(M.J.E. / Writings / Book Reviews / Children's Fiction /
Lyle: Power Boys Series)
Mel LYLE: Power Boys Series (1964 - 1967)
Review by Michael Edwards
This review is still in progress, but I have already
written some general comments about the series. I wish to read the books again
before commenting on them in detail, and I will then add sections about each of
the individual books.
General discussion of the series:
Comparison with other series; characters, setting, style
American adventure series and how they differ from Enid Blyton
I first encountered the Power Boys books in my early teens, when my younger
brother was given the occasional Power Boys adventure at Christmas or on his
birthday. I was never given them myself, perhaps because I was a few years
older and thought by people to be a little too old for them. But I retained an
interest in children's adventure stories much longer than do many children, and
indeed, I still have some degree of interest in such books, although that is now
mixed up with more than a little nostalgia and old memories, and I sometimes
wonder how much these books would interest me if I was now encountering them for
the first time as an adult. Be that as it may, some of these books - mainly the
ones I first read as a child - are full of memories to me: this mainly applies
to Enid Blyton books, which dominated my reading
agenda as a child; but I also have quite vivid memories associated with other
series of children's adventure books, especially The Three Investigators,
Brains Benton, and the Power Boys. Of course,
not to be overlooked are the numerous and very well-known Hardy Boys books; but
I cannot quite bracket this series with the others in connection with my own
childhood memories, because I first read some Hardy Boys books only as an adult.
Perhaps partly because of this, these books do not have the same resonances in
my own mind as do the other books that I did first read earlier in life.
Although these American series are superficially rather similar to Enid
Blyton's many series of adventure and mystery books, in that they feature a
group of children acting as detectives, investigating crimes (or various strange
events) and solving mysteries, the American books actually have quite a
different feel to them from Enid Blyton's stories. This might be part of the
reason why web sites that talk about adventure stories rarely bracket Enid
Blyton with any of these American series. There's no doubt: British adventure
series (which are dominated by Enid Blyton) and American series are usually
treated as quite separate genres, and sites deal with one or the other, but
usually not both.
Two differences from Enid Blyton's work in particular stand out.
Firstly, the American series seem to feature a group of boys only, whereas
Blyton's adventure stories invariably feature a group of both boys and girls.
Of course there is the Nancy Drew series, which is about a group of girls (with
their boy-friends sometimes playing bit parts), and the Trixie Belden series,
which includes both boys and girls; but other than these, the American series
I've mentioned feature boys only as the central characters; and this seems to be
a common trend in America generally.
The other noticeable way in which these series differ from Enid Blyton's
work (other than, of course, being set in a different country) is that the boys
are older by a few years than are the children in Blyton's books, and there is a
definite adolescent feel to them. Frank and Joe Hardy are 18 and 17
respectively, and the Power Boys are 17 and 15. The ages of Brains Benton and
his sidekick Jimmy MacDonald are not given, but they feel approximately the same
age; and the same goes for The Three Investigators, Nancy Drew, and so on. Enid
Blyton's children are usually either before their teens, or at the most in their
early teens, and they feel younger. Occasionally, as in her Famous
Five books, the children do age noticeably, and this makes a real difference if
the series is a long one (21 books, for the Famous Five), and the older children
do reach their mid-teens - but this is exceptional in Blyton's work, and Julian
(the oldest in her Famous Five group) is probably the most mature child
character she has created. However, the general trend seems to be that Blyton
favoured younger children than did some of the American series writers.
Perhaps as a corollary of this, Blyton's characters never show any
interest in boy-friends or girl-friends, or in dating generally; even the
relatively mature Julian does not have a girl-friend, and shows no awareness
whatever of this side of adolescence - not even late in the series, when he goes
over the age of sixteen, although in other respects I find him an unusually
mature and responsible teenager; but the characters in some of the American
series do show interest in dating, notably in the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew
series, where it is a prominent feature of the characters' very active social
However, this feature is not invariable in the American series. For
instance, it is absent in the Three Investigators series, the Brains Benton
series, and also the Power Boys series: although the characters in all these
series are probably only two or three years younger than Frank and Joe Hardy,
for example, they do not seem to show the slightest interest in dating. Given
that, in the case of Jack and Chip Power, as will be discussed shortly, they
seem to spend most of their vacation time travelling around with their father
while he works as a photojournalist, one might speculate whether this
peripatetic life-style would tend to inhibit any tendencies to seeking
There is also the matter of whether the children in the series have a dog
or not (or, very occasionally, some other animal). Blyton's characters almost
invariably have an animal, who joins the children in all their various exploits,
and occasionally plays an important role rather than merely tagging along. This
animal is usually a dog, although it is an unusually talkative parrot in one
series, and a monkey in another (as well as a dog). The American
series I've encountered do not usually seem to have any animal at all, and this
seems to me to point to a different focus in the respective stories generally.
