Friday, April 26, 2013

The Tower Treasure (Hardy Boys #1)

The Tower Treasure (Hardy Boys #1)
Franklin W. Dixon
Grosset & Dunlap, 1927

Genre: Mystery


Frank and Joe helped Fenton Hardy with a forgery case and now think about a possible career as detectives. Frank is the tall, dark brother with straight brown hair and brown eyes. He is 16 years old. Joe, on the other hand, is fair and has curly hair and blue eyes. Joe is 15 years old. The story starts out with the boys delivering papers to Willowville for their father. Riding their motorcycles up to dangerous Shore Road they nearly get hit by a reckless car. The driver shouts to the boys that they can only make out a hatless head with lots of red hair. After delivering the papers they decide to visit their best friend, Chet Morton. His dad is a real estate dealer and they live in the country. On the way to Chet's they see a wrecked car on the side of the road but no one around. Chet informs the boys that his roadster has been stolen. They wonder if the driver of the wrecked car stole the roadster. They go to the abandoned car to see if they can find any clues but discover that it has no license plates. They quickly realize upon a closer look that the wrecked car is the one that nearly ran them off the road. Knowing that the man couldn’t have gotten far with the roadster they take off after him. They speed off to Bayport with the intent of going to the police and find themselves having to be content with filing a report. They learn of a holdup at the train station and it really sounds like the same thief. Fenton agrees with the boys that it seems to be the same man. However, witnesses to the holdup described the man as being different from the one the Hardy's saw.

A week passes and there is no word of the roadster. Chet decides to be a boy and play a trick on Mr. Billey. He hitches a ride on the back of his wagon and hides. Chet has a new horn that he got for his car but did not get a chance to install before it was stolen. It is small and very loud. From his hiding spot, Chet keeps honking the horn causing Mr. Billey to move his wagon to the side of the road to make way for a phantom car. After doing this about three times a real car approaches and starts honking its horn, but Mr. Billey refuses to move thinking it is the phantom horn again. The driver eventually calls the cops and they get into an ensuing argument in which both men are telling the truth and they cause an even longer line of cars to get backed up.

When Joe and Frank go into the woods with their friends Joe discovers an abandoned roadway with what appears to be recent tire tracks. He discovers that the unusual tread matches the tires on the missing roadster. All the boys search the clearing and eventually find the missing car. When they drive back to town they discover there's been quite a hubbub as the Tower Mansion has been robbed. Tower Mansion is a castle-like structure sitting on a hill overlooking the bay. Barely anyone in town has been inside it for years. It was built by Major Applegate, an eccentric old army man who made his money through lucky real estate deals. The house is currently owned by Hurd and Adelia Applegate. Hurd is about 60 years old and is an expert on stamps. He ended up building a second identical tower on the castle only a few years ago. Adelia is a 55-year-old spinster who is best known for wearing wild clothes. Earlier that morning Hurd showed up at the police to say that the safe in the library was broken into and all the securities and jewels were taken. He asked Fenton for help in trying to retrieve the $40,000 that's been stolen. He agrees to let the boys accompany Fenton to check the crime scene.

The boys discover that Hurd believes that Robinson, his caretaker, stole the money but he has no proof. Robinson happens to be the father of Perry, a friend of Joe and Frank. He believes that Robinson is the only other person who's ever seen the safe opened. Plus, he paid off a note at the bank that very morning for $900 which seems very unlikely since his family has had a hard time with debt. Fenton can't find any fingerprints or other clues and asks to speak to Robinson. Perry, aka Slim, declares to the boys that his dad is innocent. Robinson admits to knowing the combination because he saw it on a piece of paper but he proclaims his innocence and says that he's not at liberty to say where the $900 came from. Hurd demands that the police arrest Robinson. Frank and Joe have a suspicion that the man who stole Chet's roadster and held up the ticket booth could possibly have something to do with this robbery as well. They decide to go back to the scene of the wrecked car. Frank finds an engine number but he bets that this car was also stolen. Frank then finds a red hair on the seat which leads them to believe that the man with the shocking red hair was wearing a wig. Fenton believes that this is sufficient proof for a chain of evidence. This man the boys saw was clearly a professional and, failing to rob the ticket booth, might have hung around for something better. Perry admits to having seen a strange man lurking around the mansion's yard about two days before the robbery. The next day the boys discover that Hurd Applegate is offering a $1,000 reward for information. They decided they will be the ones to crack the case.

