The latest Hardy Boys book weighs in at a whopping 122 pages of story. Seriously? What is Simon & Schuster thinking? This is exactly the same page count as the last mystery, which was certainly not the most captivating story. But, then again, how much excitement and entertainment can you really capture with so few pages? And what's sad is the fact that the premise of these stories are actually pretty good - it's just the execution that is less than stellar due to the compact nature of the books.
With that kind of build up, one would think there would be a great mystery here. Plenty of characters to create suspects, a camp-fire tale about a mad cannibal living on the mountainside, a thirty-year old mystery involving a plane crash and a Russian mobster, and, of course, the black bears for which the mountain was named. When one of the campers disappears, the biologist goes off searching for him also disappears, and then Frank and Joe get separated from the group, it seems there could be plenty of room to build suspense and create tension that would keep the reader turning page after page.
Sadly, with all of this crammed into only 122 pages, the pacing of the story is too fast. It literally jumps from once incident to the next - arriving at the lodge, Frank overhearing a conversation about someone getting hurt, flying up to the mountain, a terse meeting with Dr. Kroopnik, a fright involving a black bear, their teacher missing with a bloodstain left behind, then Dr. Kroopnik disappearing, then Frank and Joe getting chased by the "Mad Hermit" of Black Bear Mountain and so on, and so on. There is very little time at all to really get to know the characters. While we find out snippets of Randall and Jim Morgan's characters, we learn absolutely nothing about Mandy and Melissa (leaving them as pretty much the stock females in distress).
As for the mystery? It is anything but. Right from the get-go, it is pretty obvious who is doing what and who the hermit is. And that is really disappointing, as the last 11 books in this series have not been half-bad. Either I am simply too old to really enjoy these books any more, or the writing is becoming more sloppy as Simon & Schuster simply puts out anything under the Hardy Boys (and Nancy Drew) logos, figuring the name alone will sell it. There's no more care put into these stories, and that old S&S excuse that "children today just don't have the attention span for longer stories" doesn't cut it - I see way too many young adult books on the shelves that are 3 and 4 times as long as this, and they sell quite nicely.
I guess the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew stories of years ago truly are gone. And it's a shame, as they are such a part of literary history at this point, you'd think S&S would care enough to want to continue that history and make their own mark on it.
RATING: 5 cans of tuna fish in oil out of 10 for at least providing an interesting plot, regardless of how lackluster the writing itself was.