The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack


Hardy Boys

The Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon

The first novel I ever read was The Tower Treasure by Franklin W. Dixon. I was six years old. I had read other "children's books" but that was a 20 chapter novel that we got as part of a promotion on the back of a cereal box. After I read it, my father (probably unintentionally) turned me into a life long reader by having me sit down at the breakfast table and tell him the whole story. I loved the attention and I kept reading (even though he never invited me to tell him the whole plot of a novel again).

I've decided to inaugurate 2023 by rereading (and in some cases first-time-reading) the Hardy Boys. This assumes I can reach the box of blue hard backs that I have buried in storage. I'm also going to look over some of the newer series that have come since then and if I can find any, I'll read the early yellow hard backs (which the blue hard backs are rewrites of), but I don't own any of those so that probably won't happen.

I'll also see if I still have my old biography of Franklin W. Dixon (the W stands for "Win") and add that in here as well.


Hardy Boys Adventures 3 The Vanishing Game by Franklin W. Dixon

The biggest news of this novel is that Joe has a girlfriend, Daisy, and her parents have just bought a local amusement park. The success of the park depends heavily on the opening of their star attraction—G-Force. But a great opening day turns to horror when Daisy’s friend Kelly disappears off the G-Force ride without a trace. Frank and Joe immediately agree to help find the missing girl, but things quickly get confusing when Daisy—after asking for their help—starts to get angry with Joe for investigating. When a second person disappears, the tension gets even greater. Daisy’s father is keeping secrets and there is a creepy guy working for the park that seems to be involved.

Overall, it’s a nice little mystery, but the police seem particularly incompetent. Frank and Joe get their hands on video which the police should have found. I also think that the police should have located the trick that allows people to vanish. But, that would have made it harder for Frank and Joe to shine.

Most unusual for this series so far, there’s a cliff hanger ending after the mystery is solved.

6 The Shore Road Mystery by Franklin W. Dixon

This review refers to the blue hardback edition of this story. Cars are being stolen off the Shore Road outside of Bayport and the police are helpless to find the villains. Fortunately, Frank and Joe Hardy are ready to take the case. At the same time, a friend asks for their help in solving a centuries old family mystery and locate an ancient treasure. When that same friend and his father are accused of being the Shore Road thieves, Frank and Joe and their family step up to help them make bail only to seemingly be betrayed when the two miss their court case.

The trend in the last few books toward increasing threats of violence continued in this novel. Friends of the Hardy boys’ lives are endangered as an attempt is actually made to murder Frank’s girlfriend. (Why do their friends’ parents let anyone hang out with Frank and Joe?) No one seems to think of these boys as “boys” anymore as they try to track down the criminals and locate the ancient treasure.

One underplayed but still noticeable innovation in this novel is that, for the first time, the town of Bayport appears to be turning against the Hardy boys. People whose cars have been stolen are enraged that the boys helped to bail out the accused thieves. The author could have done more with this negative attention.

This book had the makings of a great one, but unfortunately, it didn’t pan out that way. It just didn’t keep my attention as easily as previous novels did.

The Hardy Boys

1 The Tower Treasure by Franklin W. Dixon

This is the first novel I ever read. I was six years old and we got the book as part of a deal on the back of a cereal box. When I finished it, my father (probably unintentionally) confirmed me as a reader forever by asking me to tell me the entire plot at the breakfast table. I ended up reading all of the blue hardbacks over the next four years and I’m fond of the Hardy Boys series to this day.

The Tower Treasure is the first book in the series. I read it a few times during my childhood. It’s not my favorite Hardy Boys book, but it establishes the characters and the tone of the series. Set in the 1960s, Frank and Joe are brothers, eighteen and seventeen respectively, and are what we might call good American boys—popular with their classmates and wholesome and decent. Their father is a famous detective, and they are desperate to follow in his footsteps.