I probably do not know many British adventure stories besides Enid Blyton (who
dominates this field anyway), so I cannot speak definitively on the question of
animals; but my feeling is that a British adventure book is more likely to
feature an animal (usually a dog) than an American one, although (outside
Blyton) it is by no means inevitable.
Blyton apparently believes that an animal is an essential ingredient of the
story, that child readers will like having an animal in the story, that children
identify with animals. On the face of it, it might seem that an animal would
tend to get in the way of the developing plot, but Blyton works this element in
and sometimes makes quite creative use of the animal as an essential part of the
plot. Animals (and we are mainly talking about dogs) can trace someone's trail
in situations where people couldn't; they can be trained to deliver messages;
they can outrun humans easily; a monkey can climb into places no human can; and
a sufficiently large dog can even act as a guard dog, or attack and subdue the
enemy (as Timmy in the Famous Five does many times, thereby saving the day when
otherwise all would have been lost). So animals can be very useful in adventure
stories, and Blyton makes full use of them in devising her plots, as well
as making them proper characters with their own quirks and personality. (The
one Blyton adventure series I am aware of, the Secret series, that does not
include an animal sees the children constantly travelling to many different
places, mostly overseas - clearly a situation where having an animal
accompanying them would create major problems. Blyton is not an author who is
likely to let inconvenient facts get in the way of a good story; but I suppose
even she couldn't ignore the logistic - and official - problems about taking
animals with one overseas: customs, quarantine regulations, and all that kind of
The authors of most of the American series I've mentioned seem to take
quite a different approach to the matter of animals: choosing not to make use of
them, they make the adventures quite human-centred, and create action-filled
plots, often involving travelling large distances, where an animal would
definitely tend to get in the way. As commented above, the characters
themselves are usually several years older than are Blyton's, and so it is
reasonable to assume that the books are aimed at an older audience. And one
could conjecture that this audience, except for those who are definite animal
lovers, might feel somewhat less fascinated by having an animal interest in the
book, as more adolescent interests start to take over their lives.
So, in this context, the presence of a dog in the Power Boys series is a
little unusual. And I must say that Blaze does tend to tag along a bit - a part
of the general feel of the stories, but not taking such an active role as a dog
might in Blyton's books. And he doesn't seem to have much personality, either -
certainly not as much as Blyton's Timmy (in the Famous Five series) or Buster
(in the Five Find-Outers series) or Loony (in the Barney Mystery series).
The Power Boys series
This series of six boys' adventure stories was published by Whitman in the
mid-1960s. The books were issued in hardcover only, to my knowledge, and came
without dustjackets, but with colour pictures on the covers themselves, and with
single-colour line illustrations inside by Raymond Burns. In most of the
books, the lines of the illustrations are in varying colours, not black. In the
fourth volume, The Mystery of the Million-Dollar Penny, the illustrations
are in two colours: black and turquoise.
I do not know anything at all about the author. I don't know if he wrote
anything else or whether he is still alive - or even whether "Mel Lyle" is
merely a pseudonym or house name. Some children's adventure series are known to
have been written anonymously by a committee of writers, then published under a
completely fictitious name. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books are examples of
this. However, I personally believe the Power Boys books to be the work of a
single author - they seem to have a style of their own that indicates a single,
Nor do I know anything at all about the illustrator, Raymond Burns. On the
Internet, I can at least find references to other books he has illustrated,
while I cannot find any books by Mel Lyle other than this series. If anyone
knows anything about either Lyle or Burns, I would like to hear from them, and
would appreciate any information. With the publisher of the books apparently
out of business now, however, I fear it may now be impossible to find out
anything at all (with the publisher of a book being the obvious place to ask for
information about the author).
