The Hardy Boys are heading back to Maine in Mystery on Makatunk Island.
We’ve been to Maine with the Hardys before, although the state has been mentioned as a vacation destination as often as it has been shown as one. Frank, Joe, and Chet went whitewater rafting in Maine in The Roaring River Mystery (#80), and that book claimed the brothers had gone backpacking in Maine before. Mystery of Smugglers Cove (#64) claims the brothers hiked the Appalachian Trail a few weeks before; perhaps the two books referred to the same event. In The Secret Agent on Flight 101, the boys went to a deserted Maine island with the coordinates 44 degrees, 18' 10" north, 68 degrees 23' west to look for Fenton. (An island, Mt. Desert Island, is located at those coordinates, but even though those coordinates are part of Acadia National Park, that’s the island with Bar Harbor on it and not a deserted island. Many small islands are located near Mt. Desert Island, though.) In addition, Fenton took Laura to Maine for a vacation in the original While the Clock Ticked (#11).
Frank, Joe, and Chet are headed to Chet’s aunt’s vacation home on Makatunk Island. This aunt — Emma Morton — hasn’t been mentioned before. Chet (and his sister, Iola) have an unnamed aunt and uncle in Los Angeles, mentioned in Mystery of the Desert Giant (#40); an uncle (Tyler Morton), who is a big-game hunter, according to The Wailing Siren Mystery (#30); and another uncle, Jim Kenyon, who is an art instructor in The Haunted Fort (#44). (In a sort-of callback to Haunted Fort, Chet does a little painting while on Makatunk. Haunted Fort is not referenced, though.) Additionally, two cousins have been traipsed their way into the series: William “Bill” Morton, who appears in the original Sinister Sign Post (#15), and Vern Nelson, who lives with his sister in Montreal in The Vanishing Thieves (#66) because his parents have died. Emma must be on his dad’s side, like Uncle Tyler, but the story doesn’t mention whether Emma is Chet’s aunt by blood or marriage.
Emma lives in “the city” — presumably the same one the Tick lives in. She hasn’t been able to rent her island vacation home, so the boys are allowed to use it for a week. But of course Makatunk Island is having trouble — vandalism, like broken windows and destroyed lobster traps — and the tourist trade is drying up. People aren’t coming to see the island’s natural beauty, visit its art galleries, or even to gawk at the home of famous artist Kent Halliwell. (Never heard of her? Don’t worry. She’s fictional. I don’t know who she’s based on, although I will wildly guess P. Buckley Moss, even though their landscapes they paint are hundreds of miles apart.) I’m not sure how famous Halliwell really is, though; when a few of her paintings are stolen, the owner of the gallery they were taken from estimates they were each worth “a few thousand dollars” (59), which doesn’t sound that much for an incredibly famous artist.
Makatunk Island is reminiscent of Mt. Desert Island and Mackinac Island, Mich. Like Mackinac Island, there are art galleries, no cars, an old shipwreck just offshore, and a single island inn. (The name “Makatunk” is more than reminiscent of Mackinac as well.) Like Makatunk, Mackinac Island can be reached only by ferry, although it doesn’t take as long to reach Mackinac. However, Mt. Desert Island is more or less in the right place geographically and is big enough to have large forested tracts for tourists to explore. The population of Makatunk seems more similar to Mackinac Island (population 492) than Mt. Desert Island (population 10,615).
Like pretty much all locals around a tourist destination, though, the people of Makatunk Island have a love / hate relationship with tourists. The visitors are a pain in the tuchus, but without them, the community would be impoverished.
