957.  His first of three in a row, plus one other one he wrote years later that will conclude this series.  But Mr. Lawrence also revised three of the earlier books (16: A FIGURE IN HIDING, 17: THE SECRET WARNING, 19: THE DISAPPEARING FLOOR).  I gave those three earlier books scores of 7, 6 and 8.  But just to keep things odd, Mr. Lawrence revised those books in the mid-1960s.  Yes, he wrote his original books first, and then revised earlier entries.  Got it?  Good, quiz at the end.

Was It Revised?: Yes, in 1966 by Pricilla Baker-Carr.  Which was the same year Mr. Lawrence was revising Hardy Boys books.  So as he did that, she revised his. Somehow there is a metaphor for life in there.

Cover: Rudy Nappi.  A classic cover.  Night scene, ocean in the background giving us our dominant blue color, the plane being shot at from crooks on the beach below.  This is a realism cover from Mr. Nappi, and it’s a solid entry.

Setting: Bayport and Puerto Rico.  Welcome, readers from that lovely island that I’ve visited three times so far.  I enjoyed it as much as Frank and Joe did.  More actually since no one was trying to kill me at the time.  

But once again we get the absurd notion that crooks, needing money in Puerto Rico, decide to raise some by swindling the good folks of . . . oh, let’s say Bayport.  Riiiiiight.  That’s the first place I would think of if I were in the Caribbean.  Nobody to swindle in Florida?

Where’s Fenton This Time?: Washington D.C., as usual.  But then the boys get to play Deus Ex Fenton in Chapter XX and rescue him for a change.

Which Chums Show Up?: Chet, Tony, Callie, Iola.  What, Biff was busy?  But Tony gets to play a larger part then usual and does a great job.  Fans of Tony Prito, this is your book.

What’s Chet’s Hobby This Time?: Ventriloquism.  Who’s the dummy now, eh?

Aunt Gertrude’s Dessert: I’m so hungry I could nibble on the corner of this book.  Aunt Gertrude evidently didn’t bake pies in the 1950s or something.  But good stuff is going to show up before we’re through.

Plot: Lots of Hitchcock MacGuffins in this story. It’s about crooked fortune tellers.  Nope.  It’s about smuggling diamonds in ventriloquist dummies.  Nope.  This plot ultimately gets into the political (the bad guys are playing a very big game) in a way that would have resonated in the 1950s (mostly because this is just the sort of nonsense that was happening back then).  In any case, the boys have to fly to Puerto Rico, figure out who to trust, and oh yeah, solve the Scooby Doo mystery of the “ghost,” if you catch my drift.

Review:  Speaking of Scooby Doo (and I do this a lot here since so much of Scooby Doo derives from the Hardy Boys), check this quote out:

“We might have pulled it off if that important [MacGuffin] hadn’t been sent to the very town where the Hardys lived.  Those nosy detectives and their pals upset our plans.”

Yup, Scooby Doo.

On the whole, this is a very good adventure.  It has the usual cast of crook types, plus a bonus one who looks just like one of the boys (and when you find out why he does look like one of the boys, you’ll shake your head at the stupidity of doing what he did which would GUARANTEE Frank and Joe would never, ever stop until they got their man).

The ghost sub-thread is predictable, contains a bit of Carib racism that was probably typical of the time, and has a very Scooby Doo ending.  But if it sounds like I am scoffing at this book, the bottom line is I enjoyed it very much.  It moves, it’s fun, it’s a good entry.

Score: 8

36: THE SECRET OF PIRATE’S HILL

36

 

Who Wrote It?: Franklin W. Dixon

C’mon, Who Really Wrote it?: John Almquist in 1956.  His second of two in a row that Mr. Almquist wrote, the only ones he did.

Was It Revised?: Yes, in 1972 by Pricilla Baker-Carr.

Cover: Rudy Nappi.   What a beautiful cover this is!  Nice shades of underwater blue with green vegetation.  Frank and Joe scuba diving with a ray in the foreground.  Having handled rays, I know how gentle they actually are, but hey this makes the cover look striking, so shut up.  The funny thing is the book begins with scuba diving and ends with scuba diving, but not so much in between.  This is sort of a scene from the book, sort of symbolic (no rays appear in the book), mostly just a pleasant cover.

Setting: Bayport and nearby Pirate’s Hill. Naturally.  Amazing how much treasure is buried around this town. They should just dig up the whole area and retire. 

Where’s Fenton This Time?: Washington D.C., as usual.  Probably sorting out some partisan bickering or something.  But our Mr. Chapter XX does show up in the end.

Which Chums Show Up?: Chet, Biff, Tony, Callie, Iola.

