Poor Frank and Joe. After their tropical beach vacation in The Secret of Skeleton Reef (#144), the brothers are forced to take a non-tropical beach vacation in Terror at High Tide (#145). Just hang in there, boys; another trip to the Caribbean is only nine books away.
Frank and Joe are visiting the surfing paradise that is Nantucket to visit Callie, who is interning at a local newspaper. Why Nantucket, and why a newspaper? Well, Callie has a friend in Nantucket; Alicia Geovanis is the daughter of a museum curator. (How Callie met Alicia is never mentioned, but I suppose it hardly matters.) As for her newspaper aspirations, Callie did work at the Bayport Examiner in The Smoke Screen Mystery, so I suppose it makes sense — as much as anything in a Hardy Boys book needs to make sense, at least.
Terror at High Tide begins with an uncredited writing assist from Cliché Bot, who writes the first few pages. A sample of his work, from the first paragraph of the book: “Surf’s up … Those waves are awesome. Ready to catch a few?” You will be unsurprised to learn Frank also later says, “Cowabunga!” while surfing. Oh, Cliché Bot … please change as soon as you can.
After Frank and Joe’s desultory surfing, they join the ladies on the beach. In the ‘70s and ’80s, this might have led to a little pairing off, with the boys doing whatever heteronormative, society-approved things boys are supposed to do with girls. But no, in this case, Joe never interacts with Alicia in that way, although she offers both brothers “an energy boost” (in the form of soda, not knockoff Enzyte). To be fair, Frank and Callie don’t engage in the hanky or the panky either. That’s not the kind of place a Hardy Boys book is; for all I know, that may not be the kind of place Nantucket is, despite all the limericks to the contrary.
Besides, Callie knows what the Hardys are really after. When Alicia says Nantucket is a great place to relax, Callie says, “Frank and Joe … claim they’re here for a week to visit me, but sooner or later they’ll be solving some mystery that would completely baffle anyone else” (4). Frank and Joe take it as a compliment, but I don’t think she means it as such; it has the plaintive sound of someone who’s wondering, “Why won’t you pay attention to me? Why aren’t I good enough?”
You’re good enough, Callie. You just can’t compete with mystery when it comes to either Hardy’s heart. No woman can.
The mystery arrives on pg. 5, when Frank finds a balloon marked with name “Ebony Pearl.” The Ebony Pearl was a passenger ship that sank off Nantucket in 1957. The Ebony Pearl doesn’t really exist, of course. The closest analogue to the fictional shipwreck I could find was the Andrea Doria, an Italian ocean liner that sank near Nantucket in 1956. Unlike the Pearl, the Andrea Doria wasn’t done in by its boiler; instead, it collided with a Swedish ocean liner, the Stockholm. Forty-six of the 1,660 on board died.
Rather than looking for other flotsam and jetsam that might have washed up on the shore, Alicia and her Bayport cohorts take the balloon to her father at the Nantucket Shipping Museum, which has an exhibit on prominent shipwrecks, including the Pearl. George Geovanis, a survivor of the Ebony Pearl disaster, immediately pronounces the balloon authentic. His assistant, Roberto Scarlatti, violently disagrees — emphasis on the “violently,” as he brandishes a harpoon at Geovanis. The curator warns Scarlatti that the next time he makes a threat, he’ll be fired and the police called. I think that’s generous; if I waved a weapon at my boss, I’d expect an a pink slip and incarceration.
Like the Ebony Pearl, the Nantucket Shipping Museum exists only in the imagination or Franklin W. Dixon, but a (somewhat) similar institution does exist on the island: the Nantucket Shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum, which has a permanent exhibit (the Robert Caldwell Collection) dedicated to Nantucket’s history of shipwrecks. (The Shipwreck Museum is part of the Egan Maritime Institute, which, according to its website, “is … devoted exclusively to celebrating the rich maritime history of Nantucket Island.”)
Since Callie is working for the local paper — the Island News — and because Nantucket is the most boring place on Earth, the discovery of the balloon makes the front page of the paper. Well, I suppose something has to, and “Sun Rises in the East” can’t be a banner headline every day.
Whew, only a few pages in, and the book has already put me to sleep. Let’s see — it’s 2018!?! Well, I don’t suppose much happened in 2017 … What’s that? He did? And then he … Huh. But — both sides? But that’s —
No, no. Just stop. You’re not making things any better.
Anyway, after supper that night, the kids head to the museum, where they interrupt a break-in. In between the vandalism and general mayhem, Joe is attacked by a “huge black object” (23), which isn’t very racially sensitive. Nor is the revelation that the “object” is an octopus. I’ve never heard that slur before, but the ‘90s were a different time, I suppose. (No, no, I heard you: “both sides.”) The Hardys have interrupted a break-in, but rather than sending one of the ladies to call the cops, the boys call Callie and Alicia up to a ransacked office after they’ve determined the criminal is gone. The four poke around the museum for a while — Frank says, “I want to look around some more for some clues before we call the police” (29) — rather than immediately engage law enforcement. Frank, I know the Bayport PD is ineffectual / incompetent / corrupt, but that doesn’t mean the Nantucket police are as well.
