Children's Literature - Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown
The Shore Road Mystery
On page 12 of The Shore Road Mystery there is moment of potential stress between brothers Joe and Frank, and their Aunt Gertude, over the boys' bad move of tracking in dirt on mother's freshly vacuumed carpet. In any family, boys (and fathers) especially are prone to forget to take their shoes off (in the winter it's snow and ice; in the spring, summer and fall, it's dirt, mud, and leaves). "Frank and Joe! Look at yourselves!" their aunt barked out. And when Joe compliments his aunt of the aroma of food cooking, she urges him not to "change the subject" (a ploy boys are quite adept at), but soon she sees Joe's skinned arm and bruised forehead and notices Frank's limp (the result of the accident), and her tone changes.
The brothers loved their aunt and knew that beneath her huffish way she held great affection for them" (12). In most families, no matter how much tension there is (there will always be edginess, tension, conflict, to some degree), at the end of the day children love their parents, their aunts and uncles, and want to get along. "Well, maybe you didn't track that carpet too badly," their aunt said, backing off from her "huffish" tone. In this case, the aunt probably didn't want to get on mom's bad side, so she started to come down hard on the boys. This reveals that a sister of one of the parents feels an extra bit of responsibility for making sure the kids are well behaved and acting the way their real parents would expect them to act.
When Jack Dodd, the son of a farmer and friend of Joe and Frank, is accused of stealing a car (20-21), the behavior of Joe and Frank is entirely supportive. Joe even offers to ask his father (a detective) if the father will loan some money to Jack and his father to bail them out of jail. Joe and Frank's father agrees, and Mr. Dodd said: "I can't thank you boys and your father enough. Having your father's name behind us at the hearing tomorrow will mean a great deal."
The fact that the father of Joe and Frank would so quickly put up money to bail the Dodds out shows the tremendous faith the dad has for his boys; a father should trust his boys, but in today's world, the father and sons may not be close enough to know each other closely enough to have the faith that the dad had in this case."
Meantime, here we have a tense social situation, where police are involved, and there is certainly some stress in the air. The behavior of Joe and Frank shows that even though Jack's fishing pole is found in the trunk of the stolen car, and Jack admits that his fingerprints will be found inside the car, friends back up friends until there is sufficient reason to cast doubt on the accused friend.
However (27), not everyone in Joe and Frank's family is as trusting of Joe and Frank's friend Jack as the boys are: "You're all too trustful," said Aunt Gertrude, "Reckless, plan reckless, Frank and Joe Hardy...why, the Dodds may really be car thieves!"
And then, after revealing through her questioning remarks that she isn't sure that Joe and Frank (or even their dad) seem to have good judgment, Aunt Gertrude adds, "Never you mind. You just can't rely on men who don't have a woman around the house to keep them straight." What this situation teaches a reader about human nature is twofold. First, Aunt Gertrude obviously doesn't know Frank Dodd and his father very well, and even though her nephews do know them, old-fashioned thinking on the aunt's part requires her to question everyone she doesn't know.
Secondly, the idea that a single man, such as Mr. Dodd, doesn't have enough sense or values to be able to raise his son without a woman around, is very narrow and again, old-fashioned. Not all unmarried men are lamebrains and car thieves; in fact, the reason Mr. Dodd didn't get re-married (he is a widower) may result from a number of variables: he may not be particularly handsome or charming or even articulate, and women have rejected him for those reasons; or, he may just not wish to be married again, because he loved his wife so much he can't see himself with anyone else.
When the grenade is tossed through the window (47), there is Aunt Gertrude watching and being frightened ("Everyone stood as if in a trance, waiting for the explosion"), but Frank went into action right away, after throwing the grenade back out the window. How did he know to do that? Did he watch war movies, where a grenade is lobbed into a trench during WWII and the soldier in the move just coolly grabs the grenade and throws it back at the attacker? And how much time expires prior to a real live grenade going off? "Quickly Frank picked up the grenade and returned it to the lab."
Once recovered from "her fright," Aunt Gertrude was indignant more than totally blown away (figuratively). "I don't care if that - that bomb is a fake! What a wicked thing to do! The villain responsible should be tarred and feathered!" After pausing for a breath, Aunt Gertrude then attempts to scold Frank, saying yes, he was brave, but he shouldn't take chances. The reader sees from this passage that the aunt - who is totally out of her league even trying to understand the level of sophistication these boys have achieved - is vainly trying to appear that she is in charge, or has some parenting authority over the boys.
Of course, the boys are made to look temporarily bad in the eyes of their aunt, when the Dodds skip bail.)
All of these activities - the sleuthing, the detective work, and the hands-on criminal investigations - are being carried out by boys without cell phones! Imagine the young reader in 2004, learning that mere boys can think like crafty adults, can go out and challenge crooks and thieves, and find a farmhouse to call for help, because there were no cell phones, no computers, no phones that get email in remote locations, no satellites to send text messaging through. Just old fashioned land-based phones were all these boys had to use, so a reader learns that hard work and perseverance - not to mention brainpower and the use of good instincts - can carry the day, even for kids.)
On page 112, Aunt Gertrude asks Chet to drop off a cake at Mrs. Bartlett's house on Kent Street. Readers see right away that Chet is tempted to eat the cake, which would be a very bad thing to do since Aunt Gertrude has shown trust in him. On page 113, "he eyed it hungrily," and later on the page, he wonders "what kind of cake Aunt Gertrude made..." [then he says] "Chocolate fudge - my favorite!" He licks it on page 114, and later feels "weak from hunger." He begins making swaths around the cake with his fingers, "and in his eagerness" he digs in "too deeply at one place." What we have in these passages is an adult putting trust and faith in a youth, and where delicious food is involved, the young man can not be trusted. Chet is clearly in too deep with this cake to extract himself
The irony here is that Chet is on a research mission seeking information about car thieves, a felony crime that any kid could think about, but few could actually follow through. Still, he can't keep his hands out of the cake Aunt Gertrude gave him to deliver. A reader learns here that young men are always young men in most predictable respects (in this case, Chet is tempted by chocolate cake, and can't keep his hands off the cake notwithstanding the promise to deliver it); but in other areas, Chet is acting more like being a criminal investigator than a green-behind-the-ears / snot-nosed kid who can't keep his fingers out of a chocolate cake.
Moreover, this is a kid who had the presence of mind, as he explained (121), to take a run, "sailed off the end of the truck, and..." knock a guy off balance. Then Chet dashed to the car, but "he didn't know who I was, so nobody chased me." Sounds almost like a James Bond, yet, he as has been mentioned, is a youth who can't keep his fingers out of a cake he is supposed to deliver.
Perhaps the reader is supposed to glean from this that even a child can act in adult ways, in the absence of adults. Solving mysteries, aggressively pursuing leads in criminal cases - this is the stuff of adults, but readers see kids playing the adult sleuth role very…