'Indigenous spin' on iconic Hardy Boys series inspired The Mighty Muskrats

It’s been called an "Indigenous spin" on the classic Hardy Boys series — and though he’s only released the first novel, Michael Hutchinson is hopeful it can live up to the comparison.
The Case of Windy Lake is a mystery novel by Michael Hutchinson. (@Mike_Hutchins0n/Twitter.com, Second Story Press)

It's been called an "Indigenous spin" on the classic Hardy Boys series — and though he's only released the first novel, Michael Hutchinson is hopeful it can live up to the comparison.

The Mighty Muskrats Mystery series follows four cousins who investigate happenings in their community, the Windy Lake First Nation, while collecting clues on their adventures.

In The Case of Windy Lake, the first book of the series, an archeologist goes missing. The entire community, including the four cousins, start to look for them. In their journey, the Mighty Muskrats learn about spaces of cultural significance and other stories from their elders while unraveling the mystery of the missing man.  

Where the story diverges from its Hardy Boys inspiration, however, is its approach in addressing contemporary issues that Indigenous people face today.

The cousins observe members of the First Nation who are both for and against resource extraction on their reserve, something Hutchinson wanted to highlight in his work. 

"First Nation people all think differently in their community," Hutchinson said, drawing on his experiences as a member of Misipawistik Cree Nation. "The Mighty Muskrats come across many different ideas, many differences in opinions from the people that live near Windy Lake."

The fictional young adult novel is loosely based on much of what Hutchinson remembers growing up near his community. A lot of the small details in the book — classic rock playing at the gas station, the house-taurant — were based on things he'd seen in other Indigenous communities or his own.

"I'm a Cree person and so I want to be able to reflect my culture," he said. "You use your own aunties, you use your own uncles."

Because Hutchinson is writing from his experience, a lot of humour is reflected in the writing, too. 

In The Case of Windy Lake, some of the characters mix in humour and lightheartedness even in the most serious of times — like when they're searching for a missing person. 

Though Hutchinson claims that the Crees are the "funniest Indians," he said humour is a big part of many Indigenous cultures across the country. He hopes Indigenous readers will pick up on the humour, seeing themselves in the story.

For Hutchinson, that's the goal — to help non-Indigenous readers understand an Indigenous way of life a bit better, help Indigenous readers feel represented, and help all readers understand the realm of possibilities for kids on the reserve.

"I wanted to have that First Nation voice in there so that when First Nation kids read the book, it reflected their community," he said. "I wanted to … make the kids feel capable."

The second book in the series, The Case of the Missing Auntie, will be out in March 2020.