The books are about the Power family: Thomas and his two sons Jack and Chip
- and, from the end of the first book onwards, their Dalmatian dog, Blaze.
Thomas is a widower, the boys' mother having died at some time before the first
book begins; how long before is a bit vague, and it is not mentioned much, but
one gets the feeling that it was at least a few years before the first story.
The boys are in their teens: Jack is 17 and Chip 15. They have these ages
in all the books, and it is not quite clear whether this is because all the
adventures take place within less than a single year (most of the adventures, if
not all, seem to take place during or close to the summer months), or whether
it's because the author, like many authors of series of adventure books, has
chosen to freeze the characters' ages during a period that (in some cases) has
to be far more than a year. When there are only six books in a series, it is at
least conceivable, if unlikely, for all of them to take place within a single
year, during which the boys' ages may not change. (This would be the case if
the two boys' birthdays were close together in the year, even though they were
of course born in different years.)
If we can assume that the adventures possibly take place chronologically in
a different order to their writing order, this might make it easier to fit
things into a single year, although the time of year of a few of the stories
seems to be unclear. I will say more about this further on. The books
themselves are unnumbered, and the order in which I list the titles is based on
advertising of the series in the back of the books themselves and on the covers
of other Whitman books. This order is also the order in which the books were
published, and in the following discussion I will assume this order, even though
it ignores the question of the boys' ages remaining the same over a time that
almost certainly must exceed a single year.
Jack is tall, slender, with reddish-brown hair cut short, green eyes, and
freckles, and Chip is slim, almost as tall as Jack, has blond hair with reddish
glints, and blue eyes - sometimes his eyes or face are described as mischievous.
Their father, Thomas, is about Jack's height but looks shorter because he is of
heavier build than Jack, and his hair is black, streaked with premature grey.
All the books feature this standardized description of the three main
characters, but they do not describe these characters' physical appearance
However, the many illustrations by Raymond Burns seem to agree with these
descriptions (as far as single-colour illustrations can do), and in them the
characters seem to have quite a distinctive, recognizable appearance: I feel I
would recognize these people if I happened to meet them in the street. This is
not by any means true of many illustrations I've seen in children's books,
where, only too often, there is a nondescript quality to the characters'
appearance, where I often can't tell one character from another, and where I
certainly don't feel I would recognize the characters from their illustrated
appearance if I saw them in the street. So, in the general scheme of things, I
would classify Raymond Burns' illustrations as well above average in quality,
even quite atmospheric at times.
Now that I have said something about the central characters, this seems a
good place to make a couple of comments about the Powers' Dalmatian dog, Blaze.
I've already talked about the use of dogs generally in a series: the way
Blyton, and perhaps British authors generally, is more likely to include a dog
than an American author. But what seems a bit unusual is the way the first book
doesn't start out with a dog - he comes in only in the final pages of the first
book, as he is given to the Powers as a gift. This tends to suggest that his
inclusion in the series is an afterthought, and not something planned from the
beginning. However, having been brought in, he is there now, and has to
continue through the rest of the series. The low-key role he plays in most of
the stories does make me wonder whether the author later regretted this, feeling
he didn't really have the feel for dogs that Blyton obviously had, but had no
choice but to continue it. (It would be simply unthinkable in a story of this
type for the author to kill the dog off or otherwise remove him in some way,
however inconvenient he became. Well, I wouldn't go so far as to say that Blaze
is inconvenient; but he doesn't seem to add as much to the stories as one might
expect, or hope for.)
However, the late addition of an important element in a series is not
completely unusual. In Blyton's Secret series (the only Blyton series not to
include an animal, by the way), the character Prince Paul, who becomes a regular
member of the group of children, is not introduced until part of the way into
the second book in the series, first appearing as an incidental character -
namely, the victim of a kidnapping scheme the other children are trying to
investigate. Paul is obviously an afterthought who developed so much that he
almost eclipsed the original central characters.