Anyway, Frank and Joe can’t resist the opportunity to investigate, and the criminals oblige them by continuing their crimes right in front of the boys. The sheriff’s boat, for instance, is sabotaged and starts sinking while Frank and Joe are discussing matters with the sheriff. (The sheriff doesn’t seem very good at his job, hemming and hawing, threatening that he might maybe do his job sometimes right soon.) The lobster traps turn up as kindling at the local hotel. Frank and Joe find a vial marked “salmonella” at the shipwreck; they turn it over to the sheriff
At supper that night, Frank and Chet go wild about the fresh halibut, keeping up their habit of eating seafood only outside of Bayport’s crime-polluted waters, but Joe says, “I’m not crazy about fish” and orders the vegetarian platter instead. Two other tourists at the table order the vegetarian platter, with one of them saying, “It sounds very good.” Given that the description of the vegetarian platter was limited to the words “vegetarian platter,” that’s a strange thing to say, but it turns out it’s a plot point rather than a weird Dixonism. Then, in a scene reminiscent of Airplane, people begin suffering from stomach pains, and according to a passing doctor, “Everyone who ate the fish is as sick as a dog” (68). My mind supplies a flash of lightning and a peal of thunder. Surely he can’t be serious!
Frank and Chet are not immune to salmonella; fortunately, the two seem to get hit by abdominal cramps and avoid the bloody, sudden onset diarrhea, nausea, and fever. It turns out someone took the salmonella from the sheriff’s house and liberally dosed the halibut. While Frank is sick, Joe is lured to a late-night meeting by the promise of information about Halliwell’s stolen paintings, but the roof of the shack he was supposed to meet in is dropped on him. He survives, somehow. Frank deduces it wasn’t an accident, which is the top-flight detective work we’ve come to expect in this series.
The Hardys endure more attacks — an arrow fired at Joe, their ropes cut while they rapelled down a cliff (the narration makes it clear they were rock climbing, not rappelling, but the danger is the same) — before finding a map that shows a corporation is trying to buy up the island to construct a resort. We should have known it: developers are the natural enemy of natural places. The two guys who ordered the vegetarian plate are the developers’ emissaries, but who are they working with? The too-committed environmentalist hippie? The chiseling man-for-hire with tax problems and a grudge against the sheriff? Kent Halliwell, who has vicious dogs she doesn’t treat well? The owner of the inn, who also doesn’t like the sheriff? Frank tries to find out by following the two men, but he’s chloroformed, and Joe later finds him sprawled in the middle of the road. He’s all right, Frank says: “I was chloroformed, that’s all” (111). No one, I think, has ever said that before.
It’s none of these suspects, though. You might have noticed the sheriff isn’t all that well liked, and he’s not all that competent. Turns out his incompetence was planned! (Also: It might be innate.) He tells Frank and Joe that authorities on the mainland want him to take the investigation even more slowly. When the brothers ask to talk to his superiors themselves, he says the island is incommunicado because an incoming storm has knocked out the telephones. Shockingly, the Hardys — amateur radio users from way back — do not think to ask about ham radios. The Hardys! Forgetting ham radios!
Further casting doubt on the author’s attention to detail is the description of Fenton as “a high-ranking police detective back in Bayport” (132). Oh, dear.
Frank and Joe, in order to save Chet, also burst in on the sheriff and his two co-conspirators and … and … and beat up all three. That’s something Frank and Joe almost never do in the books: defeat a numerically superior foe. At the end of a book, with allies rushing in to make up the numbers, they can take an equal number of combatants, but never do they overcome superior numbers. They do here, though, and Joe even disarms a guy with a rifle! Frank breaks the wrist of the sheriff with a karate kick! It’s wild and violent and I kinda like it.
For saving the island, the locals reward Chet and the Hardys. Finally. I’d had enough of this “goodness of their hearts” crap, or “for the kicks” motivation. The hippie gives them a pair of carved wooden acorns — well, it’s the thought that counts — and the inn’s owner gives the entire island a free meal and tells the boys to consider the inn “your home away from home” (147). (It’s unclear whether that means free accommodations or if it’s just a marketing slogan.) The surly chiseler promises to stop chiseling them, for a while. Most importantly, Kent Halliwell gives them a “matted watercolor” (147) of a forest on the island. That painting was worth several thousand in 1994; it could be worth double several thousand now!