Friday, September 1, 2017

The House on the Cliff by Franklin W. Dixon

An exciting improvement over the first book
I read the Hardy Boys mysteries when I was younger, and I’m now reading them with my son. We were both relatively unimpressed with The Tower Treasure, the first book in the series of boy-detective novels by author Franklin W. Dixon. To my surprise, however, my son wanted to read more, so we moved on to book two, The House on the Cliff. This mystery novel was originally published in 1927, but like many of the books in the series it was significantly revised in 1959 by Harriet Adams, an editor working on behalf of the publisher who owned the rights to the books. I’m happy to report, and I think my son would agree, that The House on the Cliff is much more entertaining and exciting than the volume that preceded it.

Smugglers have been operating in the coastal waters near the town of Bayport, and the police and Coast Guard have asked for internationally renowned detective Fenton Hardy’s help on the case. He in turn enlists his sons Frank and Joe and their buddies from high school to help him out with some of the legwork. The boys are assigned to watch the waters from a cliff that overlooks the bay. This vantage point is located on the grounds of the old Pollitt place, a spooky mansion sitting in seaside seclusion. Through the lens of their telescope, the boys spot suspicious activity taking place in the bay. Could it be the smugglers? Then suddenly, they hear strange noises coming from the Pollitt house. Fearing someone might be in danger within, they decide to enter the mansion and investigate.

There isn’t a lot of detective work here in the sense of piecing clues together to solve a puzzle, but there is a lot of cops-and-robbers-style scenes of chase, capture, and escape. The Hardy Boys follow the bad guys into secret caverns and hidden passageways. Occasionally guns are drawn and fists are thrown, but the violence is kept at a minimum for young audiences. As always, the Hardy Boys are held up as examples of right behavior and moral fortitude. The illustrations always show them wearing sweaters and ties—even when they’ve supposedly just been swimming!—while the villains wear trashy open-collared shirts and short sleeves. Still, even though the smugglers speak in sailor slang, there’s less of the classism here that was so blatant in The Tower Treasure. The criminals are depicted as men behaving badly but not incapable of moral redemption.

My son, of elementary school age, really enjoyed the colorful characters, like the helpful informant Pretzel Pete and the evil king of the smugglers Snattman. Almost every chapter in the book ends on a cliffhanger, so we were always looking forward to what would happen next. The House on the Cliff is not a particularly creative or intelligent mystery, but it’s a good family-friendly adventure novel that’s still got enough thrills for young boys to enjoy. After reading this episode, my son and I are looking forward to starting book three, The Secret of the Old Mill.

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