It's no secret (no pun intended!) that I've never been a huge fan of the Hardy Boys. I grew up reading Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins, Dana Girls, Trixie Belden, and various other mystery series that had female protagonists. For me, the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift were more about adventure than mystery, so I left those for my brother (who read the Hardy Boys for a short period of time). My mom tried to get me interested in them back in 1979, when the Stratemeyer Syndicate switched from Grosset & Dunlap to Simon & Schuster and the books went from hardback to paperback. She bought me the first Nancy Drew paperback (57) as well as the first two Hardy Boys paperbacks (59 and 60). I read the two HB books, but was not impressed and didn't buy any more.
When Simon & Schuster decided to re-boot both the Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drew series back in the early 2000s with the Nancy Drew, Girl Detective series and the Hardy Boys, Undercover Brothers series, I decided to give them a try. Still not impressed. I bought the first 21 books of that series, then gave it up.
Fast forward to 2013, when Simon & Schuster did yet another reboot. This time, the Hardy Boys series became the Hardy Boys Adventures (which pretty much vilified my belief that they were more about adventure than mystery). So I thought, what the heck, I'd give it another try.
Surprisingly enough, while the series is not what I'd call top-notch reading, I've actually been enjoying these books better than the Nancy Drew books that S&S is currently publishing (seriously - "Nancy Drew Diaries"??? whose idea was that???). This latest book, Tunnel of Secrets, pretty much shows why.
With only 136 pages of story (which is considerably less pages than the current Nancy Drew books, although the font here is smaller, so they probably contain the same amount of story), the action is fast-paced and the adventure is actually fairly interesting. In this tale, the boys are trying to locate some kidnapped students, only to discover that the underground tunnels they found back in book 7 of this series actually lead to an entire underground city! Throw in a secret society with a vague connection to the Freemasons, as well as a mute homeless man with a secret and a creepy cemetery, and you've definitely got some interesting reading material!
Sadly, with such a reduced page count, the characterization is not very strong (particularly with all of the supporting cast and guest characters). If Simon & Schuster would simply allow these ghostwriters (both for this series and the Nancy Drew series) to tell the story to its fullest and not worry about a smaller page count, these stories could probably stand out and be comparable with the books of old.
One thing that is somewhat enjoyable in the new series is the fact that the police chief does not coddle the boys and "assist" them with their mysteries; rather, he resents the boys' involvement, constantly warns them to stay out of or face jail time, and basically acts as a nemesis to their tendency to step in and solve the crimes before the police. Which, let's face facts, is a lot more realistic than the police chiefs from the original Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books, who were ever-so-grateful to the sleuths for their help and often gave them information and assisted them, rather than taking charge of the investigations.
As a kids' series, I would definitely say this was an enjoyable read, even though it could have been better with some fleshing out.
RATING: 7 underground tunnels out of 10 for giving letting the boys find a skeleton, where Joe has no choice but to reach inside to retrieve a key! (That scene alone was worth the whole book!)