Monday, February 4, 2019

The Shore Road Mystery by Franklin W. Dixon

Three jumbled mysteries and a lot of fat jokes
The Shore Road Mystery is the sixth book in the Hardy Boys series of mystery novels (those published by Grosset & Dunlap, with the blue spines). The author, Franklin W. Dixon, is a blanket pseudonym for any number of authors who worked on the series. The original version was published in 1928, but then, like all books in the series, the story was significantly revised to keep up with the times, and the new version was rereleased in 1964. It is the latter version that I’m discussing here.

In this installment, the boys have no less than three mysteries to solve. Their father, detective Fenton Hardy, is in New York hunting down a ring of gun smugglers. The Hardy Boys, in their hometown of Bayport, are faced with a string of auto thefts along Shore Road. In addition, one of their school chums has brought to their attention a clue to the location of a mysterious treasure buried by a pilgrim centuries ago. It should come as no surprise to anyone who reads these books that the three mysteries all end up being related.

Though this may be a children’s book, my middle-aged self had trouble keeping up with all the twists and turns in this convoluted plot. There are so many unmemorable villains it is difficult to tell them all apart, and by the end of the book I still couldn’t figure out who all was doing what and how each profited from the schemes they had hatched. Nevertheless, I am reading these books with my nine-year-old son, and there was enough excitement to keep him interested from start to finish. As always, there are plenty of chase, capture, and escape scenes to keep the plot moving, and every chapter ends with a cliffhanger. The amount of unconcern on the part of the Hardy parents, who allow their sons to roam around at all hours of the night chasing dangerous criminals, is truly ridiculous. Towards the end of the book, the boys come up with a plan to catch the car thieves that in real life would have surely ended in the termination of their young lives, but of course, through dumb luck everything works out all right in the end.

The Hardy Boys are meant to stand as exemplars of good manners and breeding, and for the most part they succeed. One thing I didn’t like about this book, however, is the extent to which it makes fun of their “stocky” friend Chet Morton. Poor Chet is the butt of so many fat jokes, both from his schoolmates and from the author, that it really constitutes bullying, albeit a form of bullying that was acceptable in the 1960s. This book includes an entire humorous subplot about Chet being on a diet. He has suddenly developed an interest in botany and decides to take a crack at vegetarianism. The whole thing is just an excuse to make fun of his weight and portray him as a hopeless glutton. Given that most of today’s children are probably heavier than what was considered “stocky” in the 1960s, it doesn’t set a great example for the young readers of today.

My son liked the book enough that he’s already talking about moving onto book seven. The more I get into this series, however, the more I realize how hacky these books are and wonder how I ever enjoyed them so much when I was younger. I guess in the minds of young readers the fantasy of crime-fighting independence counts for more than any coherence in the mystery itself.
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