While Perry's father has not been charged with anything, Hurd Applegate fires him and now he cannot find another job because people are still suspicious. Perry tells the boys that he might have to leave school for work to help the family. The boys decide to check out all the pawn shops locally but their dad has already beat them to it. So far there has been no trace of the stolen goods. They decide to recheck one more time were the roadster was found. Searching the nearby bushes they discover a red wig, hat, and a coat. Fenton says that he can possibly find the man by tracing the labels in the wig to the shops that possibly sold them. He goes to New York City to trace the clothes. The wig happens to be bought by Harold Morley and he just happened to order a second one identical about a month ago. Fenton goes to see the actor and learns that the original wig was stolen from him. The thief also took his watch, ring, money, and some costume pieces along with five other red wigs. Fenton spends the next week following up on leads for cold cases that dealt with redheaded crooks. When Fenton returns to town a week later he tells the boys at the wig has been traced to John “Red” Jackley, a crook with a fondness for red wigs. He traced him to a hotel and searched his room one night and found the stuff that he stole from the actor, which means that he is pretty sure this man is the automobile thief. Unfortunately, he got caught in a jewelry robbery and tried to flee town by train. He stole and crashed a railway gasoline speeder and the authorities doubt that he'll live. This means that they have no clues to connect him with the Tower Mansion robbery.

Fenton wants to question John before the chief of police gets a hold of him as he believes he will be more likely to confess something to Fenton instead of the cops. When he receives a call that John is awake and conscious but will probably not make it to the morning he rushes off to the hospital. The boys know that they have to make sure that the chief of police misses his train so they decide to go to their friends to brainstorm ideas. Chet decide on a bomb. They get some items from the Hardy's barn where they keep all their old toys and such junk and they all put it in a box. At a fruit stall nearby the police headquarters one of the boys stashes the package under the stall and riles up the Italian in charge who eventually discovers the mysterious ticking package. Through much fuss the cops eventually open the package to find an orange alarm clock and the chief is not going to make it to interview John in time.

Fenton informs the boys that John is dead and he did confess. He said that he wanted to rob the ticket office but failed. He committed to going to the Tower Mansion instead. All he said was that he couldn’t get away with the treasure and he hit it in the old tower. He then died. The boys want to try to hunt down where the treasure is hidden and Fenton agrees to let them hunt for it. Hurd Applegate is cautious about it though. He still thinks Robinson is involved. The boys look all over the old tower in the mansion but all they see is dust. If someone was in there recently it would be more disturbed. Maybe he meant the other tower? However, Adelia refuses to let them continue their search as she believes Robinson is still the thief. Hurd, however, offers to help them look in the second tower. Unfortunately, they find nothing. Fenton gets permission for more thorough search even though everyone now believes that Robinson was involved. The second search reveals nothing and Robinson is arrested.

Feeling disheartened, the boys end up hanging out on Shore Road which connects to the railway where John had worked. As they think about the case they look up from their picnic to see two water towers in the distance—one old and one new. It would be quite natural for John to go to his old haunts after committing the robbery. The boys make their way to the rundown tower. Once inside they search and eventually find a bag that contains the treasure stolen from the tower. Fenton gets everyone involved in the case together at the mansion for further evidence. The cops are shocked that the evidence clears Robinson of all accusations and Hurd Applegate promises to rehire him. The boys also receive a check for $500 each for solving the case. Adelia turns out to like the boys a lot and invites them and their friends to dine at the mansion whenever they want. Perry finally admits to where the $900 came from. It happened to be owed to his dad by a man who should've paid back some loans to other people first but didn't. They didn't want to release his name in case he got in trouble.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

A lot of evidence at the beginning of the book tells us about the Hardy’s, their parents, their friends, and other aspects of daily life in Bayport. We learn early on that “these were the Hardy Boys, sons of Fenton Hardy, an internationally famous detective who'd made a name for himself in the years he spent on the New York Police Force and who is now, at the age of 40, handling his own practice. The Hardy family lived in Bayport, a city of about 50,000 inhabitants, located on Barmet Bay, three miles in from the Atlantic, and here the Hardy Boys attended high school and dreamed of the days when they, too, should be detectives like their father” (p. 2). He learn why they are interested in the career of a detective when the author writes that “like most boys, they speculated frequently on the occupation they should follow when they grew up, and it only seemed to them that nothing offered so many possibilities of adventure and excitement as the career of a detective” (p. 2-3).

