27 May 2019

Gone Fishin' (without Frank and Joe Hardy)

The Phantom Freighter
Franklin W. Dixon [pseud. Amy McFarlane]
New York: Grosset & Dunlap, [c. 1958]
216 pages

I think I read a Hardy Boys book in elementary school. Was "Clock" in the title? It could be I'm wrong. It could be I'm thinking of the Three Investigators. Truth be told, I never cared much about Frank and Joe; not even when played by Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy. My interest in the Hardy Boys – very limited – came later in life, when I learned that fellow Canadian Leslie McFarlane had penned their earliest adventures. In fact, he wrote the very first Hardy Boys mystery: The Tower Treasure (1927).

McFarlane churned out twenty in total, but The Phantom Freighter isn't one of them. The twenty-sixth Hardy Boys Mystery, it stands alone as the only novel ever written by wife Amy. One story is that Leslie was away on a fishing trip when the outline came in. Could that be true? In a 19 July 1946 letter to the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which commissioned the novel, Amy writes: "Was interrupted in the middle of the job by a dental operation that meant the loss of 22 teeth at one fell swoop."

Whose teeth isn't clear. Either way, I'd like to see it as a Heritage Minute.

Would The Phantom Freighter make for a good twelve minutes of television? I ask because the first half of the 27 December 1969 episode of The Hardy Boys animated series shares the same title. I haven't seen it, but can imagine the challenges in adapting the story for the small screen. The novel Amy McFarlane wrote involves arson, impersonation, blackmail, sabotage, fraud, theft, smuggling, forgery, counterfeiting, several kidnappings, several assaults, an attempted murder, a second attempted murder, a third attempted murder, a fourth attempted murder, and numerous examples of poor customer service.

What to leave out?

It begins with a letter sent Frank and Joe from a man named Thaddeus McClintock, who is staying at a local hotel. He's looking to meet the boys because they have their "feet on the ground." Then Aunt Gertrude arrives. Their father's headstrong sister, she's ready to move into the Hardy home and give up her "nomadic life." An expressman delivers her trunk, along with a carton that is not hers. She learns that her carton, containing "irreplaceable family papers," was left in error at a farmhouse on the outskirts of town. Frank and Joe head off, arriving at the address to find its barn ablaze. Joe risks his life in rescuing what he mistakenly believes to be the carton in question. Firefighters arrive, followed by the property owners. The appearance of the latter is coincidental; they've been away for several days. Next to arrive is the inept expressman, who reports that he was met at the farmhouse earlier in the day by a mysterious figure who called himself James Johnson. And then the boys are off to meet Thaddeus McClintock. A worn-out curmudgeon, "past middle age, and a little sloop-shouldered," he wishes to take a long trip with the two boys... as unattached men do.

This is rough sketch of the first sixteen pages. I wonder how it compares to the outline sent the McFarlanes. An awful lot happens in very few pages, rushed along by matter-of-fact prose and a police department that is as speedy as it is helpful:
From the hotel, the boys went to the police headquarters and talked to Chief Callig. He listened attentively, then reached for a telephone and asked for information about the motor launch Wasp. Apparently, little or none was available, for when the chief turned back to the boys, he said:
     "The launch doesn't seem to be listed. But we'll make some more inquiries."
It is, of course, Frank and Joe – not the police – who crack the case. Though there is no singular mystery in this Hardy Boys Mystery, Aunt Gertrude's missing carton and Thaddeus McClintock's curious desire for a lengthy getaway with the boys are both related to the phantom freighter of the title. This too is coincidental.

Fishing figures in the plot. Dentistry does not.

Favourite sentence:
"A man just made us a proposition and we have to do some thinking about it."
Second favourite sentence:
The Hardys were about to get into their car and drive home when Frank remembered that Mrs. Hardy had asked him to buy some socks and handkerchiefs for their father.  
Trivia: I don't remember the cartoon Hardy Boys, despite the series having its own Gold Key comic book. The cover of the second issue informs: "The Hardy Boys use their rock group as a 'cover' to solve spine-tingling mysteries!"

Here's something for those itching to hear Frank and Joe rock out:

Object: First published in 1947, it's likely that my copy dates from 1958. These are the clues:
  • the brown endpapers featured were introduced in 1958;
  • the list of Hardy Boys Mystery Stories printed on the front fly does not include The Mystery at Devil's Paw (1959).
Purchased in 2017 at London's Attic Books. Price: $1.00.

Access: The book I read features the original text. In 1970, a revised version edited by Priscilla Baker-Carr, first appeared. My understanding is that this is The Phantom Freighter being sold today. If I ever come across a copy, I'll  make a point of seeing whether this passage was made more contemporary:
Frank stopped the car in front of the hotel haberdashery again, and Hoe went in to purchase the socls and handkerchiefs for his father.
Hundreds of used copies of The Phantom Freighter are being sold online, the cheapest beginning at one American dollar. A first edition "according to the Carpentieri Bibliography (1947A-1)" is offered at one hundred American dollars. Pay no more than a buck.


  1. Very, very interesting post, Brian. I have never read a Hardy Boys book but if I did, I would definitely want to read an original version, not a revised one.

    1. I'm with you on that, Tracy. It's hard to believe that the revised versions are even shorter. So much is crammed into this one that it sometimes reads like an outline.

  2. I've been trying to find 'Streets of Shadow'. Montreal mystery! No luck so far. I met one bookseller who said he had it, then clarified - 'oh, it's not for sale.' Ugg.

    1. I've been on the hunt myself, Beau. Have you seen the reprint offered by Fiction House? I've been dissuaded by the cover, which is both great (illustration) and awful (type). Then I look at the interior illustrations - the few I can see on Amazon, anyway - and am tempted all over again.

  3. Clock, eh? Could you be thinking of The Secret of the Old Clock. Nancy Drew's first adventure, blue roadster and all. :^)

    1. Looking over the list of Hardy Boys and Three Investigators titles, I can see the only possibility is While the Clock Ticked (with Frank and Joe). Must say, it doesn't sound familiar. The blue roadster does tempt, but I think my first Carolyn Keene will be By the Light of the Study Lamp, the Dana Girls' debut. Written by Leslie McFarlane!