What’s Chet’s Hobby This Time?: Guess.  Just guess.  Go on, you know you want to.  Need a hint?  Look at the cover.  Got it?  And nope, he never uses it in the book other than some practice stuff in the pool.  Hey, do you see Chet on the cover?  Didn’t think so…

Aunt Gertrude’s Dessert: Nuttin’.  Mr. Almquist didn’t go for that sort of low-brow writing, I guess.  But man, I could go for a heaping slice of pie or something.

Plot: The boys are scuba diving when someone shoots at them underwater.  Silly crooks, don’t they know that if they just ignore Frank and Joe the boys will ignore them back?  Noooo, they have to shoot at them and start a process whereby these stubborn kids simply WILL.NOT.STOP until they bust you.  So trying to figure out why a diver tried to KILL THEM, they get contacted by two different individuals, opposed to each other, and accusing each other of bad behavior, both of whom want Frank and Joe to find a cannon.  Huh?  Why?  Well, that’s the plot.  Find the cannon.  Avoid getting killed in the process.

Review:  It’s suspenseful, and the mystery of the cannon is decent.  I’m a bit tired of the author throwing two people at us and telling us one of them is bad and letting us wonder which one.  That’s a plot device that got used a LOT.  But it is engaging enough, and that cover deserves a point.

Score: 7

35: THE CLUE IN THE EMBERS

 

35

Who Wrote It?: Franklin W. Dixon

C’mon, Who Really Wrote it?: John Almquist in 1955.  The first of two in a row that Mr. Almquist wrote, the only ones he did.  The mid-50s seems to have been a transition time for Mr. Dixon to find his ghost writers…

Was It Revised?: Yes, in 1972 by Priscilla Baker-Carr.

Cover: Rudy Nappi.   Hate it.  So dark.  Very symbolic by throwing together elements in the book that don’t belong in the same scene.  That shrunken head?  Appears in a benign setting at the very beginning of the book and then disappears.  Yet here it is front and center as if the Hardy Boys are going to face down headhunters.  Nope.  Don’t like this one, Mr. Nappi.

Setting: Bayport and Guatemala.  

Where’s Fenton This Time?: Once again working on the same case, at times working with the boys, and at times he gets called urgently to Washington.  And then when the boys need him more than anyone, at an extremely serious climax danger situation, uh, he’s in Washington.  Sorry, boys, find someone else to do the job.  Bad, Fenton!

Which Chums Show Up?: Chet, Biff, Tony, Callie, Iola. And Maria Santos and Judy Rankin.  Who?  Exactly.  Nice try, Mr. Almquist, but no banana.

What’s Chet’s Hobby This Time?: None.  Oh, and he’s back to being a coward again, just as we like him.  Always nice to have ol’ Chet worry about horrible ways to die.

Aunt Gertrude’s Dessert: She merely tut tuts about how dangerous things are, and the boys consciously lie to her as usual.  You don’t deserve pie when you do that.

Plot: Tony inherits some curios from a late relative’s shop in New York City.  At that exact moment a gang of crooks from Guatemala show up in Bayport and try desperate and dangerous things to get those curios.  What are they after?  Why are they willing to attempt murder for it?  Why does it always, always, always happen in Bayport?

Review:  Starts off hot, with a villain who is do unrelentingly desperate to get the goods that it’s amazing.  Chapters 1 and 2 are like having a rabid dog trying to get your hamburger — he does not quit no matter what.  It’s quite a start.  But then the mystery basically turns out to be, What Do They Want?, and once they figure that out, it’s the ol’ find the buried gold that the Hardy Boys can find instantly but the natives couldn’t find for centuries. Riiiight.

But hey, you get to visit Guatemala, and it does have this particularly nifty bit of detective work described:

“Joe shook out the contents of the envelope and selected one of the firmer tiny charred pieces. He clamped this in place on the microtome. Then, running a finely honed knife blade delicately through it, Joe cut off a section.
“What thickness?” he asked.
“About two thousandths of an inch,” Frank replied.
Working carefully, Joe cut other tissue-thin sections from several angles, letting them drop onto a glass slide. In a few moments Frank had prepared several photomicrographs of them, showing distinct wood grains.
“Now we’ll see what was burning in the sarcophagus,” Frank said as he prepared to project the first lantern slide.”

When you are a ten-year-old, this stuff is dynamite!  You feel like you are really learning stuff.

But on the whole, just a middling effort with some nice aspects and a depressing cover.

Score: 6

34: THE HOODED HAWK MYSTERY

34

 

Who Wrote It?: Franklin W. Dixon

C’mon, Who Really Wrote it?: Charles S. Strong in 1954.  His one and only Hardy Boys book.  We’re going through a string of one-offs, but that will soon end.

