Monday, June 19, 2017

The Tower Treasure by Franklin W. Dixon



A rather bland debut
The Tower Treasure, originally published in 1927, is the first book in the Hardy Boys series of mysteries for juvenile readers. I read dozens of these books when I was a kid, though I don’t think I ever read The Tower Treasure back then. Purists will point out that the original story by Dixon was significantly altered in the 1959 edition. The latter version is the one that I read, and the one I’m reviewing here. I was looking for a chapter book to read with my seven-year-old son, and I thought I’d give the Hardy Boys a try. He reacted rather unenthusiastically to the book, and surprisingly, reading the Boys myself after all these years, so did I.

Frank and Joe Hardy, students at Bayport High, are sons of the renowned detective Fenton Hardy. When their friend Chet Morton’s yellow jalopy is stolen, the boys decide to try their hand at their father’s trade and solve the mystery themselves. In the course of their investigation, a more substantial robbery takes place as $40,000 worth of jewelry and securities is stolen from the Tower Mansion, the palatial residence of the aged Applegate siblings. The Hardy Boys uncover evidence that the same thief perpetrated both crimes, but Hurd Applegate, the cranky old rich man who was robbed, blames the theft on his servant Mr. Robinson, whose son is a classmate of Frank and Joe’s. The boys must solve the mystery to clear their friend’s father and collect the $1,000 reward.

As one might expect, given the time period in which the book was published, The Tower Treasure is a wholesome adventure story imbued with the conservative family values of a bygone era. Everyone in the book is white, mothers don’t work, and that sort of thing. No surprises there. What was unexpected, however, is the classism running throughout the book, with the repeated implication that poor people are evil. When Mr. Robinson loses his job and the family has to take lodgings on the wrong side of the tracks, Frank and Joe just can’t get over what a horrible a fate that is. The Hardys and the families they associate with are virtuous members of the upper middle class, and anyone beneath their station is depicted as seedy and shifty. There’s a rival detective named Oscar Smuff, for instance, who is also vying for the reward. With his shabby clothes and bad manners, he’s the representative of white trash, and thus the Hardy Boys and their friends are justified in deceiving him and making him the butt of their jokes.

These offenses are slight, however, compared to just how boring the book is. Rather than a progressive string of discoveries that builds suspense, chapter after chapter goes by with nary a clue in sight. It’s like an Encyclopedia Brown story that’s been stretched out to 180 pages. Because the plot was significantly altered in the 1959 revision, perhaps the publisher is to blame rather than the author. Or maybe because this is their first case, as often happens the origin story is just not as exciting as the subsequent adventures. Nevertheless, this book deserves some credit for starting the series that has captivated so many young readers. I have fond memories of the Hardy Boys exploring underground caverns, climbing mountains, or flying planes, but there was little excitement in this debut. As my son and I read through it, he repeatedly complained of being bored. Nevertheless, to my surprise, he picked out another Hardy Boys book at the used book store, so it looks like I will be moving on to book two, The House on the Cliff. I hope it delivers more thrills than The Tower Treasure.
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