Monday, May 21, 2007

Agent Nine and the Jewel Mystery

Earlier this month I gave a synopsis and a basic review of the old book "Agent Nine Solves His First Case." At the end of the book, the reader is prompted to check into Agent Nine's involvement in the Jewel Mystery. I happened to be at an antique store and what do I happen to see on the shelf, but "Agent Nine and the Jewel Mystery," and actually another copy of "Solves His First Case;" I got the "Jewel Mystery" to complete my collection, apparently, of the Agent Nine series. I looked over at ABEbooks for other Agent Nine books by Graham M. Dean and these seem to be the only two, although there are other books by the same author, which I did not look through entirely. Whew!

But I'm thinking, Five Bucks, hmm, oh, it seems so much for literature that is going to be ultimately so meaningless. Oh, what the heck. It's beat to death, the cover is weak and coming apart, now hanging by several threads, but this isn't a book museum I'm running here, so I guess I may as well get it over with, get myself up to date on Bob Houston's last known adventure and let it go at that.

The same characters are back, including Merritt Hughes, Bob's uncle; Bob Houston, himself, the straight arrow, new federal agent; Condon Adams, Merritt's co-worker and sometimes nemesis, and Tully Ross (boo!), Bob's not-so-straight arrow co-worker and sometimes nemesis. I think it's right around page 1 that the organization they work for it not just an investigation organization within the Justice Department, but IS in fact the FBI. That's different from the first book.

The first several pages tidy up things concerning the first case, first book. Tully has done a foolish thing by granting interviews concerning the case, against Justice Department policy. They're able to narrow it down to him very easily since TULLY ROSS is credited with several things about the case that he in fact wasn't responsible for. So you can picture the interview, "Yeah, just make sure you get the name right, T-U-L-L-Y ROSS. It'll be real easy for me to go back to the FBI and deny that I was ever the source of the articles!" But as it turns out, he's shifting uneasily from foot to foot and admits he was the source. Tully!

Well, from that point on, Tully is in fine sneering form in the little bit of the book he appears in. He actually tells Bob he doesn't like him very much and that they're rivals. His deviousness, though, like Condon's, doesn't go very far. They discover quickly that against the kind of thugs they're up against, it's best to be a team player.

The set-up for this one is that Bob and Tully are being sent to Florida to solve a Jewel Mystery, having to do with smugglers somehow bringing in diamonds and selling them. We basically know where they are, so Tully is going to one town and Bob to another town. The smugglers will be somewhere in the middle. The book has a lot less to do with solving the mystery, though, than of getting there to do the solving. There's 252 pages in the book, and by page 150, thereabouts, he's just getting to Florida. The trip is eventful, to say the least, and full of adventure, but you know the actual solving of the case is going to get the short end of the stick.

The whole first section, then, more than half the book, is the train ride to Jacksonville. There's a passenger who's a diamond salesman (jewels, remember), who turns out to be Nefarious Guy No. 1, Joe Hamsa. Hamsa has absolutely no problem disarming, evading, tricking, knocking out, and stealing the confidential papers of Tully and Bob. Tully and Bob are completely incompetent and can't seem to do anything right. Bob, of course, has the edge over Tully, who has his papers stolen first, is knocked out first, and who vacates the rest of the book. Tully literally contributes nothing to the story.

Bob can't find Hamsa, no matter how often he flashes his badge and informs everyone he is a federal agent. Where can Hamsa be? For such an admirable boy adventurer, he must've been hired because his uncle was an agent and not for any kind of innate detective abilities. Think, stupid, the train does have a top! The most interesting things about Bob, really, is that he can fight when he really has get the chance, he's basically fearless, and, that's about it, oh, he gets lucky breaks when he needs them. He takes showers and he eats. He needs seconds at pancakes, which is unbelievable, since, to me anyway, pancakes are very filling after just one or two.

So, he finally gets to Florida, meets up with Uncle Merritt, who is promptly kidnapped, as in the "First Case" book. Now it's just Bob, working his badge magic with taxi drivers, telegraph operators, anyone who gets in his way. He's a federal agent, he's a federal agent, he's a federal agent, always throwing his weight around. He works a while with Condon, who is graciously setting aside some of his rivalry issues with Merritt to help find Merritt. There's a touching scene where Condon and Bob are together and Condon asks, "Your uncle means quite a lot to you?" Bob nods. "You know he does. He got me into the service and he's pretty much of an older brother to me." The narrator tells us a waitress took their orders before Adams spoke again. "Then you know how I feel about Tully; he's kind of a kid brother to me. But that's getting away from what I started to say. Your uncle and I have always been rivals in the service. One of us would solve a good case and then the other would win on the next one. He's never liked the way I got in through a little political help, but on the whole I've done a pretty good job. Gosh, I wouldn't know what to do if anything happened to him to take him out of the service."

Yet, in the rest of the book, Condon has next to nothing to do with solving the case, rescuing the uncle, or anything.

In fact, the book gets kind of rushed about here. Afterall, the case needs to be solved, and Bob is not mobile enough or resourceful enough -- not entirely his own fault -- to find all the clues he's going to need to do it singlehandedly. So enters, virtually, a deux ex machina to help us along, Sheriff McCurdy, who knows everyone, every place, everything. After a tussle over who Bob is, being so young, to be carrying a gun, etc., he and Bob go point-point-point, connect-the-dots, and solve the case. Since everyone knows it has to be a happy ending, Merritt is in the other room tied up. The jewels are coming in. The smugglers have us trapped. There's some gunplay. The smugglers are nabbed and led away.

Then, as improbable as anything I've ever read, Merritt and Bob burn down the smugglers' cabin so that no one gets any idea to use it as a smugglers' cabin ever again! Oh brother, what if that cabin happens to belong to someone? What if they might search it for additional evidence? Let's burn down every cabin in the world just to prevent criminals from possibly using them! LOL, so stupid.

OK, Writer Graham M. Dean apparently needed to churn this puppy out on a deadline. Some of the adventure stuff on the train ride's pretty good. There's no endless wrestling in the dark as in "First Case," so that's good. The characters, though, don't have any consistent interaction and relevance to the case throughout. Bob being isolated means he will have to fight it out uphill on his own. But then Sheriff McCurdy happens along and turns out to be the real hero of the book. Bob never really gains in competence, doesn't do any detecting, and really deserves none of the credit, and so it's all quite empty from the standpoint of your hero ought to be the hero.

Published by Goldsmith, 1935. Thrilling exploits of "G" Men.

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