Although the atmosphere of the Power Boys books is appealing, with a lot of
conviviality between the boys and their father, and a feel that might have
seemed quite "cool", at least in the early to mid 1960s, the books do
nevertheless have a curiously detached, unfocused feel which is slightly
strange, although it does not in my opinion seriously detract from the books.
It is difficult to describe this feeling, but, thinking about it, I put this
down to a particular prominent feature of the books, and the various things that
flow from that.
This is that we never see the family at home (except, in a manner of
speaking, in the last book, which I will come to shortly). Thomas Power is a
freelance photojournalist and is always travelling from place to place as his
work demands, and the boys often go with him. (Often, when they have gone
somewhere, Mr. Power is suddenly called away somewhere else for several days,
and goes off and leaves the boys to look after themselves - and to get involved
in all sorts of adventures without fatherly intervention.)
In The Mystery of the Double Kidnapping, soon after meeting the Donovan
family, Jack tells Dick that, although during school holidays the boys travel
wherever their father's work takes them, they live in Chicago. Presumably they
go to school here also, although that is not mentioned.
So they do have a home - but, considering that we never even briefly see
them here, it doesn't do much to alleviate this dislocated feeling that pervades
the books: one could very easily get the impression that the boys are on
perpetual holidays, travelling around with their father, although of course the
books don't say this.
What is noticeable, taking the series as a whole, is that three of the six
books are set in New York City, where they don't live for most of the series -
only in the last book do they come to actually live in New York. The previous
two books set in that city both begin with the family arriving and unpacking
their luggage - in The Mystery of the Haunted Skyscraper, in Detective Wilson's
temporarily vacant apartment, and in The Mystery of the Double Kidnapping, in
the Hotel Lincoln.
The apparent lack of school and home is not as much of an anomaly as I seem
to be implying, because of course the obvious explanation is that the boys only
go with their father when they are on holidays, and it is only during the
holidays that the adventures take place and the books are set. But nevertheless
it does seem to give the books this curiously dislocated feel I alluded to
above; many other series books I've read at least refer to school and home life
from time to time, even when the stories are set away from school and home.
In contrast to the dislocated feel of the Power Boys series, the Brains
Benton series goes to the opposite extreme, in that all of the stories are set
in the boys' home town (although they sometimes journey further afield during
the course of their adventures, and even holiday by a lakeside out of town in
one book), and the boys are sometimes depicted attending school, and in general
home and school life are thoroughly integrated into the fabric of the
adventures. (I hope at a future time to write a review of the Brains Benton
series and to post it on this web site as a companion piece to this review of
the Power Boys series.)
There is much that is unexplained about the Powers' family life, too.
For instance, we are told that the boys' mother died some time ago. It is
probably at least a couple of years earlier, because it is mentioned that the
boys have travelled a lot during school holidays with their father since she
died. But we are not told exactly how long ago this was, nor how or why she
died; in fact, no mention is made of her at all beyond the cursory mention of
her earlier death in some of the books.
Also, it is unclear how many, if any, relatives the Powers have. None are
ever mentioned, and Mr. Power and his two sons appear to be alone in the world,
apart from friends they make during various adventures. They don't seem to be
lonely, and make friends readily enough - but in spite of this, they don't seem
to have a long-term network or circle of relatives and friends, and the friends
they make give the appearance at times of not being connected with each other,
but being separate, maybe short-term, friendships.
There are a few characters who appear to be longer-term friends, and who
appear in more than one book.
One of these is Detective James Wilson of the New York Police Department,
who appears to be an old family friend, as well as being a useful contact during
the course of adventures the boys get involved in. He is a tall man with white
hair, keen grey eyes, and a rugged chin; he is tough when he needs to be, but,
in his personal relationship with the Powers, he is warm and friendly, even
avuncular. He is described as having known the boys almost since birth in
The Mystery of the Double Kidnapping, is described as Thomas Power's oldest and
dearest friend, and seems to play the role almost of a favourite uncle or
godfather, although he is not in fact related to them.
He is first mentioned in The Mystery of the Haunted Skyscraper, in which
the Powers are subletting his apartment while he is in Europe, but he does not
appear himself; the nature of their relationship with him is not mentioned
there, but it becomes apparent from the other books in which he appears
personally, The Mystery of the Double Kidnapping and The Mystery of the
Vanishing Lady, that he has been a close friend of the Powers for many years.
