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|Hunting For Hidden Gold Plot Outline |
This Month: Hunting For Hidden Gold
Reviewed By Steve Servello
Normally when I review a book that I have read previously, it is with many preconceived notions and thoughts. Such was decidedly not the case here. I had last read "Hunting For Hidden Gold"(original text or ot) about 12 years ago and probably only once before, as a youth. I had no memory whatsoever of this book and that allows me to review with a clean slate.
I naturally read the ot version first and utilized my picture cover format (which caused me to do a double take when I next read the revised story.) Just now as I write this, I have checked Bob Finnan's "Unofficial Hardy Boys Page" and see that Rudy Nappi is responsible for the fine cover art . It shows Black Pepper observing Frank and Joe as they have finally uncovered the hidden gold, of the title. More on this scene later. The one piece of interior art, opposite the title page, must have been drawn by another, perhaps Stricker (again, this from Bob's Page). I don't like it, though there is a small part of me that admires the use of basic black and white and an interesting portrayal of the flashlights rays on Joe as he tries to free a trapped Frank with a crow bar for leverage. This scene actually takes place on page 114 while the cover scene is a slightly inaccurate view of events on pages 197 & 198.
As the story begins, I was grabbed by the very first lines (as I should be) , "A fortune in hidden gold ! That certainly sounds mighty interesting." How could any avarice man like myself, not be interested from the get go ? On that same first page it is revealed that neither Frank nor Joe had ever been more than 200 miles from Bayport. This is true as their first four cases were very local. Therefore, "Hidden Gold" is a landmark book (of sorts) in The Hardy Boys Series. Whether it was a positive sort, remains to be seen.
As is often the situation, what starts off as Fenton Hardy's case, somehow gets tied in with what the two brothers are involved with. Here we find that their father, the internationally famous detective (I used to think what a cool dad he would make. He was so realistic to me.), is out west in Montana. His job, to locate a shipment of stolen gold bullion, in mining country. Naturally the 16 year old Frank and his one year younger brother Joe, are wistful about not being able to help their father out . They then reminisce (page 3) about their earlier cases by highlighting the events very briefly. It isn't until pages 13-15 that a more indepth analysis of those four cases is given, by the author, Leslie McFarlane.
Putting thoughts of something that could never be (as they then thought), behind them, the youths head out for a day of skating on the Willow River with two of their chums, Chet Morton and Jerry Gilroy. Surprisingly, no Biff Hooper or Tony Prito. But before leaving for the river, Joe and Frank are admonished by Aunt Gertrude, the spinster older sister of Fenton, concerning all manner of dire straits the boys could be in, on the Willow. But escape they do, her tart tongue !
Meeting their friends, they don skates and begin a leisurely journey upriver, though it looked like snow was coming. No matter, they were having too much fun and wanted to reach the (apparent) source of the Willow River at Shallow Lake. I found this to be a significant piece of local geography, tying in the full course of the river from source to Barment Bay. The farmlands and rolling hills the young skaters passed, made me long for such simpler times. In my opinion, this journey was the highpoint of the book. Sure, no mystery, but it made me want to be there and I was (as I read along). But then the blizzard hits ! Or is a storm, hurricane, or gale ? Take your pick, as all terms are utilized. Forced to seek shelter along the bank of the Willow, they barely make way to its relative safety. While huddled there the four chums hear a crash and find a cottage had been blown down from a nearby cliff. While investigating, they meet the owner Jadbury Wilson who is badly injured but lucky to be alive, considering.
After making the elderly man as comfortable as possible, the boys settle down for the duration and listen to the old miner's tale : After having made and lost, a couple of fortunes, Jadbury Wilson, Bill Coulson and his brother Jack, plus Bart Dawson hit the mother lode but are then attacked at their remote cabin by the Black Pepper Gang. Dawson is entrusted with the desperate attempt to sneak away from the beseiged site with their 4 bags of gold. He succeeds but is never heard from again, well sort of. It is assumed that he absconded with the gold. One telling clue as to why an apparently good man would turn scoundrel is revealed when a fellow prospector sees Dawson up North and he denies his identity when confronted ...
Well, as Wilson was in poor shape and his cabin in worse, he reluctantly accepts the hospitality of the Hardy's home on High Street (I thought it was on the corner of High and Maple, but my memory ...). Mrs. Hardy and Aunt Gertrude make the elderly man their welcome guest. Due to the blizzard, school is called off for the following Monday but is never mentioned again, despite Frank and Joe traveling cross country to Montana shortly thereafter.