Was It Revised?: Yes, in 1971 by Pricilla Baker-Carr.

Cover: Rudy Nappi.   Heavy on the yellow, and a bit of red.  Symbolism and realism in one painting. Nice bird.

Setting: Bayport and nearby.  Basically as far as a homing pigeon flies.  

Where’s Fenton This Time?: Once again working on the same case, at times working with the boys, and at times he gets called urgently to Washington.  But he gets the most important Chapter XX Deus Ex Fenton call since the boys were almost blown up by that clock!

Which Chums Show Up?: Chet, Biff, Tony, Callie, Iola.

What’s Chet’s Hobby This Time?: None.  These one-off authors don’t quite know what to do with Chet.  Typically no hobby, but also quite brave in action.  How can Chet be the Scooby Doo character of the series if he keeps being written as brave?

Aunt Gertrude’s Dessert: The boys go hungry.

Plot: Someone sends Frank and Joe a peregrine hawk — wait, what?  That’s right.  Then pigeons get killed by the hawk and were found to be carrying rubies and messages from point somewhere to other point who knows where.  Then a young man from India gets kidnapped and must be found.  Bombings and poisoning death threats follow.

Review:  First of all, let me welcome my readers from India!  Did you know you folks represent the second-most popular country for reading this site?  Welcome!  This is your book!

India achieved independence in 1947.  Seven years later it was time to introduce young boys and girls to the fine people of that distant land.  Honestly, that’s how this book reads.  Some mighty noble characters get introduced, if they aren’t on the other side and then quite devilish.  Still, mid-century American attempts at multi-culturalism aside, this is a pretty good mystery.  Basically all they have to go on is what that hawk turns up, plus that nice Indian merchant downtown who hates to see anything besmirch the reputation of his country.

In the end this has suspense, a vicious bombing that literally destroys half of the Hardy’s house, and death by poison at the end until Fenton decides maybe Washington can wait.  And boy does Sam Radley get the most thankless job in the entire series in this book.  But in the end, this has some good stuff in it.  See, readers from India, this one is decent!  Like Frank and Joe, I look forward to visiting your country too.

Score: 8

33: THE YELLOW FEATHER MYSTERY

33

 

Who Wrote It?: Franklin W. Dixon

C’mon, Who Really Wrote it?: William Dogherty in 1953.  His one and only Hardy Boys book.

Was It Revised?: Yes, in 1971 by Pricilla Baker-Carr.

Cover: Rudy Nappi.   A burnt orange/yellow cover, with a mixture of symbolism (the feather) and realism (Frank and Joe looking at the cabin in a scene right from the book).  To be honest, this nearly monochromatic cover put me off when I first reread this book as an adult.  But as we shall see, I should not have judged a book by its cover.

Setting: Bayport and nearby.  They don’t travel too far afield here.  

Where’s Fenton This Time?: He is working on the same case, and shows up quite often.  The author even has some fun with Fenton’s appearances in a couple of cases.  When Frank tackles his father thinking he caught a crook, you know the author is winking at us.

Which Chums Show Up?: Chet, Biff, Tony, Callie, Iola.

What’s Chet’s Hobby This Time?: He built a catamaran on ice, as it were.  A fan-driven ice boat.  Yes, it comes in handy.  Chet is the third Hardy Boy in this book and he really steps up.  No cowardice in this one, he just does the job.  When the gang is all together and Frank and Joe realize they have to check a place of danger out, it’s only Chet they ask to come along.  The author must have really liked Chet.

Aunt Gertrude’s Dessert: Nothing doing, check back later.

Plot: The headmaster of a boarding school dies, leaves behind a clue to where to find his will, and two people are after it.  Both of them ask the Hardys for help finding it.

Review:  Does that plot sound boring?  I assure you, this is pure Hardy Boys distilled to its essence:

  • Set in Bayport
  • All the chums show up
  • Chet has a hobby and is useful
  • The boys stubbornly stick to it despite threats to their lives
  • Inheritance is involved
  • A mysterious code
  • A mysterious enemy

It’s got everything you want in a Hardy Boys book. A bit dated, what with that mid-50s we-can-rehabiliate-a-juvenile-delinquent subplot — not to mention a character named Skinny — but the essence of the book is a well-told mystery with hidden rooms, hidden motives, a crook in plain sight (but which one is the crook?), good detective work, a deadly threat at the end, and lots of misdirection about the Yellow Feather.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the book despite not being wild about the cover.  And so I give this book…

Score: 10 (if you want to hand someone a Hardy Boys book to see if they like it, this is a good choice)