“Borrowing” from the past: This is not the first time this blog has seen Gertrude’s love life, as unpleasant as it might seem. In Past and Present Danger (#166), an old friend — reporter Clayton Silvers — mentions Gertrude was once engaged to a local business owner, who died before the wedding. (The engagement was first mentioned by Fenton in The Phantom Freighter #26.) In A Killing in the Market, Gertrude is romanced by investment banker Cyril Bayard (real name: Henry Simone). I don’t want to say anything about Gertrude, but a couple of men have already died to get out of relationships with her. If it happens again, it’s a pattern.
Killing mentions a few locations in Bayport, such as the Cliffside Heights neighborhood, Archer Street, Bay Road, and the Shore Inn, but none of them have appeared in the original canon. Nearby towns such as Bridgefield and Kirkland (destinations for trains from New York through Bayport) are also new, although Bridgeport and Bridgewater have popped up in the past.
Lives of the American privileged: As I mentioned in the review of Past and Present Danger, books that focus on Gertrude tend to shuffle Laura off the stage at an early spot. In Killing, Fenton takes Laura on a month-long vacation, and when Fenton returns to investigate Simone’s murder, she’s shuffled off to the neighbors’ house.
Good in a crisis: After Gertrude is arrested, Frank and Joe fall back on their all-purpose solution: investigation! A more practical course of action might be to a) call Fenton, who is on vacation with Laura, and b) to get a lawyer for Gertrude. The latter might be a result of the Hardys’ family prejudice toward lawyers, as Fenton doesn’t advise Gertrude to talk to a lawyer, even when she seems about to confess to murder.
But given how quickly Fenton gets results, you can only guess that Frank and Joe just wanted a rest from Gertrude — just a few moments of peace and quiet, and if she has to be incarcerated for them to get it, then by God, Gertrude’s getting prison time. One can see the direct link from this lack of human compassion to a relative in need to the boys’ insistence on investigating “their case,” in the face of nuclear annihilation, in The Pacific Conspiracy (Casefiles #78).
On the other hand, perhaps Joe just doesn’t give a damn. He says Gertrude’s too old for love — not to her face, of course, but to Frank. (Frank rightly calls him a “rotten nephew” a few pages later.) He runs down Cyril / Henry just because he’s an investment banker, since “the papers are full of stories about swindlers — guys who work for these big-and-mighty companies and steal clients’ money left and right!” Joe is right, but that’s hardly helpful, since Gertrude’s money is already gone. When Cyril / Henry’s house is ransacked and Cyril is gone, Joe says “maybe” he’s still alive.
Lying to the police, in this case, is considered a blessing: When asked about her last evening with Cyril / Henry by Officer Con Riley, Gertrude says, “We went for a long walk the night before last. Please, you’re not going to ask what we talked about, are you?” Because she’s not going to think up a lie quickly enough, since there was little talking during the activity “walk” is a euphemism for (Lothar of the Hill People knows the euphemism well, although Lothar was a couple of years after Killing was released).
Sentences that have never been seen in a Hardy Boys book before: “‘You’re awfully quiet, Aunt Gertrude,’ Frank finally said as they stopped for a traffic light.”
Is it weird that I find normal male / female interaction in a Hardy Boys book odd?: In Killing, there is a moment of genuine, indisputable romantic contact between a boy and a girl. It isn’t a playful peck, or some cheeky “reward” for lifesaving. Frank “wrapped his arms around [Callie] and touched his lips to hers.” The description lacks passion or artfulness, and the scene is interrupted by Joe, doing his little brother duty, honking the van’s horn and mocking his brother’s moment of intimacy.
You don’t measure up, Callie: Despite a male member of the Hardy family showing his approval for Callie by touching her, Gertrude pointedly asks Callie to stay in the van while the police question Gertrude about Henry’s murder because “it’s family business.” Well, it’s an investigation; of course that’s family business. I suppose dating Frank for 60 years isn’t enough to qualify Callie for membership in the Hardy clan, though. You’ll just have to wait for that ring, Callie! Of course, Callie’s waited so long even Miss Havisham would say, “Really, I think you’d better move on, dear.”
But still, she’s subject to the will and whims of the Hardy family. When Frank and Joe head to Henry’s funeral, Joe is afraid Callie will follow them; Frank says that won’t happen because he “had a long talk with her.” Of course; she wouldn’t dare disobey you, Frank.
Girls! If they’re not getting blown up, they’re bossing you around: After a day of investigation, Frank finds a message on his answering machine from Callie, who wants to know how their day went. Joe jokes, “So she can tell us how we could have done it better!” It seems an incredibly defensive thing for Joe to say; perhaps he misses having someone to share his adventures with.