For one day at least there is a respite from their usual mysteries and adventures. The Hardy's engage in bobsledding on a nearby hillslide with Chet, Jerry, Biff Cooper, Tony Prito, Phil Cohen, Callie Shaw, and Iola Morton. Of course their youthful fun is interrupted by Officer Con Riley who ends up being snowballed into a humiliating retreat. I hope that he is not the best that Bayport has to offer. How pathetic !
Then it's back to the forthcoming mystery which necessitates a string of unlikely coincidences. It turns out that Fenton Hardy is working out of the old miner's town of Lucky Bottom, the very same place Jad Wilson and his partners had resided in while mining their stolen gold. And then it happens. A letter from their father instructing the boys to come to Montana and assist in the case ! Frank and Joe make reservations on the next train to Chicago, from whence they'll transfer to another that will arrive at their final destination of Lucky Bottom. As this is their first real trip away from home the farewell from both Laura and Gertrude Hardy is very emotional (page 55). Hankerchiefs are waved, good-byes are shrieked, sobs are audible, and Jad Wilson brandishes his cane, as the Hardy's leave for the train terminal by taxi. To show what a new kind of experience this is for the boys, Joe remarks "I'm only afraid of one thing". "What's that ?" Frank replies. "I'm afraid I'll wake up and find I've been dreaming."
Their enthusiasm continues as the train departs the environs of Bayport and enters the open country. A sense of elation and freedom prevails and the reader shares these emotions with them. Well done Leslie ! Arriving in Chicago they are more than pleased to be treated like adults in the big city hotel, which holds their reservations. It is here that the brothers receive a second telegram from their father explaining in more detail the nature of the situation in Montana. Fenton was injured chasing a crook and was under the care of one Hank Shale, at his cabin. Until his ribs were repaired, he needed Joe and Frank to continue the investigation. He had not wanted to worry his wife and sisters with this news.
As the Hardys prepare for the final leg of their journey they are fooled twice (pages 62-68 & 71-74) in a very unHardy-like fashion ! First a Mr. Hopkins tricks the youths into boarding a train for Indianapolis instead of the west-bound one they should have and following that fiasco, an unnamed young man offers them a ride to a nearby town where they could make their way back to Chicago. It is in fact a kidnap attempt which despite a spirited fight by the Hardy's would have been successful but for the timely arrival of a couple of local farmers.
Despite these setbacks, Frank and Joe arrive in Lucky Bottom and join their father in Hank Shale's cabin and learn even more details of the case. Plus, more coincidences occurr ... Bart Dawson is in town and Jack Pepperill and his gang are the ones that Fenton is after !
While searching for the hidden gold, stolen by the Black Pepper Gang, the Hardy's explore an abandoned mine in chapter 13, named "In the Depths of the Earth". A better title would have been "In the Depths of Despair". Because that is what they almost do, give way to despair, after the cave-in they endure. But being the Hardy Boys they eventually rouse themselves from their funk and make good their escape. However, at the exit point from the mine, the Hardy's hear the gang discussing their possible fate but fail to make the connection and boldly stand forth (page 126). Sheesh ! Despite another spirited fight the boys are overcome and are interrogated by the leader. During this conversation it appears that both parties are not totally sure of who the others are. Hmmm ... Frank, in a wise-guy manner professes to be looking for oysters in the mine, when asked. Perhaps the Rocky Mountain variety, eh ? By a clever ruse the boys escape the clutches of Shorty and Slim Briggs, making their way back to Hank and their father. Despite the recent gunplay, assault, and cave-in, they begrudgingly allow the brothers to continue pursuing the case. Such confidence in a 16 and 15 year old pair !
A trap is laid and the not so bright Slim is captured and thinking the rest of the gang captured, gives away much information, hoping for leniency from the courts (pages 140-146). Bart Dawson puts in his initial appearance shortly thereafter. He just doesn't seem the criminal type (not swarthy for one thing). One of the Coulson brothers is in town as well and causes even the Hardy Boys to reflect on the extraordinary series of coincidences that have paralelled events of the present with Jad's of over 25 years previous !