These three stories are set in New York; Detective Wilson does not appear in the
other books, The Mystery of the Flying Skeleton, The Mystery of the Burning
Ocean, and The Mystery of the Million-Dollar Penny, which are not set in New
There are also the Donovan family in New York: in The Mystery of the Double
Kidnapping, the second-last book in the series, the Powers are visiting New
York, where Mr. Power is doing work for the Donovan Advertising Agency, and the
Powers meet the millionaire Barry Donovan, his wife Sylvia, and their son Dick,
and appear to become friends with them - in particular, Dick becomes good
friends with Jack and Chip.
Then, in The Mystery of the Vanishing Lady, the Powers move to New York to
live, and, although the Donovans do not appear directly, they are mentioned
briefly in a way that would seem to indicate that they are friends of the
However, in spite of these friends, I don't get the feeling of the Powers
having a large network of friends and acquaintances. However, in view of the
fact that these books are often short of detail that other authors may have gone
into, we probably cannot assume those friends don't exist, and should assume
that other friends (as well as relatives) are simply not mentioned because they
don't feature in the stories.
Assuming that their father must often travel during term-time at the boys'
school, do the boys just look after themselves at home? - or are they at a
boarding school? We are never told things like this, and school is never even
mentioned. But either could be possible: certainly boarding school would be an
option in such a situation; but, with the boys aged 17 and 15, it would be quite
feasible for them to look after themselves at home if they were sufficiently
mature and responsible in outlook; and the books do seem to portray them thus,
even though they have a sense of fun and sometimes engage in playful antics or
horseplay. But I feel they are people I could rely upon and trust.
The main focus of the stories is on the boys, and their father does not
usually play any more than a minor part in the stories. This is of course very
common in children's adventure stories generally. It may not be very realistic,
but there are good reasons for it: any responsible parent, on learning that his
or her children were getting into danger, would very quickly intervene, bring in
higher authorities to clean things up, and bring an abrupt end to the adventure.
The author wants the children to be the heroes, not the police, and so finds it
necessary to introduce various mechanisms to keep the parents out of the way.
One such mechanism, which is quite convincing with older children, is to
have the children go away on a holiday by themselves; the Power boys seem to
always holiday with their father, but the same goal is achieved by having their
father called away for a few days on business - something which happens several
times in the series. (Another way of getting the parents out of the way, much
favoured by Enid Blyton, but not by Mel Lyle, is to have one of the parents fall
ill and be taken to hospital - the other parent going too, and staying in a
hotel near the hospital to be near the sick spouse, and leaving the children to
their own devices, or in the care of a housekeeper whose supervision is less
strict than a parent's would be. But this situation never arises in the Power
Although I like the overall feel of the series, I do think some of the
books are flawed. The plots, especially in the earlier books, give a very
fragmentary effect at times, and characters say and do things (sometimes rather
inconsequential things) which don't seem to make sense, for which there seems to
be no reasonable motivation. Jack and Chip Power often jump to conclusions and
act, one has to say, without always thinking about things properly first. Chip,
the younger boy, is especially prone to such erratic and impulsive behaviour.
(Well, I suppose this is life-like, at least - but it doesn't always help the
Plot details are not always resolved, either. For instance, in The
Mystery of the Haunted Skyscraper (the first book, and the one whose plot is
most flawed), there is an episode a little more than half-way through the book
where a mysterious man with a gun enters the Powers' apartment, surprises the
boys when they come home, and asks questions concerning the whereabouts of
Detective Wilson, from whom they are subletting the apartment. They don't know
where he is, other than that he is in Europe somewhere, and the man leaves. As
far as I can tell, this is never resolved: you could read the whole book
through, and not have the slightest idea who this man was, and why he wanted to
know about Detective Wilson, and I cannot tie him in with the rest of the plot
in any way.
