I have always been an avid reader. From the time I first learned how to read, I’ve had a book going. When I graduated into reading chapter books one of the first series my mom suggested was one from her own childhood – The Hardy Boys. She had a sizable collection of vintage hardcover Hardy Boys books that she pulled out and offered to me. I devoured them all over the course of a few years, loving the stories of two young brothers solving dangerous mysteries.
The books were published by a famous organization called The Stratemeyer Syndicate that also published other well-known series like The Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew. The Syndicate’s MO was to assign a penname to a series and source the stories from various writers. So the Hardy Boys books are all credited to Franklin W. Dixon, but actually written by a few different authors. Still, one author is responsible for the vast majority of the books. His name was Leslie McFarlane. McFarlane was a Canadian man who wrote for various newspapers in his youth. At some point he responded to an ad from the Stratemeyer Syndicate for series writers. He was hired and went on to write 21 Hardy Boys books including 19 of the first 25 published stories. The first was published in 1927.
McFarlane apparently didn’t enjoy writing these “juvenile” stories and would voice his intent stop writing them after each completed book. However, during the time surrounding The Great Depression he found that he had to keep it up to provide for his family. He would often be paid as little as $85 per book by the Syndicate. He continued writing Hardy Boys stories all the way until 1946, but the last book he sent to the Syndicate was actually written by his wife! She had apparently read enough of his stories to write one herself and the Syndicate either couldn’t tell the difference or didn’t care. McFarlane died in 1977 with a vast list of achievements in writing. However, he didn’t get any royalties from the vast sales of his Hardy Boys stories due to the structuring of his deal with the Syndicate. Still, his family reported he harbored no ill will in regards to the financial details. He was just happy to have made some money from his writing.
So for this series, I selected was I remember as being my favorite Hardy Boys book: While the Clock Ticked. I remember thinking that this was the scariest of the books to me, so we’ll see if that memory turns out to be true. The Hardy Boys books have been published many times over the last 90 years in various forms and covers. Here are a few of the cover images that have been released of this particular entry in the series.
My copy is missing the original dust jacket but is in otherwise great condition and looks like this:
While the Clock Ticked was published in 1932, so you’ll get a taste of what the vernacular was like back then. Yes, the book is quite dated, but reads well. Still, with each chapter I’m going to call out a bit of dated dialogue that is interesting. I’m also going to feature a line from the chapter that is just a bit strange, for any reason really, because there are lots of lines that much make me tilt my head sometimes.
Also, if there’s one thing that Hardy Boys books are known for it’s cliffhangers. McFarlane was a master at pacing and structuring each chapter to end with a cliffhanger that makes you instinctively turn the page and keep right on going. Now, some cliffhangers are better than others, so I’m going to feature the last line of each chapter and grade the cliffhanger. Just for fun.
Okay, enough preamble. Let’s read While the Clock Ticked!
Chapter 1 – A Stranger in Trouble
The book opens abruptly as we join Frank and Joe Hardy looking out their window at a man who has been sent away from their house and was obviously upset about it. They consult their Aunt Gertrude, who is housekeeping while their parents are on vacation. Gertrude is described as “peppery and dictatorial” and a woman who is always knitting but never has socks to show for it. She gladly admits sending away the stranger for their own safety. The boys protest that they maybe could have helped him if he had wanted to hire their father.
At this point, the stranger returns and the boys let him in. Gertrude hides while the boys chat with the man who turns out to be famous banker Raymond Dalrymple. He indeed wishes to hire their father and asks them to make every effort to contact him on vacation as it is a matter of life and death! The boys say it’s impossible, but they will try. They also suggest that they could help since they are aspiring detectives in their own right, but the man dismisses the idea instantly.
The boys are about to embark on a hike and picnic with their “chums” and Mr. Dalrymple says if they want a mystery they should investigate the “old Purdy house”. He refuses to elaborate, but the boys are determined to make the house a part of their hike.
Mr. Dalrymple leaves and Gertrude asks what he wanted, but the boys talk around the question and leave without answering determined to investigate the Purdy house.
The first chapter contains standard Hardy Boys fare: the boys are eager for a mystery and just happen to stumble on one while quietly mocking their overbearing aunt. Plus, this chapter contains a staple of mystery fiction: “the old abandoned house.” Is it haunted or just being used by criminals? Are there really any other options?