Continuing their latest run of good luck, the pair of amateur sleuths recover Black Pepper's book, complete with map describing the location of the hidden gold, the very same gold that Jad Wilson despaired of ever recovering. Utilizing information in Pepperil's book, Frank and Joe set out once again and are once more caught in a raging blizzard and narrowly avoid death. Such a penchant for snow storms ... Described as "The wind shrieked with a thousand voices. The snow came sweeping down on them as though lashed by invisible whips. The roar of the storm sounded in their ears and the fine snow almost blinded them." I consider this a pretty vivid description of this scene. As in the previous gale on Willow River, and during the cave-in, Joe and Frank think they hear a faint cry, and are naturally correct all three times (pages 17, 111, & 164). The Hardy's apparently have very good hearing !
Upon escaping the wrath of the latest blizzard, they make their way into the supposed mine that contained the stolen gold. While wending their way through, the two are stalked by a ferocious pack of timber-wolves. Thankfully a revolver is at hand and the inevitable escape is accomplished and in the doing so, the discovery of the hidden gold (page 195) ! But Black Pepper is at hand (see cover art) as well, since he planned on absconding with the loot, under the cover of the raging storm. Sigh ..., no honor among thieves I guess. With typical Hardy courage the two overpower and capture the notorious Black Pepper and march him back to the Shale cabin, along with the gold. Complete and total victory for the Hardy Boys !
Then it was time for Bart Dawson to fill in his role and connect the two tales (pages 210-213). Of course as you have guessed, amnesia was the cause of all the misconceptions and troubles. It is agrred that he, Coulson, and Wilson will evenly split the profits of their original gold strike. Fenton and his sons receive a sizeable reward (though I suspect Fenton will keep more than he really deserves), and mention is made of their next mystery, on the Shore Road.
The revised version was written by Alistair Hunter in 1963 and was decreased page-wise from 214 to 177. I was chagrinned to see that it had the exact same Nappi cover art. Well, that's what can happen when your Hardy Boy collection focuses on the original text/picture cover format ! I had to dig this copy out of my attic as I keep very few revised versions on display. Personal choice. A brief synopsis appears in the beginning which I purposely didn't read, but moved on to the Nappi illustration opposite the title page. A pretty darn good rendition of the Hardy's confronting the timber-wolves in the mine (their lair). As I then glanced at the 20 chapter titles I thought, wow, totally rewritten ! There "appeared" to be no resemblence between the two versions and the opening sequence seemed to bear this out.
Biff, Tony, Chet, Joe (17), and Frank (18) confront careless hunters in the woods north of Bayport , near Clintville. Returning from their excursion in the woods the Hardy's receive a phone call from Hank Shale in Montana, instructing the boys to come to Lucky Lode, to help their father. Hah, I thought, this could be merely drastically revised as opposed to totally rewritten, whish is in fact how Bob describes it on his Hardy Boys Page. While traveling back in haste to Bayport, they lose their jeep in a ditch (see illustration on page 7) and then hear a faint call for help (yet again). It is Mike Onslow and he has been accidentily shot by those same wayward hunters. Amazingly, he was on his way to see Joe and Frank ! He takes the place of Jad Wilson in this edition, but weaves the same tale involving the Coulson brothers (John and James), and Bart Dawson. The Black Pepper gang of 25 years ago is mentioned, as well as the missing gold. Only this time, Dawson took off in a plane that crashed, instead of by horse. The story is modernized already. As with Jad, Mike recuperates at the Hardy home (no street address given), under the benevolent care of Laura and Gertrude Hardy. The latter seems less tart than in the ot edition (thankfully).
Instead of a train the boys take a plane to O'Hare Airport in Chicago. There they are trapped by Mr. Hopkins and his gang (Nick, Robby, and Zeke). Frank is upset at the "boner" they have pulled, but still manages to contrive an escape replete with a bonny fight. Upon fleein the building they had been held captive in, the sleuths jump into a nearby cab, thereby pulling another boner ! A gang member is driving and the Hardy's a fortunate to escape his clutches. I think the fact that the fake cab driver was "thin-faced and hawk-nosed" should have clued the boys in on his being a bad guy.
Upon arriving at Lucky Lode we find that Fenton has suffered rib injuries while pursung a member of the Black Pepper Gang. Same as before. But then, a sawed-off shot-gun is rigged to kill Frank and Joe in a booby-trapped helicopter. The vigilance of Frank is rewarded, with their lives (see illustration on page 33).
Bob Dodge is the man who has hired Fenton to find the payroll stolen from his company. He remains an enigma throughout. In fact, he and local store-owner Burke are the two main suspects as spies for the gang in town. This becomes a pervasive plot thread until near the end of the book. Big Al is the leader of this gang ...