However, the plots seem to improve as the series goes, which would seem to
indicate that the author was relatively inexperienced while writing the earlier
books, and, having gained experience, improved in the later books - another
thing which seems to indicate to me that "Mel Lyle" is the name (or pseudonym)
of a real, particular writer, as against a house name used by different writers,
or even a committee of writers. The Mystery of the Double Kidnapping and The
Mystery of the Vanishing Lady in particular have quite tightly constructed,
economical plots with hidden details whose revelation at the proper time is
quite dramatic. And these books seem to be free of the tendency in the earlier
books for characters to act quite irrationally, or at least to do things that
don't make sense in relation to the rest of the plot.
These are not the most exciting adventure stories I've read, and they don't
have the same intellectual content of the Brains Benton or Three Investigators
books, which are meticulously plotted and which embody a very scientific
approach towards the solving of mysteries. (Jupiter Jones and Brains Benton
actually have quite a lot in common, although they are very different characters
in other respects.) As an interesting comparison, Enid Blyton's closest
approach to a Brains Benton or Jupiter Jones is Frederick Algernon Trotteville
("Fatty") of her Find-Outers series. The three characters have in common that
they are very intelligent, perhaps even at genius level, very daring in doing
whatever is necessary to solve the mystery, and perhaps at times rather too fond
of themselves and too conceited about their own abilities. (However, unlike
some conceited people, these boys really can live up to the claims they
make for themselves, and do not idly boast.)
The Power Boys books are quite different in approach from these other
series. Rather than the deep intellectual puzzles of Brains Benton or the Three
Investigators, or the non-stop action of the Hardy Boys, the atmosphere of the
Power boys series is of a couple of carefree boys getting involved in adventures
and investigating them with the knowledge and resources they happen to have at
hand, without any presumption of being great detectives. There's a nice holiday
sort of atmosphere to the books, a lot of good fun and games, a lot of
companionship, and they probably have a more natural, even life-like feel to
them than do the other series with their boy geniuses or non-stop, frantic
action; but if you're looking for intensely exciting and dangerous adventure, or
highly intellectual mysteries, you would probably do best to look elsewhere. As
far as tension and dangerous activity go, probably the most exciting book of
them all is The Mystery of the Million-Dollar Penny, with is climax set deep in
underground caves, with a gunman to deal with.
At a later time, I will add more to this page, in which I will discuss each
title in the series, giving a summary of its plot and mentioning any interesting
points that arise. I will also focus on any clues found in the books concerning
the chronology of the series, and discuss any overall trends that can be gleaned
in the family's history. For instance, some of the books mention the month or
season in which they take place, and from this it might be possible to compare
the various stories and establish the minimum number of years over which the
entire series might take place, and whether this would suggest that the
chronological order of the books might be different from their publication order
(the order given at the top of this review).
[Details for the individual books will be added progressively.]
Individual reviews of the books
The Mystery of the Haunted Skyscraper (1964)
The Mystery of the Flying Skeleton (1964)
This strikes me as being one of the less exciting books in the series,
although it shares the easygoing, carefree holiday atmosphere of the other
books. The title itself is a bit misleading, in my opinion, and the skeleton it
refers to (not a real one) really is not all that central to the story, although
an incident is made of it near the end.
A more accurate title might have been "The Motel Wars", because this is a
reasonable summary of what the story is about.
I am serious in saying that this would have been a much better title to
use, although perhaps less exciting to the early teen audience the books were
probably aimed at. But the book is far more about competition between motels
than about flying skeletons. I suspect a teen audience might somehow find
flying skeletons more interesting than a battle between two competing motels -
but I also think anyone who is enticed by the idea of a book about flying
skeletons will be quite disappointed when, near the end, they find out what the
skeleton really was.
Thomas Power and his two sons are on their way to Key West, at the end of
the Florida Keys, where Mr. Power has photography work covering a conference
there. The Powers were originally going to fly there all the way; but, having
disembarked from a plane in Miami at the beginning of the story, Mr. Power has
decided they will drive a rental car the rest of the way, because a plane has
just exploded at the airport, and it was the one they would have changed to. As
far as I can tell, this incident is quite irrelevant to the rest of the plot,
and would perhaps have better not been included. (Irrelevant incidents are
reasonably common in this series: it might actually be realistic, in that life
is full of irrelevant incidents; but it is not regarded as good fiction-writing
technique. Even the most realistic fiction (which these adventure stories
cannot claim to be) is a distillation of real life, condensed to some
essence the author wants to explore - not a simple cross-section of life with
all its loose ends.)
