Wednesday, November 22, 2017
The Secret of the Old Mill by Franklin W. Dixon
On the trail of counterfeiters
Originally published in 1927, The Secret of the Old Mill is the third book in the Hardy Boys series of mystery novels by Franklin W. Dixon. Like all the early Hardy Boys books, it was revised and updated in 1962, with significant changes made to the original story. The revised version, one of the familiar blue-spined editions from Grosset & Dunlap, is the novel I’m reviewing here.
The mystery begins when brothers Frank and Joe Hardy accompany their pal Chet Morton to the science store to buy that microscope he’s always wanted. He has been saving up his money for this dream purchase, and is utterly disappointed when his legal tender is refused. One of his bills is counterfeit! When the Hardys go to the police to report the phony bill, they are informed that the cops have become aware of several other recent instances of counterfeit currency being circulated in Bayport. The boys decide to take it upon themselves to investigate the problem. Meanwhile, their dad is working on a separate case, the details of which he is not at liberty to divulge to his family. When mysterious threats start being aimed at the Hardys, warning them to drop the case, it is unclear to which case the anonymous notes are referring—the father’s or the sons’.
The plot of The Secret of the Old Mill is confusing, even for a grown-up. The Hardy Boys just seem to tread water for most of the book, not really making any headway in their pursuit of the counterfeiters. It is clear from the title of the book, the cover illustration, and developments throughout the story that the answer can only be discovered by venturing inside the old mill, but it takes forever for the boys to get there. Once they do, it is a pretty quick wrap-up to the finale. The reader never really sees much of the bad guys until the very end, so there’s nothing particularly interesting about them. They don’t have the personality of other Hardy opponents, like Snattman from the previous book. Instead, they come across like the generic wanted men who show up at the end of a Scooby-Doo episode from time to time. Of great assistance to the boys’ investigation, they obligingly spill their guts, revealing all the secrets that should have been figured out earlier in the book.
Despite the lackluster plot, The Secret of the Old Mill is amply stocked with the suspenseful scenes of captures and escapes, boat chases, and secret passages behind the bookcase that succeed in maintaining the interest of young boys. The real attraction here for the juvenile audience is not so much the mystery itself but rather the independence the boy detectives enjoy as they make their own way by car, motorcycle, or speedboat to solving adult problems without adult supervision. I enjoyed the series when I was a kid, and now I’m reading them with my young son. He and I both agreed that this third installment in the Hardy Boys series is not as good as the second book, The House on the Cliff, but it is probably better than their debut, The Tower Treasure.
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