BIFF BREWSTER #2
MYSTERY OF THE CHINESE RING
Simplicity is often one of the best rules to follow in art, and this book is a beautiful example of simplicity. The plot is spare: Biff flies to Rangoon in Burma to visit his Uncle Charlie who is an aviator. Uncle Charlie is missing over the border in Red China. Biff and his Burmese buddy Chuba go look for him. Will they find and rescue him in that land of terrors? Ah, read the book.
Simplicity also rules the writing - plain straight forward prose and dialogue, nothing convoluted or exotic like in the previous volume in this series by Walter Gibson (Brazilian Gold Mine Mystery), whose stunning verbose prose can sometimes give you a headache. And even though this book was written at the height of the cold war about cold war territories, there is no propaganda in it favoring any participants, contrary to what some other reveiwers claim. It helps to have lived during the era, which I did, to sort out propaganda from the truth.
This book starts out at A, goes on to B, then C, and on and on in a very logical unconfusing manner as plot and action carry the story on without choppiness or episodic passages. I'd really like to know who wrote this Biff (it sure wasn't Walter Gibson): it is one of the best written series books I have read. I'd compare it to the smoothness and quality of the better Ken Holts and Connie Blairs, and Nancy Drew's The Password to Larkspur Lane, although simpler.
In this story, Biff flies to Rangoon in Burma to spend a couple weeks with his Uncle Charlie, who runs a flying business out there. Biff carries with him a ring belonging to an ancient Chinese "House" that was given to him back home under strange circumstances. He is followed by suspicious-acting Asian men on the airplanes and is immediately kidnapped upon arrival. But he unexpectedly escapes in a really good scene that rivals the best of Hollywood escape scenarios, and he meets up with his uncle's partner who takes him upcountry where the flying company is located near the Chinese border.
It does not take long for Biff to learn that Uncle Charlie went on a secret flying mission into China and has not yet returned. Next day a garbled radio message is received from Uncle Charlie telling them that he is in danger. Biff has befriended Chuba, a native boy who works at the outpost and is familiar with the nearby China territories, so naturally they plan to sneak into China and rescue Uncle Charlie. Heck, I would have done it at sixteen. So would you.
When I first read this book in 1960 I was fifteen years old. I was thrilled beyond all get-out at the idea of a boy my age trying to sneak into Red China. Heck, everyone wanted to get OUT of there, not into it. It was a daring plan and a thrilling reading experience. The two boys' entry into China, through jungle perils and past armed guards, is presented so realistically and with such breathtaking suspense that I had to stop and go back and reread the whole thing all over again.
There is nothing about this book that is rushed or silly or unbelievable or childish - it all makes perfect sense. Two such boys on their own could actually do it, and they do. Once in China, they begin the long trek to the area in which it is believed Uncle Charlie ran into his problems. Clues seem to fall into their hands much too easily and Biff begins to wonder if he's being manipulated and led into a trap himself. Is there some secret about the Chinese ring he has with him that is intertwined with the fate of his uncle and the reason for his captivity?
The author of this book does not skimp on this either. There is a reason for the captivity and it's a good one. Biff and Chuba eventually do get captured and their imprisonment is nerve-wracking because they are unable to do anything about it. No secret escape hatches here. But they do have an ace up their collective sleeve and the waiting for that ace to get popping is a great ploy by the author to keep up the suspense. And I won't tell anymore because you gotta read it!
It is not known who wrote this book. What a shame because it is one of the best-loved boys series books. I rate this book a rock hard ten out of ten. It's good enough to be on the same shelf with Rick Brant's The Caves of Fear and The Pirates of Shan, Ken Holt's The Secret of Skeleton Island, Nancy Drew's The Password to Larkspur Lane, Connie Blair's Peril in Pink and The Yellow Warning, the Hardy Boys' The House on the Cliff, and the few other vintage series books that I think are the best of the genre. It's easy to follow, has great characters and suspense, and keeps you turning the pages and just does not let you down at all!
And if you are one of these trendy readers who are hooked on Harry or Percy or any of these non-human or already-dead heroes who have silly magical powers and impossible adventures, toss them aside and read this book to see how a real boy can have a a REAL adventure far more exciting than any make-believe ones in fantasy land!