Visiting America's Oldest Teenage Boy Detectives
Greetings armchair sleuths and amateur defectives!
It's the Read and Delete newsletter for
Back in the days of linoleum tabletops and asbestos floor tiles, when radio was new and the movies had yet to utter a word -- a guy by the name of Edward Stratemeyer (a publisher of such hard-hitting and intellectual literature such as 'The Bobbsey Twins' and 'The Rover Boys') came up with the idea of bringing detective fiction to the American youth market. In 1927, he commissioned the first of a series of ghost writers to bring two boys named Frank and Joe to life in a mythical town called Bayport, where they would solve mysteries for their famous detective father, Fenton Hardy.
Stratemeyer died in 1930, never living to find out just how far the Hardy Boys popularity would go. (58 volumes in the original series of books, several new iterations, plus 2 television series, action figures, comic books, board games, model cars-- even Walt Disney made his version of the Boys from Bayport.) The pseudonym 'Franklin W. Dixon' (as the author) is still being used to this day. Even so, Frank and Joe aged only 2 years in 8 decades, an enviable accomplishment for any literary character.
Hardy Boys' tomes were the Nintendo gameboy cartridges of their day-- being passed around from youngster to youngster -- hopefully being returned to the original owner who faithfully scrawled his name on the inside cover for posterity. These mysteries were best read in bed under the covers (by flashlight of course), or from within camping tents on windy nights.
Frank and Joe possessed every tool and conveyance necessary to set the pre-adolescent heart to flutter: motorcycles, a fast motorboat (called the Sleuth, by the way), a roadster, a gymnasium in their barn, skis, an airplane belonging to their father (they were both pilots, by the way), scuba equipment, etc. You name it, they had it. Including every kid's fantasy-- totally understanding parents. It may be sacrilege to say that the stories were formulaic, but to a kid of twelve it just didn't matter; the thieves, smugglers, counterfeiters and other nefarious miscreants just didn't have a chance. The Hardys were on the case, and come heck or high water, in 25 chapters the mystery was a done deal, and the boys got a pat on the back and a reward check on the final page.
At the age of eight, I discovered the teenage sleuths hiding on a bookshelf in my parents' basement. Within weeks I had a monkey on my back, squandering every nickel I could find at bookstores, garage sales or wherever- just to find out where the boys were going next. They went everywhere-- Alaska, Mexico, South America, Europe, Asia- all over the world- and always during the same winter and summer vacations! By the time I was fifteen (yes, fifteen) I had collected the entire series of books (52 at the time).
Looking back, I can see how these
two spurious teenagers have impacted my life. Even to this day every
thunderstorm I witness carries the possibility of adventure. I look up when a
plane flies by- it just might be signaling me- you never know. I don't go
anywhere without a pocketknife - well, 9/11 has amended that a little bit, but I
usually have my pocket flashlight handy. After reading "The Short-Wave
Mystery" back in 1969, I had dreams of becoming an amateur radio operator.
Twenty years later, I did- and I still have my license today (radio call sign
N9IPE.) There is always a tool kit in my car- to help others on the road. I
learned that if I kept my eyes and ears open I could face a lot of challenges
and solve a lot of mysteries. Now I travel around the world
troubleshooting problems (solving mysteries!) that others can't fix.
Well....... a few months ago I came across an old Hardy Boys book-- and just like an alcoholic finding a loose gin and tonic on the street-- I fell off the wagon. I am back to finding the old books. Right now there are 28 of the original (non revised) volumes safely stored in a glass fronted bookcase in my home office right now. This is not a mid-life crisis - I hope. I am actually reading them aloud to my sons Frank and Joe (James and Peter) at bedtime. Three chapters a night- if my voice can handle it. We started about a month ago, and my boys are hooked. We need to have a constant supply of MDA (Mystery, Danger & Adventure) or else we get withdrawal pains. Maybe it screws up our endorphin levels or something like that.
This brings us to the mystery---- where can you buy old Hardy Boys books nowadays? You can walk into most bookstores and buy the new 'politically correct' and watered down post 1959 revisions for a mere pittance-- you can even purchase a complete set of 58 reworked diatribes of the originals for a reasonable fee- kind of like buying a copy of the Mona Lisa repainted on velvet with Day-Glo colors. But the originals are long gone. (Somebody tried to reprint the first 14 volumes into a 'facsimile edition' a few years ago, but it didn't take off.) The books aren't parked in the used book stores either. I'll tell you where the old boys have gone. Frank and Joe are no longer cruising their old home town. They've moved from Bayport to E-Bay- where you can tune in on the boys' adventures. For a price,that is.
Another mystery-- why are some books readily available at cheap prices, but others of the same volume, vintage and quality selling for five times as much? Case in point: Two identical copies of "Mystery of the Flying Express", a book copyright 1941, in which the boys stumble into strange goings on aboard a new transcontinental streamliner- (for those of you who were raised on a steady diet of TV -- a streamliner is a kind of train) were sold on ebay within one hour of each other - one selling for $7 and the other for $34.77.(By the way- for those of you who were raised on streamliners- Ebay is an Internet auction website.) This price difference is enough to make any book detective crack his spine and scratch his flyleaf. Maybe spies are sending coded messages in certain copies of these books-- or there's a treasure map hidden inside-- or perhaps I just read too much into this. There are plenty of maniacs who start bidding wars over less. Anyway what idiot would pay 35 bucks for a single copy of the 'Flying Express' when I got TWO copies of it (plus 13 other volumes) for $62? What a dope!
Oops! (Maybe I talk too much.)
Maybe you've heard about an old Frank Sinatra movie called "The Man with the Golden Arm." It is an Oscar winner about a guy with a heroin addiction. Call me the Man with the Golden Bookcase.
Gotta go....... Frank and Joe are keeping James and Peter in suspense.
Next month--- Paper shredders, culinary accounting, and the Camp That Time Forgot!