The novel opens with the boys getting their chance to solve their first mystery on their own. Their friend Chet’s much-loved car has been stolen and the boys are anxious to help him find it again. They search for clues and organize a search for the car, but even as they taste their first victory, a bigger mystery falls into their lap. One of the wealthiest families in town has been robbed and the father of one of Frank and Joe’s friends is arrested for the crime. The brothers dedicate themselves to finding the missing money and proving their friend’s father is innocent.

There isn’t a lot of depth to the majority of the characters. One of the most fun is Oscar Snuff, a not-particularly-talented detective desperate to prove himself and win a spot on the Bayport police force. Snuff is everything the Hardy Boys are not—a crude blunderer with the appearance of questionable ethics. He’s not exactly a villain but he is a purposeful counterpoint to the heroes.

It's interesting to read the book again after many decades. I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the book and how many small details I remembered. I think it was a pretty good choice for my first novel.

2 The House on the Cliff by Franklin W. Dixon

In my memories of reading this book as a child, this was one of the most exciting of all of the Hardy Boys adventures. While investigating a smuggling operation occurring near their town of Bayport, Frank and Joe’s father, famous detective Fenton Hardy, disappears. A day later, a typed letter, apparently signed by Fenton, comes to the home telling the family he will be out of town for a few days, but the letter does not include a secret sign that their father always includes in his personal correspondence to protect against criminals forging his name. Since the letter does not have this sign, the boys believe their father has been kidnapped and begin to search for him.

Their investigation quickly begins to focus on an old house on the cliff of the title due to a series of events that occurred their earlier in the novel and some clues to their father’s interest in it. They make some mistakes that should be expected of teenaged boys. And they mobilize their friends to help them with the search. There’s the old house. There’s a secret tunnel leading into the bay. And there is an armed villain and his thugs who clearly don’t want the boys poking their noses into the area. All told, this book formed an exciting adventure, many details of which are still with me fifty years after first reading.

As an adult, the investigation looked a lot weaker to me than it did when I was a child, but this is a book geared at the young and I think it works very well as an adventure story with a bit of mystery. As a child, when the boys rescued their father only to become caught up in an even more dangerous problem, I was at the edge of my seat with excitement. As an adult, it still kept my interest.

3 The Secret of the Old Mill by Franklin W. Dixon

In the third of the blue hardback Hardy Boys novels, Dixon ups the stakes with several attempts on the brothers’ lives. In the last book, they were captured and threatened, but in this one, they are knocked unconscious and stuck in their boat in circumstances that were intended to lead to an accident where they would have presumably died. Similarly, their boat is later sabotaged so that a potentially lethal accident would result. This is a serious upping of the tension from anything we saw in the first two novels. It was somewhat troubling that their father accepted these attacks as something detectives needed to expect to happen once in a while.

The basic plot revolves around two mysteries. The first, affecting the boys, is a counterfeiting ring which appears to be operating in the Bayport area and which tricks two of their friends into accepting bogus money. The second mystery is a secretive case their father is working on. When the threats begin to come in, it isn’t immediately clear which mystery is inspiring the criminals to warn them off.

This is a fast-moving book, but it didn’t grab my attention to the same extent that the previous one did. I felt like at times Frank and Joe were just a little too dense in not picking up on obvious clues that they stumbled upon. They were especially slow to become suspicious of a security guard who lies to them. But overall, it was a pretty standard feeling Hardy Boy adventure.

4 The Missing Chums by Franklin W. Dixon

This novel has a very interesting opening because it shows the series’ roots in the Great Depression. It is also a totally unrealistic beginning. Chief Collig, top officer in Bayport’s police force, asks 17-year-old Joe and 18-year-old Frank to investigate a place called Shantytown on the outskirts of Bayport for him. It seems there has been a lot of fights there recently and he wants these two civilian non-police officers to find out what’s going on for him because his police might be recognized. So, a totally absurd premise, but actually also an important window into the respectful relationship the 1960s Hardy Boys rewrites strove to establish between the police and the two boy detectives.

