Monday, December 10, 2012

Dead on Target (Hardy Boys Casefiles #1)

Dead on Target (Hardy Boys Casefiles #1)
Franklin W. Dixon
Simon & Schuster, 1987

Genre: Mystery


In the first volume of the new Hardy Boys Casefiles, Joe and Frank Hardy are dragged to the Bayport Mall by girlfriends Iola and Callie to distribute flyers for the upcoming presidential election and the candidate who is coming to the mall to speak on his views against terrorism. When Iola returns to the boys’ car to get more flyers, she is killed in a bomb explosion. The Hardys are thrust into an adventure that is way more bad-ass and dangerous than any they have solved before.

Turns out they were the intended victims of the car bomb as their father is working as head of security for the candidate’s visit and the bomb was planted to try and get him off the job. The boys are whisked away to safety by the Gray Man, an agent who works for the Network, an organization that Fenton Hardy has worked with before. They are tracking down a group of terrorists known as the Assassins. The boys refuse to go off into hiding, especially since Joe wants revenge for Iola’s death so the boys go up against assassins in the mall, terrorists on a plane to London, an explosion in a safe house, deadly car chases, and being tied up to the very same pillar with the bombs that are to go off during the candidate’s speech.

Doesn’t sound like your ordinary Hardy Boys mystery huh? That’s because it’s not. Keep reading to find out why.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

The first Casefiles book, Dead on Target, has the cover catch line of “Revenge is always a personal matter” and it starts off with a bang . . . literally (Dixon, 1987):

“Get out of my way, Frank!”

Joe Hardy shoved past his brother, shouting to be heard over the roar of the flames. Straight ahead, a huge fireball rose like a mushroom cloud over the parking lot. Flames shot fifty feet into the air, dropping chunks of wreckage—wreckage that just a moment earlier had been their yellow sedan.
“Iola’s in there! We’ve got to get her out!” (p. 1)

Right away the new, more “mature” Hardy Boys series has set the tone for its future 127 volumes as on the very first page, Iola Morton, Joe Hardy’s long-time girlfriend (of literally 60 years) is killed in a car bomb planted by a terrorist organization known as The Assassins—a car bomb meant for the Hardys. From this day forward in series book history, no longer would mystery titles feature the predominant words of “mystery,” “clue,” and “secret”; instead they would be riddled with the more gritty “murder,” “dead,” “deadly,” “die,” “hate,” and more.  If current movies always seem to contain an obligatory sex sequence, most of the post-1980s series always seem to contain obligatory flight scenes. Their violence is impressive when first encountered, but over time a reader can easily become inured to it.

So what makes the Hardy Boys Casefiles the most violent youth series of all time? First of all, for the first time in series book history a consistently appearing character is killed off, and not in a pretty way. She doesn’t die of illness—she’s blown to bits by a bomb (so much so there isn’t even a body for the funeral). Secondly, throughout the Casefiles series as a whole, emphasis is placed on violence, threats of death, fights, injuries, and bombs. A far cry from the original Hardy Boys mysteries that dealt primarily with petty criminals and supernatural occurrences.

Let’s look at a few of those scenes of violence. As the terrorists target the boys in the mall, Frank and Joe decide to run into a crowded theatre because it will be dark and they can avoid being seen: “Frank struck first, his hand hurtling down like a blade onto the man’s wrist. The gun flew from his grasp. Joe stepped in, throwing a punch at the man’s stomach. But even as Joe swung, the man twisted aside, driving his elbow into the pit of Frank’s stomach. Frank folded, and the man launched a killing blow to Frank’s neck, a blow that missed as Joe kicked desperately into the back of the guy’s leg. The legs bucked, but the man launched a clawlike finger at Joe’s throat. Joe hunched his shoulders and landed a solid punch into the assailant’s face. The man staggered back, and Joe charged forward, butting his head and knocking him to the floor. Joe jumped for a pindown” (p. 28).

