Random Musings: A review of The Mystery of Cabin Island

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cabin-island

Frank and Joe Hardy, along with their friends, Chet Morton and Biff Hooper, spend their Christmas vacation in the eponymous cabin on Cabin Island, a small, private island in a cove near their hometown of Bayport and find themselves embroiled in mystery.

There are two versions of The Mystery of Cabin Island, the original, ghost written by Leslie McFarlane (considered the best of the Hardy Boys ghost writers) and published in 1929; and the revised version, ghost written by Andrew Svenson. I read both versions and both were enjoyable, but I liked the original slightly better, despite some purple prose and unnecessary narrative flourishes.

The mysteries were much the same in both versions, but in the original, Frank and Joe never returned home during the course of the story, unlike the revised version. All the action took place on the island, on the ice of the bay or in and around a small village.

In both versions, the owner of Cabin Island, Elroy Jefferson, offers the boys the use of his cabin and tells them a man named George Hanleigh, who’s eager to buy, has no right to be on the property.

The revised Mystery of Cabin Island gets into the story much faster than the original. Frank and Joe learn on page 1 that Jefferson has granted them permission to stay on Cabin Island. A few pages later, while checking out the island, they have a confrontation with Hanleigh, one which combines their first and second confrontations in the original.

Also, in the revised version, a confrontation with another ice boat takes place after the boys’ run-in with Hanleigh, which makes more sense given that the boys in the other ice boat are relatively minor characters.

In the original version, Frank, Joe and Chet decide to check out Cabin Island while ice boating, are chased away by Hanleigh, whom they assume is a caretaker and later, by in one of those amazing coincidences that seem to follow Frank and Joe Hardy everywhere they go, Mr. Jefferson contacts the youthful sleuths because he wants to give them a belated reward for having recovered his stolen car.

The original version involves a stolen set of valuable stamps, which aren’t even mentioned until chapter 11 (and not by Jefferson, but by a minor character with no direct connection to either him or the Hardy brothers); in the revised version, Jefferson tells the boys (in chapter three) that his grandson, Johnny, has disappeared and mentions that the boy loves Cabin Island. He doesn’t tell Frank and Joe to look for him, but does say he has a feeling it’ll take a boy to find a boy.

He also happens to mention a set of stolen medals, though only because he’d brought up the subject of other detectives, whom Frank and Joe had asked about. Later, he tells Frank and Joe not to bother with searching for the medals and admits that Johnny is probably chasing after clues.

Ironically, the boys would never have learned about the stolen stamps in the original version if Hanleigh hadn’t broken into the cabin and hidden their food while they were out, causing them to stop in the little village for supplies. In the course of their conversation, the storekeeper brought the subject up.

Why the missing items were changed from stamps to medals, I’ve no idea, but the latter are brought to the boys’ attention in more realistic circumstances.

The stakes are higher in the revised version of the story, because not only do Frank and Joe know early on about the missing valuables (though they have no reason to believe there’s any direct connection to Cabin Island), but they also discover that Mr. Jefferson’s home has been burglarized.

The next day, they discovered that someone had broken into their boathouse and scattered the supplies they’d put in their ice boat in preparation for their trip.

In both versions, the boys find and solve a cipher, which leads them to the missing valuables. However, the code messages were different in each version of the book, as was the means of decoding. The second version of the code was actually a bit more clever.

One of the weaknesses of the Hardy Boys books is that their father, Fenton Hardy, usually has some connection with their current case. While that held true in the revised version of this book, it wasn’t true in the original. He simply made a brief appearance. I liked the fact that he wasn’t connected to the case in the original story.

Why two versions? Starting in 1959, Harriet Adams, daughter of Stratemeyer Syndicate founder Edward Stratemeyer, began revising the then-38 Hardy Boys books, bringing them up to date. Unfortunately, many of the revised books were watered down, some all but eviscerated, compared to their original versions.

The revised Mystery of Cabin Island is one of the better updates. It reads at a faster pace and offers several mysteries to challenge Frank, Joe and their friends. Still, it could have retained some of the ancillary adventures of the original.

In any event, The Mystery of Cabin Island is the sort of book to read on a late December day.

Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating.

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