Chet Morton, their best friend, who in the original 1920s/1930s versions of the story was a likeable, well-drawn out secondary character. In the revisions of the 1950s he suffered the fate of many secondary sidekicks when he was cast into a lesser role of the fat boy who is nothing but a jester. Here, however, we learn about the original Chet: “Chet was a great favorite with all the boys, not the least of the reasons for his popularity being the fact that he had a roadster of his own, in which he drove to school every day and with which he was very generous in giving rides to his friends after school hours” (p. 11) and “Chet was one of the most popular boys at the Bayport high school, one reason for its popularity being his unfailing good nature and his ability to see fun in almost everything. He was full of jokes and good humor and was rarely seen without a smile on his plump, freckled face” (p. 13). The famous girlfriends of Frank and Joe are hardly mentioned. In fact, Callie gets just a passing mention that she “of all the girls at the school . . . was the one most greatly admired by Frank. She was a pretty girl, with brown hair and brown eyes, always neatly dressed, and quick and vivacious and her manner” (p. 22). Also common to many old series books was the idea that the police are completely incompetent with their jobs. Chief of Police, Ezra Collig, is described as “a burly, red-faced individual, much given to telling long-winded stories. Usually, Collig was to be found reclining in a swivel chair in his office, with his feet on the desk, reading the comic pages or polishing up his numerous badges” (p. 26). We learn later that Fenton “did not trust Chief Collig and Detective Smuff, who came to him only in emergencies and who usually took all the credit for themselves whenever he helped them out on major difficulties” (p. 123). Mr. and Mrs. Hardy don’t get too much mention in this series opener. We also learn that “although he was a busy man, Mr. Hardy was not the type of father who maintains an air of aloofness from his family, the result being that he was on as good terms with his boys as though he were an elder brother” (p. 33) and that Mrs. Hardy must like cooking because that is all she’s doing in her few appearances in the story (“Mrs. Hardy quickly made up a generous package of sandwiches”) (p. 45).

Later on at the very end of the novel we learn a little more about the female characters that are pretty much nonexistent in the book. We learn that Mrs. Hardy knows her place when it comes to her husband’s work (p. 141-142): “‘Solved another mystery?’ asked Mrs. Hardy gaily, as she poured the coffee. She seldom asked questions about her husband's work, being of a gentle nature that instinctively shrank from any discussion of crime. It frequently distressed her that Mr. Hardy's occupation should be one that meant terms of imprisonment for those whom his cunning cleverness had brought to justice. But her husband's attitude this morning was so unmistakably jubilant that she was glad for his sake if he had scored another success.” The book ends, of course, with Mrs. Hardy happy that her sons are safe as detective work is a dangerous thing: “Mrs. Hardy, who was in the kitchen with the cook, smiled when they made known their request. Fair-haired and gentle, she had been tolerantly amused by her sons' activities in the tower affair, but she was glad to see them return to their boyish ways” (p. 186).

We receive a little bit of a description of Joe’s future girlfriend, Iola: “a plump, dark girl, . . . sister of Chet Morton and had achieved the honor of being about the only girl Joe Hardy had ever conceded to be anything but an unmitigated nuisance. Joe, who was shy in the presence of girls, professed a lofty scorn for all members of the other sex, particularly those of high school age, but had once engagingly admitted that Iola Morton was ‘all right, for girl.’ This, from him, was high praise” (p. 174).