Chapter seven is nothing but an explosion of violence (pun intended)! After the car chase, the Gray Man takes the boys home and tells them that someone from the Network is going to come and take them into hiding for their safety. The resourceful Hardys don’t like the idea of hiding so they decide to follow Gray Man to London where he said the Assassins are supposedly headquartered. Frank, using mad computer hacker skills, gets the boys tickets on the same airplane, in seats right next to the Gray Man. Little do they know that the little old man and his female companion in a wheelchair they saw board the plane earlier are (a) not old and (b) are terrorists sent to blow up the plane. Once they are safely in the air, the man comes out of the restroom, having removed his makeup, with a grenade in his hand declaring the plane now to be under the control of the Assassins. Before he even reaches the cockpit (Dixon, 1987):

Frank burst from his seat, snapping a karate blow at the hijacker. It connected with his right wrist, paralyzing the hand. The grenade flew from nerveless fingers.

But the hijacker’s other hand was operating fine. It sent a spray of Mace into Frank’s face. The acrid stench of the chemical filled the air as Frank involuntarily backed away. He was choking and reeled in sudden blindness.

“Now you pay.” The hijacker’s voice was venomous as he prepared to club the helpless Frank.
But Joe snapped open his seat belt. He barreled out of his row and crashed into the guy. They staggered across the aisle, crashing against the seat on the other side. Joe’s hand clamped over the top of the spray can. He didn’t want the Mace in his face.

He could hear sputtering sounds from the spray nozzle as the contents of the can squirted into the palm of his hand. Even there, the chemicals burned his skin. Still worse, they made his hand slippery. He was loosing his grip!

The hijacker twisted Joe’s hand—and the can—free. Joe had just one move to make. Bracing one foot behind the man’s ankle, he propelled them both into the laps of the people on the seat. At the same moment, he shoved his own chemical-covered hand straight into the terrorist’s eyes. . . .

But the Mace worked against him, too, as Joe kept his soaked hand over the man’s face. The hijacker bucked and tore his face free, which was the opening Joe had been waiting for. As soon as the man had blindly twisted out of his grip, Joe’s other hand drew back, cocked in a fist, and homed in for the point of the guy’s jaw. (p. 49-50)

Meanwhile, Frank’s vision is coming back to him and he sees the female terrorist try to make a dive for the grenade: “Frank lunged over her, blindly kicking out with his foot. . . . The woman whirled on Frank, hissing something in a language he couldn’t understand. She fumbled for a second with the large pin on her blouse. Frank squinted. No, it was too large to be a pin. It was more like the blade of a stiletto” (Dixon, 1987, p. 50).

The female terrorist pushes Frank into the Gray Man and grabs the stewardess as a hostage, threatening to kill her unless she is given the grenade. The Gray Man tries to convince her to take him, a government official, instead. As she hesitates, Frank sees his chance (Dixon, 1987):

He launched a flying kick, past the Gray Man’s side, past the stewardess’s ear—right into the pit of the female terrorist’s stomach.

The woman folded in the middle. At the same time, the Gray Man swept his arm out, pushing the stewardess away. Then Frank lashed his foot out again in a high kick. It connected with the female terrorist, and she flew down the aisle, landing flat on her back, the knife flashing just inches from the stewardess’s face.

The Gray Man moved fast. One foot landed on the blade of the knife; the other kicked the woman’s hand away. (p. 50-52).

In the end of the adventure, with Joe having sent the main Assassin falling to his death in the mall, Joe tells the Gray Man that he hopes they get a chance to work together again. Joe tells Frank, “This is more than just doing something for Iola. I realized it when that killer was falling. As long as there are Assassins, there’ll always be more Al-Rousasas. . . . I wanted a line to the government. And we’ve got that reward money coming. Enough to replace our car and get some good equipment. And I hoped you would be in it, too. Look, it’s not like I want us to give up our usual cases. But there are bigger things going on these days and we could make a difference” (p. 152).

The Hardy Boys Casefiles was important for a number of reasons in the study of series books. First, it made history when it became the first series to kill off a main character. Second, it ushered in a new era of violence in series books that moved the plots beyond the more old-fashioned Scooby-Doo-esque suspense and villains to a more James Bond-esque world of bombs, guns, and explosions galore. One concludes that the youth series fiction have degenerated from the relatively innocent mysteries and adventure of the pre-1960s to a highly serious and cynical stressing of violence and shock for their own sakes. In this way youth are quickly thrust into so-called adulthood and bereft of innocence at earlier ages. Also significant is the fact that throughout the history of series books, objectors to the series have aimed their criticisms at the common poor literary quality and repetitiveness and at the racial, national, and sexual biases rampant in the books. To date, there still has been no real objection to their violence.

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