Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Hunting for Hidden Gold by Franklin W. Dixon

Perpetual attempted murder
This is the fifth book in the classic Hardy Boys series of mystery novels written for a young audience. Hunting for Hidden Gold was originally published in 1928, and then, like all of the early Hardy Boys books, it was significantly rewritten by another author and republished in 1963 (Franklin W. Dixon is a blanket pseudonym for any writer who worked on the series.) I’m reviewing the 1963 version, from Grosset & Dunlap’s edition with the familiar blue spine.

After four mysteries set in the Hardys’ hometown of Bayport, Hunting for Hidden Gold introduces a plot element that will henceforth be an important feature of the series: travel. Eventually the Hardy Boys’s adventures will take them to many exotic locales. Here, their first road trip finds them in the mountain village of Lucky Lode, Montana. The boys’ famous detective father, Fenton Hardy, is working on a case there, and in keeping with his usual cavalier attitude toward their safety he calls them to come out and help them with the case. I believe the crime Fenton Hardy is investigating involves an armored car robbery, but it’s barely mentioned in the story. What’s more important is that the Hardys also know a former gold prospector who once struck it rich in Lucky Lode, but his gold was stolen decades ago and never recovered.

Fenton Hardy is after a gang of villains led by a nondescript criminal named Big Al. The gang, who want Mr. Hardy to drop the case, not only try to kill him but also go after his sons. There really isn’t much of a mystery here at all; just chapter after chapter of these thugs trying to kidnap or kill the Hardy Boys. Meanwhile, the boys are searching for Big Al’s hideout. Little if any deductive reasoning is employed in this endeavor. In the course of either fleeing or chasing, as the case may be, the boys stumble upon secret passages and the occasional clue that remind you this is a juvenile mystery story, but really there’s little detective work going on here. It’s just a perpetual cycle of capture and escape, with every chapter ending in a cliffhanger. The boys don’t so much solve the case as survive it. While I understand the writers and publisher felt the need to add dire peril into these novels in order to keep young readers excited, they really went overboard with this one, to the point where the relentless chase scenes just become dull. Even my eight-year-old son thought this one was boring.

The fifth time is definitely not the charm for the Hardy Boys, as this is the worst book in the series thus far. While the previous four volumes did not feature great villains, Big Al is such a generic thug you might actually find yourself longing for the glory days of mildly colorful bad guys like Snattman (The House on the Cliff) or Hobo Johnny (The Tower Treasure). On the bright side, the change of scenery is nice, as Bayport was getting a little stuffy. This book’s setting and its quasi-western storyline at least allow for some wilderness thrills. Hopefully, however, the Hardy Boys’ further travels will inspire mysteries more satisfyingly intelligent than the tediously gratuitous action of Hunting for Hidden Gold.
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