Frank and Joe get a slow start on the investigation choosing instead to go boating with their friends where they are almost in a collision with another boat This boat seemed to aim for them, and they damage their own vessel getting out of his way. After getting a temporary repair, they go to pick up costumes for a masquerade party they are attending that night only to see what appears to be the owner of the shop being strongarmed by rough-looking customers. As if that isn’t enough, they come out of the shop only to witness a bank robbery. They chase the villains through the fog, but they escape by stealing the Hardy boys’ own boat. And then as if enough strange and apparently unconnected bits of trouble haven’t happened already, two of their friends disappear leaving the party later that night.

Readers will immediately suspect that all of these problems are somehow connected, but the Hardy brothers are not yet ready to make that intuitive leap. The next day, they find their stolen boat and decide to pursue their investigation of Shantytown even though their friends are missing. The first people they encounter there are the troublemakers and shortly thereafter they see the driver of the boat that caused them so much trouble the day before. So, what exactly is going on? The boys then half-break cover by saying they are looking for two missing friends. Almost immediately they find a piece of a gorilla costume that one of the friends was wearing making me wonder what the men of Shantytown they were questioning must have thought. After all, most down on their luck individuals (such as Frank and Joe were pretending to be) don’t wear expensive gorilla costumes.

The investigation continues in this fashion with coincidence doing more to advance the boys work than sleuthing did. Then they come up with an absolutely idiotic plan that there father madly agrees to—and unsurprisingly, it doesn’t work out quite the way they expected putting the two boys in great danger and setting up an adrenalin filled ending.

This is by far the most poorly thought out of the first four books, but honestly, despite the many problems it was still entertaining. Still, you have to wonder why the Hardy boys’ friends are still permitted to hang out with them after two were kidnapped because they were mistaken for the Hardys and others were put in grave danger (again) helping them on their case.

5 Hunting for Hidden Gold by Franklin W. Dixon

This review refers to the blue hardback edition of the novel. For the first time in the series, Frank and Joe travel out of the Bayport Area to investigate a mystery. Their father is investigating criminals who robbed an armored car in the west and Frank and Joe are called out to assist him. While changing planes in Chicago, there is an attempt to kidnap them to put pressure on their father to back off, but they escape.

Running along side the current mystery is an historical one involving the theft of gold years before when criminals attempted to rob a group of miners. One of the miners escaped with the gold and disappeared, presumably running off with the treasure, but the action was outside the man’s character and the idea that he is a thief doesn’t sit well with his surviving partner. So while Frank and Joe are looking for the bad guys out in the Rockies, they are also looking for some sign of what happened to the missing miner and the gold.

The boys make a lot of mistakes in this book. Some are quite understandable like believing a man who says he has a message from their father. Others, prying at the walls of a mineshaft with a crowbar and causing a cave in made the young men seem a lot stupider than their detective exploits would make credible.

By midway through the book there have been multiple attempts to kill Frank and Joe—a serious level of danger that doesn’t seem to cause their father (who is laid up with broken ribs) to do anything more than advise them to be careful. I have to admit that this bothers me. Yes, they are the heroes of the story, but Fenton Hardy really must be cold to not be more concerned about the safety of his sons.

In many ways, the plot of this novel doesn’t make sense except to give the Hardy boys a chance to have an adventure that feels like an old western. There are pistols and rifles (not in the hands of the Hardys), horses, rugged terrain, an old gold mine (or two), etc. The question is: Why is the armored-car-robbing gang here? Yes, they have a connection to the 25 year old gold robbery, but there really was no reason for them to hang out in this area while Fenton Hardy was looking for them—other than to give the Hardy boys a chance to investigate in the west.

Hardy Boys Adventures

Hardy Boys Adventures 1 The Secret of the Red Arrow by Franklin W. Dixon

This novel launches a new Hardy Boys series. While growing up, I read the original “blue hardback” series and was surprised and pleased by many of the changes in this new book. First, in the original series, Frank and Joe are all American boys. They play every sport, are loved and respected by all of their classmates, the chief of the Bayport police respects them, and so on. The only problems they have come from criminals. In this novel, Frank and Joe are not clones of each other. Frank is more of a geek, Joe somewhat more athletic. Neither is in the running for most popular kid in their school and the police find them annoying. In fact, their propensity for investigating mysteries has gotten them into a lot of trouble in the past resulting in the “deal” in which they stop all investigations or go to reform school. They don’t stop, of course, but this is a very different setup than that of the original series.

