Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Mystery Box by Gordon McAlpine

Holding true to my previous thoughts on reviews, I'm only review those books I deem worthy enough to share with others. Which means, I'll tell you what I've read, but I'll only review those I feel are good enough to talk about.

The Mystery Box is one of those.

I had heard about this book awhile back from a message board of Hardy Boy fans. The board is now defunct, but I'm still collecting Hardy Boy books. Guess I'll rewind the tape on my life a bit and start at the beginning to reduce any confusion.

Many years ago, my Mom's sister's husband's parents passed away (my Uncle Phil's parents) in the Chicago area. Dad and I were in the area (for what reason I don't recall) and Uncle Phil invited us over to their apartment/house to take what we wanted. There were a few items Dad was interested in (I recall a letter opener and a measuring tape from US Steel), but I was completely enthralled by this collection of old books on the shelf. It was my first introduction to future adventures with the Hardy Boys.

Since that moment, my Dad and I have amassed a decent collection of original Hardy Boys (circa 1930s), reprints (circa the 1990s), Casefiles, and Super Mysteries (with Nancy Drew). In that time I've learned about how Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene were not real people, just pen names.

Enter Gordon McAlpine.

He took two fictitious authors (Dixon and Keene), developed them as characters, turned them into lovers, and finally made them writers. What's most interesting is how Keene and Dixon mature. Keene's father re-marries a younger woman (who turns out to be not as nice as she may appear) and a rift develops between father and daughter. Dixon loses his brother in WWI, searches for and finds him, only to lose him again. There was quite a lot of interesting back story going on, which helped flesh out Keene and Dixon as if they were real people.

McAlpine adds even more flair and flavor to the mix with the introduction of literary heavyweights. F. Scott Fitzgerald (and wife), Ernest Hemmingway, Gertrude Stein, and others. While keeping with historical fact to some degree (like them all being in Paris at the same time and in the same social circles), McAlpine does take some literary freedom by introducing them to Keene and Dixon.

Out of the story, the worst part was the dragging dialog. Most was fast-paced and easy to follow, but there were about two or three spots in the story that seemed to hit a bump in the road and slowed down to the pace of a turtle. And to make it worse, it almost felt like the scene was difficult to write, as the words felt forced and combursome.

In the end, this was a great read. And for any Hardy Boy and Nancy Drew fans out there, this is a MUST read.

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