“ Genre: Junior Books / Author: Franklin W. Dixon / Hardcover / Reading Level: Ages 4-8 / 205 Pages / Book is published 1984-10 by Simon & Schuster (Juv) „
Frank and Joe Hardy are the teenage sons of famous private detective Fenton Hardy and his wife Laura. Together, (and sometimes from help with family and friends) they investigate all sorts of crimes & strange occurrences....
The Blackwing Puzzle was published in the US in 1984 & was the eighty second in the series. The book first appeared in the UK in 1986 and was numbered 80 when it was published by Armada.
This particular story opens with Jeff Allen and his wife Mary calling in Frank and Joe to investigate some spooky goings on at their home - the Blackwing Mansion. The mansion was originally part of the network which helped runaway slaves but, when the original owners had exhausted their fortune it was snapped up by Captain Blackwing, a former "blackbirder" or slave trader.
The Allens claim that they've heard his voice in the house and that and that they've seen a weird creature not only flying, but hovvering over the house. Jeff Allen tells them that the creature is at least twelve to fifteen feet in width and that he trained as a surveyor before he became an architect so his judgement in this area is better than most people's. They also receive a letter from a psychic, Madame Xavia, urging them to move out of the house. Frank and Joe are stumped. Their initial thoughts are that it may be some sort of ultralight aircraft but they then rule this out as unlikely due to the fact that the strange creature makes no noise at all.
Meanwhile, Fenton Hardy is working on a case of his own. Over the past year there are been a number of thefts from hi-tech industrial plants in which the thief or thieves have been able to evade guard dogs, security fences etc. Many of the stolen items seem to have been sold abroad. The FBI have two suspects in the shape of Klaus Kane and sidekick safecracker Ranse Hobb. Could the two cases be linked?
Chet also throws a case in Frank and Joe's direction as he tells them about the theft of a butterfly from a collector named Drexel. There's a $5000 reward for anyone that can find it and return it to him.
As Frank and Joe dig deeper into the three mysteries it's obvious someone's very nervous. Their boathouse is booby-trapped with a Molotov Cocktail, their ultralite aircraft is sabotaged and, when it looks as if they've solved the mystery they find themselves on the wrong end of a flame thrower........
The usual supporting characters who appear in this book are:-
+ Fenton Hardy
+ Laura Hardy
+ Aunt Gertrude
+ Chet Morton
+ Biff Hooper
+ Tony Prito
+ Callie Shaw
+ Iola Morton
+ Chief Ezra Collig
It's nice to have Frank and Joe back in their home town of Bayport after the previous few books had them gallivanting around Florida, Vermont and Canada. The 'Blackwing Ghost' is a fairly interesting plot thread as far as mysteries go, although I do remember solving that particular problem before Frank and Joe do when I originally read the book as a child. Still, the cover illustration on my edition rather gave the game away so it didn't take that much of an effort to join the dots together.
There's a fair amount of information given about the slave trade and the people involved in running it and fighting it and this is perhaps just the right amount to pique the interest of the target audience without causing them to "switch off" out of boredom.
Characterisation is, on the whole, good and, for once, we have the full complement of Frank and Joe's friends featured. It's a pity that none of them are used more ~ even Chet doesn't get as involved with this particular tale as he does in some of the others, preferring to spend his time engaged on his new butterfly hobby rather than helping out Frank and Joe. The Allens are well used and the Blackwing Mansion is well described, although the Madame Xavia subplot peters out and is never mentioned again which is rather disappointing.
Unfortunately, what lets the book down is the ease with which everything wrapped up at the end. This particular ghost writer has fallen into the old trap of using the "saved in the nick of time" ending which, whilst it may add to the overall pace of the book, feels rather cliched and contrived when you've read something along similar lines a lot in the previous books in the series.
Overall though it's an adequate enough tale that may keep some youngsters puzzled (depending on that cover illustration), although with the lack of mobile phones, internet, Ipods etc it does feel a little dated.
At the time of writing the new & used paperbacks are available from 1p upwards at Amazon Prime.
# Paperback: 180 pages
# Publisher: Pocket Books (May 1990)
# ISBN-10: 0671704729
# ISBN-13: 978-0671704728
This 82nd Hardy Boys book sees a return to home for the boys, and a plot line more befitting a couple of amateur teen detectives than the usual international crime rings that they thwart on a regular basis. The Hardy Boys, brothers Frank and Joe Hardy, are the sons of renowned supersleuth Fenton Hardy, and they often find themselves gallavanting around the world, solving everything from murders to space race sabotage, and occasionally, it just gets a bit too much.
The books are aimed at teenage boys, predominantly. As a result, the main characters, Frank and Joe, have stayed at 18 and 17 respectively ever since the first book came out in the 1920s. This sort of eternal time warp is welcome when you consider the target audience, and as the years go by, the boys adapt to change with the times. This particular book, The Blackwing Puzzle, sees the brothers asked to solve the mystery of a haunted mansion, located nearby in their home town of Bayport.
There have been ghosts in previous Hardy Boys books, and the brothers are sure that there will be a simple explanation to the whole thing. However, as the mystery deepens and the danger levels rise, they find that there is no real logical solution to this one, and they just might have to deal with the fact that the house really is haunted.
When you consider the type of adventure that we usually get with the Hardy Boys, such as dealing with very real and actual villains and potentially deadly situations, this seems on the face of it to be a very tame story. However, the author manages to conjure up a different type of danger: that of the unknown, of the supernatural, and as such, it is a welcome change from the near monotony of constant villain bashing that the boys tend to do.
The books are written by a number of different ghost writers, although the publishing is always done in the name of Franklin W Dixon. The publishers were Grosset & Dunlap for so many years before Simon & Schuster took over in 1979/1980. The books remain popular amongst teens despite their rather old format and style of adventure, but you'll likely find that series such as Stephenie Meyer's Twilight and perhaps the Stormbreaker books target a more modern teen quite effectively, and corner a lot of the market. The Blackwing Puzzle was published in the early 1980s, and so may seem quite old in many ways, but it's still a good read and one of the more down to earth and enjoyable Hardy Boys books. The characterisation is done gently than in other Hardy Boys books, but it's also more descriptive than usual, with good development of main characters such as the brothers, their family and their friends, and also of the characters related solely to this book, such as those in the mansion and others they meet whilst investigating the strange goings on.
The Blackwing Puzzle is hard to get hold of, it seems. There are some second hand books available from amazon.com, but this is from the States and will cost you the postage. The price of the book doesn't seem to be too high, but there aren't many on there. I recommend giving this one a go - it's an enjoyable read, and a ncie change from the usual unlikely adventures they get into.