Anyway, the Powers are driving the rest of the way to Key West. Perhaps
the explosion was included in the story to give a reason for this, as well as to
have a dramatic opening - but a much more ordinary reason could have been found
for having them drive the rest of the way.
Mr. Power leaves the two boys at the Blue Heron Motel, 20 miles from Key
West, until he can confirm that it is safe for them to come to Key West with
him. The explosion had made him a bit jittery about this, although there was no
real reason to think it would be dangerous in Key West. (I suppose, without the
exploding plane incident, some other explanation would have to have been found
for leaving the boys 20 miles outside of Key West. But I still think that
explosion itself is an irrelevancy to the rest of the story, especially when, in
the beginning, it was made to seem as if it would be a central part of the
Over the road from the Blue Heron Motel, another motel is being built -
backed by big finance, and planned to be a much more lavish motel. Frank Kelly,
the owner of the Blue Heron Motel, fears that his own business will be ruined
once the new motel opens - he knows he won't have a chance of competing against
such a "big showy motel". And, as the owner of the new motel, Mr. Disbareaux,
is introduced into the story, he seems a rather sinister character, and is
portrayed adequately, if not vividly, as personifying the ruthless corporate
kind of businessman who wouldn't think twice about swallowing up small local
businesses - a theme which is, if anything, much more relevant today than it was
in 1964, when this book was published.
As the story unfolds, in its slightly fragmentary way that doesn't really
build up the tension or excitement all that much, it becomes clear that
Disbareaux and his construction workers are up to something strange, apparently
connected with some ancient dinosaur bones. They appear to be involved in a
publicity stunt involving the apparent discovery of dinosaur bones on the
construction site; at any rate, they plan to call the new motel The Fabulous
Mastodon (after cancelling a competition asking people to submit a name for the
motel), and a giant papier-maché mastodon is erected over what will be the
This publicity stunt appears to be intended to attract attention to
Disbareaux's new motel, and thus generate lots of business, and ensure the
demise of Kelly's Blue Heron Motel - and it appears that there is something
slightly underhand or fraudulent about this stunt, if not actually illegal.
And what is going on between Disbareaux and the building inspector?
Something is, going by a scribbled note the boys found in his office.
The boys are investigating the mysterious things going on, because they
have befriended Kelly, and want to help him and his business in the face of the
threat from Disbareaux's business. Developments unfold against the backdrop of
an approaching hurricane, which not only provides some gradually tensing
atmosphere, but also has an impact on the final outcome of the plot.
Another sub-plot that develops a bit later in the book concerns a Malcolm
Adams (usually referred to as Mr. Adams) and his daughter Martha, identified
thereafter simply as Miss Adams. (Many of the characters are just referred to
by titles such as "Mr." or "Miss", not by a first name.) Malcolm Adams has
disappeared while travelling in the area, and his daughter calls in at the Blue
Heron Motel in a distraught state, asking if her father has been seen. Since he
went missing, she has frantically enquired at every motel in the area, but
learns nothing of his whereabouts.
This sub-plot is eventually linked with the other events going on; but I
have to say that this book does not have a particularly unified plot, and it
seems a bit sprawly, a bit loosely connected together. This is a weak point
that tends to afflict several books in this series, but this is perhaps one of
the more noticeable examples.
There are a few other minor inconsistencies and anomalies. For instance,
early in the story, Chip has impulsively taken the key to Unit 3, next to their
own unit in the motel, while Frank Kelly has turned away for a moment. Chip
wants to look inside the room because, the previous night, the boys had heard
low voices in the next room, and had heard strange words which they took to be
suspicious. Unfortunately, Kelly discovers them and is (quite understandably)
very angry at their trespassing in another guest's room. (This was before the
boys had got to know him better.) Yet, in spite of hearing a totally lame and
unconvincing explanation from Chip, his anger melts away within seconds, and he
invites the boys to join him for breakfast - and thus begins the friendship
between them, and Kelly apparently becomes convinced the boys mean well. Well,
this would be fair enough, perhaps a bit later on - but the speed with which
Kelly's justifiable annoyance melts away just doesn't quite ring true.