Do you pay attention to where you live?: Greenwich Village reminds Frank of a “citified Bayport.” Really — a citified Bayport? The middle and upper-class nature of both make sense, but the Village has a bohemian, liberal, arty reputation, which Bayport does not. Bayport is the crime capital of the East Coast, and even its better-off part of the city is infested with criminals.
Opposite reactions: When Frank and Joe poke their nose into the murder investigation, two suspects have completely different reactions. Dodgy accountant Justin Spears hands over his clients’ confidential information with barely a demur, while swindling stockbroker Norman Fleckman offers them tobacco products, then tries to kill them. Fleckman also tries to go the bribery route before the murder attempt, dangling such well-known enticements as “jazzy clothes” and a “hot new car” in front of the boys. Joe claims he just “panicked,” but those are the sort of reactions one has to extreme intimidation, but it’s not like Frank and Joe are burly thugs waving guns and / or indictments around.
Premature exultation: While the boys are in New York, the boys use a ticker-tape parade for the World Series champs as cover for their getaway. However, no New York team won the 1988 World Series — in fact, neither New York team won the Series between 1986, when the Mets beat the Red Sox in seven, and 1996, when the Yankees took their first championship since 1978 (their longest drought since the team won its first World Series in 1923). In 1988, the Yankees finished fifth in a mediocre American League East, 3 ½ games behind the Red Sox; the Mets won the National League East, but lost in the playoffs to the eventual champions, Los Angeles, in seven games.
Always be prepared: When Gertrude is accused of using one of her knitting needles to kill her boyfriend, she protests, “Why would I bring a knitting needle on a walk?” Con Riley doesn’t answer, logically enough, that she always seems to have her knitting needles, even when she and the boys investigate Cyril’s ransacked house.
No wonder the boys have so little respect for civil rights: Fenton has no ideas what Constitutional protections offer people. When the Bayport police are exploring theories of the murder, Fenton protests that they must enter into the investigation assuming Gertrude was innocent until proven guilty. Well, no, Fenton; the police can formulate theories that lead them to believe a suspect is as guilty as sin. It’s the press, judges, and juries who must make that assumption. Riley is too polite to tell Fenton he’s an idiot.
That makes no sense: When Joe is firing up the van to pursue a suspect, Frank cautions Joe to drive more carefully: “A little less speed will get us there as fast.” I’m not sure what science classes Frank has taken, but evidently physics wasn’t one of them.
I do envy your skills, Joe: To foil the criminal, Joe makes a not-very-convincing attempt to switch briefcases that involves the cooperation of a random woman stopped on in a traffic jam. The trick works, and after the criminal is arrested, the woman slips Joe her business card, then gives him a wink and a smile. This is remarkable, as the woman is probably — given her business paraphernalia — at least five years older than Joe, who had involved her in a situation with a gun-wielding murderer who set fire to his own motorcycle to show how serious he was.
Opinions: A story about crooked investment bankers is even more relevant today than it was in 1988, and if anything, the story makes the cheats seem a little too innocent (except for the murder attempts). Yes, these guys are bilking people out of their money, but no one in this book is Bernie Madoff; additionally, nothing these people are doing is likely to bring around a worldwide financial crisis. It’s just mainstream financial malfeasance, and as a warning to the young that Wall Street is not to be trusted, Killing works well. One has to think the book was partly inspired by the Black Monday crash the year before (October 19, 1987).
This one would be a good mystery except for the people in it. There’s a murder, the cops reach the logical conclusion, and there is a point in the book, about two-thirds of the way through, when it’s obvious who the murderer is. But the characters … Joe is a massive jerk, the suspects are nervous and insane, going from 0 to murder in about ten seconds. The chief suspect burns his own motorcycle to destroy evidence, blames Frank and Joe, then when the police show up, he claims it was childish high spirits and declines to press charges. Insane.
But Gertrude is the biggest disappointment. Faced with the largest challenge she’s ever seen in a Hardy Boys book, she crumbles. That seems alien to those who have read the series from the beginning. Gertrude falling to pieces seems so out of character; she should be sniping at the police, sarcastic, giving them a hard time, and telling the boys to do something useful. Maybe she gets a little weepy once or twice; maybe not. I’m not inflexible. But Gertrude falls apart early and stays useless through the rest of the story; the only non-weepy acts she undertakes are lying to the police and acting guilty. The last time we see any spirit from Gertrude is when she’s angry with Henry for standing her up, and she tells Con Riley that if he’s alive, she’ll kill him. Con says she’s “upset and confused,” which is polite; we all know she’s just Gertrude, but unfortunately, she’s not the real Gertrude for long.
Grade: C-. Dixon probably just panicked.