Friday, January 12, 2018

The Missing Chums by Franklin W. Dixon

Wholesome crimefighting fun 
The fourth book in the Hardy Boys mystery series, The Missing Chums, was originally published in 1928 and significantly revised and reissued in 1962. The revised version, written by James Buechler under the series pseudonym of Franklin W. Dixon, is the story that I’m reviewing here. In this adventure, Frank and Joe Hardy are on their way to a costume party when they witness a bank robbery. After giving their statements to the police, they join their friends at the party. The next day they find out that two of their buddies, Chet and Biff, never returned home after the evening’s festivities. While using their sleuthing talents to locate their missing chums, the boys discover important clues to the identities of the bank robbers.

The first thing that stands out about The Missing Chums is the amazing amount of personal freedom that teenagers apparently enjoyed in the early 1960s. Not only do the police allow the Hardy Boys to participate in active investigations, they actually encourage them to do so. In the first chapter, the chief of police sends Frank and Joe on a mission to investigate a series of violent disturbances in the local squatters’ village for hoboes and drifters. Talk about child endangerment! Later, the police deliberately use the boys as bait to catch some crooks. Much of the action of the story takes place on motorboats, which the boys are allowed to take out without permission whenever they wish, and the Hardy parents allow them to stay out all night and chase after criminals. Of course, kids love to read about other kids who live in some dream world where they are allowed to act like adults, which is why this series is so appealing to young readers. Another reminder that the ‘60s were a much simpler and safer era is the attitude taken toward kidnapping. When it is suspected that Chet and Biff may have been abducted, it is just assumed that they are being held for ransom, rather than captured by some creepy psycho who might want to do them harm. Ah, the good old days, when all we had to worry about was ransom.

The plot of The Missing Chums is better than the previous three Hardy Boys books. The story delivers enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing, and it was sufficiently suspenseful to keep my young son and I interested up until the very end. Judging from the series so far, the main thing that hinders the Hardy Boys cases from being truly great detective fiction is the fact that the villains are never integral members of the supporting cast (i.e. the butler did it), but rather career criminals who just happen to be plying their craft in the environs of Bayport. This convention serves to reinforce the wholesomeness of the Hardys’ world. In their hometown, a grocer, a teacher, or a pharmacist couldn’t possibly be a criminal. Only an outsider—hoboes, drifters, sailors—born and raised among a lower class of people, could stoop to committing such evil acts as theft or kidnapping (and of course, there are no murders in Bayport). Though the Hardy Boys series was probably originally meant for teenagers in Frank and Joe’s age range, the adolescents of today are unlikely to appreciate the early books because of this antiquatedly hokey view of the world. The Hardys can’t compete with the violent and fantastical excesses of today’s video games, movies, and young adult literature. Younger kids with a less jaded attitude, however, like elementary schoolers, can still find these books exciting and entertaining. My son and I have enjoyed reading them together, and as long as he’s up for it, I’ll be joining the Hardys for book five, Hunting for Hidden Gold.

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