9 January 2013
How many North American children over the past century, I wonder, have not taken up a Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew mystery? I read every one in both series when I was young, and I’m sure they are responsible for my current addiction to mystery novels.
I wasn’t surprised to discover a kindred spirit in Benjamin Hoff when I picked up House on the Point, his tribute to Franklin W. Dixon and the Hardy Boys – not because I’d ever read Hoff before (I hadn’t) or because I recognised him as author of the Tao of Pooh and saw the connection (I did, but I don’t). I just can’t imagine there being many out in Bookworld who haven’t been exposed to those serial mysteries for children that I still can’t keep in stock on my shelves almost 90 years after the first one was published!
Intrigued, though, I was. I haven’t picked up a Hardy Boys novel to read since I was a child. I somehow knew instinctively that they wouldn’t hold the same appeal for me that they did when I was a pre-teen. Reading one now, I felt, would somehow spoil the memory. Hoff’s novel, being a tribute, though…. Well, that might make it a bit different. And I was right.
Hoff begins with a preface that gives readers a history of the Hardy Boys and Dixon. He talks about taking the opposite choice to mine. When he bought one for his nephew, he decided to read it. He experienced the same disappointment that I feared, but refused to allow it to destroy his memory. Instead, he decided to write a better Hardy Boys novel, beginning with the same outline given to the ghost writer who wrote Hardy Boys No. 2: The House on the Cliff.
While The House on the Point is a better Hardy Boys, it isn’t a great mystery novel. It wasn’t meant to be, though, so that is quite forgivable.
The point of this novel is to take adults who remember the series on a nostalgic trip back to childhood, and that it does without disappointment! I had a lot of fun reading it, remembering the whole aura of hiding under the blanket with a flashlight to read the next chapter (and the next… The Hardy Boys may also be responsible for my early myopia) because I just couldn’t bear the suspense of the cliff-hanger ending of the last.
Hoff had another goal in writing House on the Point, though. He wanted to provide a revision that moved the Hardy Boys from a shallow serial for young readers into novels of substance for youth. He shares how he achieved that purpose in an afterword at the end of the book.
He also includes an essay, The Art of Seeing, which provides an interesting history of the classic mystery novel in the 19th Century and its progression into the Golden Age of Mystery of the early to mid-20th Century. In this essay he examines the close connection of the mystery novel to art, which is in itself an intriguing read. I found it so from a writers perspective as well as just enjoying the history as a reader.