There is also a new cast of friends and classmates in this book. Chet, Tony, Biff, and the girlfriends, Callie and Iola, are gone. There are new friends and classmates in their place, but it made me wonder why they needed to get rid of all the trappings of the original series.

The book opens with a bang with Joe Hardy helping to rob a bank. And while, no, it is not what it appears, it is a great opening and the first chapters of the book are involved in figuring out what was really going on at the bank. Then they get pulled into helping a school bully who has a truly disturbing problem, and they slowly uncover a Bayport urban legend, the Red Arrow. The Red Arrow appears to be a master criminal involved in extortion and blackmail. It was unrealistic that Frank and Joe had never heard of this urban legend, but it was fun to watch everyone clam up when they started asking about it. Clearly there was truth to the legend, and no one wanted to deal with it.

The resolution of the mystery was way too quick and easy. I think the Red Arrow should have been much smarter and not given himself away. The way I think of it, this was more of an “establish the basics” book, putting the basic pieces in place for a new series. I enjoyed it, but much of the enjoyment came from comparing the new series to the old.

Hardy Boys Adventures 2 Mystery of the Phantom Heist by Franklin W. Dixon

Some of the old gang from the original series is back in this second book in the Hardy Boys Adventures. Chet returns as the overweight best friend. Also, Tony and Chet’s sister, Iola, make appearances, although Iola is no longer Joe’s girlfriend. I think that the girlfriends were “dropped” in this series so that Frank and Joe can angst over girls who appear in the story—something that couldn’t happen if they were “going steady”.

The author tries very hard to make the plot for this adventure something that could realistically involve a couple of high school boy detectives. Someone is playing pranks around Bayport like dropping eggs into the book return at the library and the pranks are becoming an increasing nuisance for the city. The culprits hide their faces with bandanas and call themselves the Scare Devils. And it turns out that the Scare Devils don’t like Frank and Joe trying to figure out who they are. (In fact, it was super easy to figure out who they are. They post their videos online and their leader is not very secretive, but the police are contradictorily interested in ending the pranks and not interested in considering that the son of one of the most influential men in town could be behind them.

While all of this is happening, a sweet sixteen party is about to be thrown for the richest girl in town and Frank, Joe, and Chet are not invited. This gives the author the chance to play the rich kid versus everyone else card. The rich kids go to Bayport Academy and are snobs. Everyone else goes to Bayport High. It starts out looking a little two dimensional, but that picture improves as the book develops.

The climax of the tale is nicely put together as Frank and Joe figure out the connection between the party and the Scare Devils and hurry to avert catastrophe one foot ahead of the police.


Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys by Peggy Herz

When I dug out the box of my old blue hardback Hardy Boys series, I found this small paperback in the box and just finished rereading it. While it’s really about the television series starring Sean Cassidy, Parker Stevenson, and Pamela Sue Martin, the first two chapters area all about the books. The Hardy Boys were invented by a man named Edward Stratemeyer who also invented Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, and a host of other adventure series for young boys and girls. His ideas were bigger than his ability to get the stories written so he created a company, The Stratemeyer Syndicate in 1906 to farm out the work according to what is now called the Stratemeyer Formula. He built outlines for his stories and hired ghost writers to fill in the pages. Each chapter had a tense point in the middle and ended on a sort of cliffhanger to keep the reader turning pages. By the 1970s, when Peggy Herz wrote this little book, Nancy Drew books had sold more than 60 million copies and the Hardy Boys 50 million more.

The rest of the book is about the creation of the television series—which my sister and I watched religiously as long as it aired. It includes interviews with the three stars and ends with a discussion of the production of the series, fan reaction, and an exploration of why these three characters continue to be cherished by people around the world.

This is a very quick read but if you have any interest in literature’s three most famous “kid” detectives, it’s worth reading.