But Alicia’s already called the cops, and thankfully, the Hardys are white enough to avoid being shot or incarcerated, despite being found in the middle of a museum break-in. And the police don’t slam Joe against a wall when he suggests they take fingerprints of the crime scene — in fact, they seem like they appreciate the suggestion. They make it clear that’s all they’re going to do, though. It’s late! They’re tired! Give them a break.
The next day, Alicia drops by the B&B Frank and Joe are staying at — the Great White Whale, which is an excellent name for a Nantucket business — to say her father didn’t make it home the night before. The police have said not to worry, which is good advice that covers for their general laziness. Frank says not to jump to conclusions, which also good advice. Besides, after Frank and Joe take the case, it becomes Joe’s job to jump to conclusions. And even if Alicia’s father has been kidnapped, Frank says, “I’m sure your dad is fine. … It’s in [the kidnappers’] best interest to treat their captives well” (42). Sure, Frank: Violent criminals never forget their best interests when something disrupts their plans.
After someone attempts a little vehicular homicide against the Hardys, they and Alicia make half-hearted attempt at questioning suspects: Scarlatti, since he’s the more recent person with a grudge against Alicia’s father; Ferrier, the editor-in-chief of the local paper, because George Geovanis was last seen at his party; and Harrison Cartwright, the guy seen arguing with Geovanis at Ferrier’s party. Ferrier has a dune buggy like the one that attempted to run them off the road and is a bit of a skeeve; Scarlatti has a house with a secret passage; and after interviewing Cartwright, they immediately — immediately! — get a flat. Before they can even change the tire, they spot a “suspicious” figure in a cranberry bog. The lose their quarry but find a cufflink that may have come from the Ebony Pearl. Frank also triggers a trap set for the boys at a local (boring) historical site, the Corn Mill, but they blow their chance to figure out who set it.
Alicia begins acting strangely, telling Frank and Joe to leave the island. Despite not taking any blows to the head, the Hardys are incapable of putting two and two together and are baffled. While the Hardys talk the case over with Callie, Joe posits that Alicia discovers her father was behind the museum break-in and is discouraging them to conceal the crime and her father’s fake kidnapping. That’s clearly stupid, but Frank seconds that wild conclusion.
So what do Frank and Joe do after this brainstorm? They and Callie break into Scarlatti’s house! Of course. It all makes sense!
During the standard B&E of Scarlatti’s house, the Bayporters meet Alicia in the secret passageway. The bond forged in committing a crime and then escaping detection causes Alicia to level with them: the kidnapper’s warning to not to talk to the Hardys or call the police caused her volte-face earlier. The kidnapper also he left a ransom demand: a manuscript about shipwrecks Geovanis was writing. (Joe’s theory about Alicia covering up for her father is never referenced again.) Later, when Joe calls Alicia’s reluctance to inform the police “silly” (108), Alicia gets angry at him. Don’t put up with his boysplaining!
The next morning, Joe calls in a favor, having Con Riley run background checks on the suspects. Research at the newspaper morgue reveals the Ebony Pearl’s purser was named Carter Harris, whose name and age is similar to Harrison Cartwright’s; Harris is supposed to have gone down with the ship. Con’s checks don’t turn up anything on Cartwright before the Ebony Pearl’s sinking. The kids hypothesize Geovanis might have recognizes Harris and threatened to expose his secret survival (and possible theft of passengers’ valuables from the Ebony Pearl).
Fortunately for the boys — and us readers — Cartwright reveals himself almost immediately. When Frank and Joe drop by to ask a few questions, Cartwright tries to kill them with the dune buggy again. In the ensuing car chase — Frank marvels, “Unbelievable … This guy doesn’t give up” (122), which isn’t that amazing since the boys will reveal his crime unless he stops them — Frank foregoes the safety of driving to town in favor of a briefly seen uniformed man near a lighthouse. Great strategy, Frank: Trap yourself in the most isolated part of the island. But Cartwright gives them a warning instead.
These baffling decisions — to attempt murder again, then let the boys walk — are all part of the character of a man who has made horrible decisions all his life. Why live near a museum that has a large exhibit to the disaster he used to fake his death? Not only are there most likely photos of the crew on exhibit there, it’s one place researchers and survivors — in other words, the people best positioned to recognize the purser — would most likely be found. Honestly, this man picked the worst place to hide from his past, but since it still took decades for him to be found out, maybe he’s not the dumb one.
Frank and Joe arrive at Cartwright’s house just in time to see him speed away in a motorboat with both the Geovanises; evidently Alicia arrived just in time to be kidnapped for the denoument. Frank and Joe swipe a motorboat to pursue, and because it wouldn’t be a Cliché Bot book without a finale involving sharks and the Hardys’ boat starting to sink, well, that’s what happens: Cartwright leaves the Geovanises to die as the tide rises, the boys scrape the stolen boat on some shoals, and they have to swim to get to the bound captives. But the shark turns out to be a dolphin, the Geovanises are rescued, and the boat stays afloat long enough for the Hardys to beat up Cartwright and steal his boat. Hooray!