Frank and Joe have been left to their own devices while their parents are away on yet another vacation, when suddenly there's a phone call: Aunt Gertrude is coming! That formidable lady of indeterminate years will wring their necks if the house isn't spotless when she arrives. Being boys the Hardy Boys have neglected their linens and make haste to drop it all off at the best Chinese laundry in town.
Unfortunately instead of the friendly Sam Lee, they are greeted by the sinister Louie Fong who accuses the boys of eavesdropping and doesn't see at all reliable as far as laundry. Spoiler alert: they never get their laundry back!
Things keep going wrong for the Hardy Boys. Their aunt fails to turn up at the docks, a young man they invite to stay overnight goes missing along with many important papers of their father, and Aunt Gertrude complains of a vision of a Chinamen coming in through the window - you may have guessed that the boys find footprints under the window shortly thereafter.
The mystery this time is all about the illegal smuggling of Chinese into Bayport (which is on the Atlantic coast and therefore convenient for this) and a curious case of duplicate identities. Along the way Tom Wat, a young Chinese man whose life is in jeopardy may or may not be dressed up as a girl by the boys to avoid detection.
There is a mix of tone-deaf cultural depiction in here and outdated terms (read: Chinamen), but also a lot of racially charged associations that are a real problem. Language changes over time and I can't fault the author for trying to write in the, uh, "pidgin English" of the Chinese immigrant....well, maybe a little. However, when we're constantly reminded of the dusky or yellow cast of the skin of our villain, and reminders of the suspicious differences between our heroes and villains you know we're supposed to make certain associations.
Bad form Hardy Boys, bad form.
Speaking of bad form, our good friend Chet has a good-sized part in the novel, but Biff is on to my game and refused to make an appearance.
The revision of this 1934 novel came out in 1965 and involves the Hardy Boys investigating illegal immigration in a fictional island nation and stolen blueprints to a miniature spy camera. I'm sure laundry has something to do with it.
Next: 'The Mark on the Door'
Previous: 'While the Clock Ticked'