This is not a rare anomaly: it is a completely typical example out of many
in this series where characters don't always seem to react convincingly. There
is so much of this in the series that, in fact, I wonder whether it is
deliberate, and the author is trying to react against the temptation to have too
neatly-organized a plot by explicitly depicting human irrationality in myriad
small ways. But, even if we take it this way, I'm not quite sure it works. And
the mere making of such a speculation is probably looking for a depth of purpose
the series is unlikely to have.
In spite of things like this, I quite like the feel of this series -
perhaps there's an element of nostalgia influencing me, though, since I first
read at least three of these books in my own youth, and in early adulthood spent
many years trying to find the last two elusive books in second-hand book-shops.
If you like adventure stories and 1960s nostalgia, you will probably enjoy
this evocation of carefree, youthful adventure in 1960s America.
I have further comments about this novel, especially concerning elements
of its plot - but, because it does give away the crux of the plot, I
have put this on a different page of spoiler
information. Please don't go there unless you have already
read the book, or don't mind having it completely spoilt. There is no further
warning or prompt: clicking on the link takes you straight there.
A final postscript to the foregoing discussion of this book:
I have sometimes wondered about the chronology of these books, partly
because the books are rather sparing in providing clues to this. The time of
year that a story is set in is mentioned only in some books, and in the other
books you can only infer the approximate time of the year from the weather that
is present during the story (if you know American seasons, at least). However,
the boys are always 17 and 15 years old, and this would seem to lend support to
the supposition that the author has not paid much attention to the chronology of
the series, but just decided not to let his characters age. This seems the most
likely situation, since it would appear very implausible (although I suppose not
absolutely impossible) for the boys to have all six adventures in a single year.
I have examined The Mystery of the Flying Skeleton for indications about
the season or month in which the book is set, but have found nothing. But one
clue which is provided in this book is that it takes place during the hurricane
season in Florida. I don't know when this is, and have no real knowledge of the
pattern of seasons in that part of the U.S. (It is also the kind of weather you
might go swimming and boating - but in Florida, that is likely to cover a good
part of the year.)
If any readers of this page can tell me when the hurricane season is there,
I would be glad if they would tell me, since it might help me piece together a
chronology for this series, or at least help me confirm that one can't be pieced
together intelligibly, owing to the author not having planned this
The Mystery of the Burning Ocean (1965)
The Mystery of the Million-Dollar Penny (1965)
The Mystery of the Double Kidnapping (1966)
The Mystery of the Vanishing Lady (1967)
E-mail me about this series.
Click here if you need an
explanation for the strange appearance of the e-mail address which will appear
when you click on the e-mail link, or if you don't know what you need to do to
make the e-mail address work properly.
Original text copyright (C) 2001, by Michael Edwards.
More material on this web site related to Mel Lyle and the Power Boys series
Book listing for Mel Lyle
Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk customer reviews - neither branch of Amazon lists any of these books.
Search at AddALL.com for used copies of books by Mel Lyle.
NOTE ABOUT THE FUTURE OF THIS PAGE - Tuesday, 5 June, 2001:
This page is obviously incomplete, as will be immediately apparent to
anyone who reads it through. Please go here for
an explanation about the setback that is responsible for my not completing this
page, and why it may never be completed, or why it may happen only very slowly.
Not that this makes any real difference to someone who would like to see the
page complete - but I feel I should at least explain the situation.
I will leave this page here, incomplete as it is, in case the information
already written is useful to some readers researching a topic they may have
difficulty finding information about on the Internet.
And readers will it difficult to find information on the Power Boys series:
the only other mentions of the books on the web appear to be second-hand copies
being offered for sale, and there appears to be no discussion whatever of these
books other than this page of mine.
The passage above is a general discussion of the series, and is probably
complete - that is, it more or less covers all the ground I intended to cover
in a general sense. Of course descriptions of most of the individual books are
still to be written; I hope to add these later as I reread the books, but this
may take a while.
Introduction - Front page, which leads to Contents
Web Site of Michael Edwards - Contents
Writings by Michael Edwards
Mel Lyle: Power Boys series (this page)
This page created on Wednesday, 28 February, 2001;
last modified on Wednesday, 12 February, 2003.