It is Ben Tinker, who lives on the outskirts of town that had confronted Dawson up North years ago, as opposed to the unnamed propector in the ot. His reports of and the Hardy's confirmation of, winking blue lights (pages 44 & 49) in the local cemetary at night, are remeniscent of the gang signalling done later in the original "Flickering Torch Mystery".
In one of my favorite scenes in this book, (pages 52 & 53), Joe and Frank follow the still unidentified town spy down the hillside and soon learn that they in turn were being followed ! Hunter did a fine job creating the proper atmosphere for this scene.
In escaping one ambush, Frank dramatically leaps through a glass paned window and then leads his relentless pursuer on an incredible chase (pages 59-63). Such persistence for a villain !
Curiously the Northern Lights are viewed by the Hardy's with no comment. I doubt they had ever viewd this magnificent site even once in their lives.
After finding out that a tommy-knocker was really a rat on the piano keys, the Hardy's are caught in a cave-in, as in the ot version (see illustration on page 77). It reminds me of another similar one in a Ken Holt book ("Coiled Cobra" I believe). As before, the boys escape and once again the gang is waiting on them and effect the capture. Slim and Jake are soon overpowered and the brothers make good their escape.
On their way to a suspected gang meeting place of Big Al, Frank and Joe are set up and fall down a hillside and crash into a bone-freezing creek (with horses), from which they are fortunate indeed to survive ! But they do, only to confront the pack rat which steal their compass, temporarily at least, in a light moment of humor (pages 96 & 97). They continue to the mysterious "shadow of the bear", where they do witness a meeting between Big Al and his minions. It appears that he has a secondary agenda, aside from the stolen payroll ...
After determining that Burke was the spy, a trap is set and all but Big Al are captured. In fact the ambush was muffed by being sprung too soon, allowing the escape of the gang leader. A very well drawn illustration on pages 126 & 127 accurately portrays this scene.
Of course it falls to Frank and Joe to carry out the dangerous pursuit of Big Al, who it is revealed finally, is also Black Pepper ! He is a crafy foe who leads the Hardy's on a wild and dangerous chase, with Joe eeriely almost dying via a ghost-like noose from Al/Pepper. Following the trail behind a waterfall, through a mountain tunnel, and up cliffs, it looks like they have the villain cornered. But Al/Pepper appears to cheat justice by leaping to his death. Frank sees no body or carrion birds and believes it all a ruse, which it was.
As in the ot version, the Hardy's encounter a second blizzard and as in original, Joe is saved by Frank's fire, as shown in the great depiction on page 157. Again as before, they descend into a mine and are stalked by lobos or timberwolves.. The illustration opposite the title page shows events on page 165 occurring.
By page 169 the gold of Bart Dawson and partners is found and it turns out that Dodge was in fact Dawson, suffering from, you guessed it, amnesia. The cover art shows the Hardy's finding the hidden gold as Al/Pepper looks on. The boys capture the gang leader and turn him over for justice while the loose ends are wrapped up by book's end. And the Shore Road beckons.
While the revised version has been modernized in terms of transportation (as was done to all 38 books), the overall plot remains similar with varying manners of arriving at the same basic conclusions.Overall I much preferred the ot to the revised, but except for a few well written scenes, found both books unremarkable, sort of a poor mans "Secret of Wildcat Swamp". They paled in comparison to, oh let's say, the ot and revised versions of "The House on the Cliff". There were occassional spurts of almost dazzling writing, but not enough to sustain the quality throughout. A pity, I expected more from one of the original half a dozen Hardy Boys books, but did not receive.
Mike Humbert's retelling of the original Disappearing Floor had me laughing so hard I was in tears! Terrific job!
It was also great to see some of the genuine plot outline. I don't see how any writer no matter how skilled, unless given liberal permission to deviate greatly from the given outline, could possibly turn this into something that made sense.
Yet, just as with the reviewer here, I liked the story as a young boy. As an adult, I can hardly imagine why! It has all the faults listed in Humbert's retelling and more besides.
As a young boy, before I knew frozen flesh was damaged because ice expanded and ruptured cell membranes, the idea of being frozen and then recovering completely when thawed seemed reasonable. Back then, I uncritically accepted that it happened to Marvel Comic's character Captain America also.
Also, with moving cave floors around and the like, I never thought about how much engineering and equipment that would take. As a young boy, I didn't think about how Batman managed that sort of thing in his cave either. - Joseph T Arendt
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