Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Agent Nine Solves His First Case

This is a "review," or a survey of a book I got the other day.

It was written by Graham M. Dean, published by Goldsmith in the 1930s. It was in that whole genre of boy's literature, in the same basic line of the older Tom Swift books. These books involve all kinds of adventures that boys would be interested in.

But how do you like the title, giving away the whole ending. For all I knew, the hero would try his best and be killed. Fat chance. The subtitle is "A Story of the Daring Exploits of the 'G' Men."

Agent Nine starts out as mere Bob Houston, youthful clerk in the archives division of the War Department. He works in Washington, D.C., and his uncle — Merritt Hughes — is an agent, I believe, for the Justice Department. It's almost the FBI without using that name. The head of the department is a guy named Waldo EDGAR and some of his mannerisms are said in such a way that it sounds like the author is trying to allude to someone else.

Among the other characters are Tully Ross, who is the Anti-Bob-Houston, same department; and he has a corollary uncle, Condon Adams, who is the Anti-Merritt-Hughes. I say "anti," although neither one is actually a BAD guy. But if there's any sneering, undercutting, goofing off, callousness, or screwing up, it's likely to be Tully or Condon doing it. But Bob and Merritt are entirely straight-shooters. Bob does get angry and lashes out, but it's at Tully or Condon, whose ways, while commended and more or less successful, are not quite as straight.

The plot involves radio secrets, some radio progress the government has come up with that nefarious powers want to get their greedy little hands on. There are two copies of this particular document, a one page document. One shows up at the archives department where it needs to be filed in a cabinet and kept. That's Bob's department. Tully is there in the mix, but he's not supposed to be in this particular filing cabinet, which he is, slightly.

The paper disappears in a scary section, in which Bob is trapped in a long office with a sinister figure in the dark. This section is completely unbelievable, unbelievably bad. There's simply no way it could ever have happened that it would be so dark, so long an office, that Bob and this sinister figure could be crawling around, guns blazing, hiding behind desks, between cabinets, etc., etc., without the sinister figure eventually being able to get Bob. But Bob is not a wilting violet in all this; he can and does fight back.

We progress then to searching for the lost document, and this involves some near scrapes for Bob, who after several adventures is promoted (with Tully) to a grade just below actual agent. Now he needs to really bear down and find out what's going on. Merritt and he are in a shoot-out, a pretty good scene down a torn-up road, with a shot-out hulk of a cab and the nefarious force's big old car. But Merritt is suddenly gone, and now it's up to Bob to find him, find the paper, and bring the story to a conclusion. Condon is responsible for one of the nefarious guys getting away. Tully is acting kind of surly, without ever crossing into bad guy territory.

Through a series of clues and good breaks, also by virtue of his straight, winning ways, Bob comes up with some of the answers. It's still nip and tuck all the way, and the clues aren't automatic. The agency needs to work to get them. Bob has the good sense to tell any hesitant contact that he is a Federal Agent, and they then bow to his authority.

At the end, as the title suggests, the case is solved. The last sentence promises the reader more great adventures in "Agent Nine and the Jewel Mystery."

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