There is a wonderful description of everyday boy life in a long passage which finds the boys hanging out in the woods: “When the boys reached the lane that led in toward Willow Grove from the main road they broke into a run and raced into the woods, shouting and yelling like wild Indians. Once in a friendly shade of the trees they tapered about the joy of their Saturday freedom. The day passed in the usual fashion of such days. They swam, they ate, they loafed about under the trees, they played games at imminent risk of life and limb, explored the woods, and otherwise enjoyed themselves with all the happy energy of healthy lads. Joe Hardy, who is an amateur naturalist in his way, went roaming off by himself during the afternoon while the other boys were enjoying their third swim of the day, and penetrated deeper into the woods. He walked about the undergrowth, examining various flowers and plants that came to his attention, but discovered no specimens that he had not seen before” (p. 47).

There are a few moments when economic conditions are given some attention. Obviously, the Hardys are quite well off but poor Perry Robinson and his family is another matter. On page 80 we read that “the Hardy Boys were silent. They were sorry for the Robinsons, for they knew only too well that the family were badly off financially and . . . it would indeed be difficult for Mr. Robinson to get another position.” Perry tells the boys, “We've rented a small house just outside the city. . . . It is cheap, and will have to get along. . . . But if dad doesn't get a job it will mean that I'll have to go to work.” Later on when the boys visit Perry’s new house it is said that “Frank hesitated. He had the natural shyness of his age and he felt awkward about visiting the Robinsons in their new home, for he knew they were now in reduced circumstances and my not wish their former friends to see them in their present plight” (p. 110).

The biggest piece of evidence to this story is a sub-plot involving the Black Hand, an Italian crime organization. The boys need to prevent the chief from getting to the hospital and interview (or scaring him so badly he won’t talk) John. So the devise a plan to scare a local Italian street vendor into thinking the Black Hand is after him and they plant a fake bomb. This is a scene that was removed in the 1950s revision because of its racist nature.

First, we receive a description of Tony Prito, the Hardy’s Italian friend, when he asks dialectically, “What’s the mattah?” We learn that Tony is “the son of a prosperous Italian building contractor, but he had not yet been in America long enough to talk the language without an accent, and his attempts were the cause of much amusement to his companions. He was quick and good-natured, however, and laughed as much at his own errors as anyone else did” (p. 130). He is the only who mentions the Black Hand (p. 132):

If we were in Italy we could get the Black Hand help,” said Tony Prito.
The Black Hand!” declared Chet. “That's a good idea!”
We got no Black Hand society in Bayport.” objected Tony. “Let's get one up. Send the chief a Black Hand letter warning him not to take that train.”
And if he ever found out who wrote it, we'd all be up to our necks in trouble,” pointed out Joe. “I'd like to put a bomb under his old police station.”
Fine idea!” applauded Tony. “Where we get the bomb?”

We learn that not far from the Bayport police station was a fruit stand over which presided an Italian by the name of Rocco: “He was a simple, genial soul, who believed almost everything he heard and, like most of his countrymen, he was of an excitable nature” (p. 133-134). The boys decide to get him worked up by claiming that the prices he charges for his fruits are very high and that they can shop at another vendor (p. 134):

“‘He no can do!’ shrieked Rocco. ‘My price is da low.’ Then, angered by this reflection on the prices of his wares, he burst into a lengthy explanation of the struggles confronting or Italian trying to get along any new country.”

When threated with the Black Hand: “‘Poof! W'at do I care for da Black Hand. No frighten me!’ said Rocco bravely, but he gulped when he said it and there was no doubt that the shot had gone home” (p. 135).

We then get the lengthy description of what happens when he discovers the bomb (page 136-137):

Rocco stared. His mouth opened in dismay. For, something clearly from the inside of the package, came a steady “tick tock, tick tock.”
A bomb!” he shrieked. “Put heem down!”
Thereupon he scrambled widely over the array of fruit at the back of the stand, tipped over a tray of oranges, and went sprawling over the opposite counter, roaring, “Police!” at the top of his lungs.
Rocco, in his white apron, was dancing about in the middle of the street, yelling, “Bombs! Police! Da Blacka Hand!” Then, suddenly fearing that the supposed bomb might explode at any moment, he whirled rapidly about and raced down the street away from the stand, and the general direction of the police station.

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