|A Few Words About Biff
By Mark Johnson
|A Biff Brewster Mystery Adventure
Brazilian Gold Mine Mystery
By Andy Adams
As a kid I never happened across Biff Brewster
or the 13 book series in which he starred. The
series ran from 1960 to 1965, with volumes
coming out at the breakneck pace of three per
year in 1960 & 1961. The next three years each
saw two new books, and finally the series came
to an end with a final entry in 1965.
Brazilian Gold Mine Mystery begins with Biff
in New York City preparing to fly to South
America to join his father. At the airport, Biff
thinks back to his home in Indianapolis, his
mom and his twin brother and sister Ted and
Monica. They make no further appearances.
Biff makes it to Brazil and links up with his
dad. Soon thereafter their hotel room is the
site of a violent struggle between an intruder
and the two Brewsters. Next Biff and
Mr. Brewster get captured while investigating
a boat house. They then make their way up
river, through jungles, over mountains, and
have dozens of perilous encounters along the way. Biff and friends have energy aplenty.
This book is an odd mixture of positives and negatives. The writing moves along rather well. You are not likely to get bored reading this book. Certainly a boy 10-15 would find it very entertaining. Many of the adventures have a fairly realistic feel to them. The characters are reasonably well delineated. The plot is passable and there is some doubt as to who the bad guys are until a surprising twist at the end.
There are negatives however. For starters, the whole "Boathouse Caper" is awful. The idea of Mr. Brewster and Biff going down to the boathouse on the off chance that "some spies are still around", is decidely uninspired. It was just a very poor device to allow the author to get the Brewsters down to the river. This feeble section is made worse by the fact that Joe Nara was ALSO hanging around the boathouse on the off chance something might happen.
From that point the book picks up a bit and is absent any truly glaring defects through the middle section. The jungle travel and atmosphere is believable enough and is entertaining in any case. I personally find the character of Joe Nara to be annoying but generally realistic.
One example of the lack of writing skill or effort can be found on pages 99-100. Compare this "escape" sequence to similar ones in Ken Holt, for instance.
The most humorous mistake in the book is brought to light on page 134. Here we find out that the Brazilian gold mine is in Venezuela! This perhaps was an editing goof or even a titling mistake.
The characters in this book are somewhat wooden in their reactions. There is no sense of warmth or emotion between Biff and his father beyond stock descriptions of horror, concern, relief etc. In fact the only real human feeling comes from the relationship between Biff and his pal Kamuka. However, after reading the first installment, I can't tell you what sort of fellow Biff is. He betrays very little feeling about anything beyond the moment.
This is not a bad book. As this series was written by several different people, I feared it could be quite bad since there was no one person serving as a guiding force. It has a bit of Tom Swift Sr. in it, as well as a dollop of Don Sturdy and the Hardy Boys. While it will never rate as a favorite of mine, this book was good enough to bring me back for more.
Brazilian Gold Mine Mystery is a decent read. On the Johnson Seriesometer it falls well short of Ken Holt and well above Tom Swift Jr, and settles down somewhere in the neighborhood of Bret King and the Mercer Boys.
A Biff Brewster Mystery Adventure
Mystery of the Chinese Ring
By Andy Adams
This book begins with Biff in bed wondering
what woke him up. He gets up and looks out
the window. A shadowy figure is outside and
then charges the window, hurls a white rock
through the screen and turns tail and runs.
The nice thing about this book is that it thus
gets some of the worst stuff out of the way early.
Call me picky, but you try to throw an
ordinanry rock through a 1960 screen! Back
then a screen was still metal and pretty tough.
But the weakest part of this episode is that it
makes no sense for the person who did to act
in this matter. I don't like to spoil it for those
who have not read the book as yet, so I'll leave
Soon Biff is leaving on a jet plane to go meet
his Uncle Charlie, a pilot, in Burma. Upon
landing in the faraway land, Biff discovers his
Uncle is missing and apparently in trouble over
the border in Red China. Biff and a native boy
sneak into China in search of the downed flyer.
This is a wildly improbable book. It was VERY difficult for me to find at all believeable the idea that two teenage boys could penetrate the Chinese interior and pull off a rescue. They must have walked hundreds of miles through jungle and over mountains, with danger lurking every step. Then suddenly help, in the form of one of Uncle Charlie's friends, just drops out of the sky.
This books portrays Chinese airspace as being remarkably porous. Planes fly in, land and take off again with no concern for radar, surface to air gunfire or the sort. The Chinese people seem to mainly live in mud huts and run in terror when an Amelican pulls some fancy trick.
In spite of these weaknesses Chinese Ring is an improvement over Brazilian Gold Mine in part because Biff is much more human. Here he seems to actually have a personality and feelings for his family and friends.
But Chinese Ring is in many ways fairly well written. Some of the sequences actually make for enjoyable reading once you get beyond the idea of a 16 year old blond boy from Indianapolis operating undercover in Communist China for several weeks.
Now that I have the first two books under my belt I can say that this series is greatly lacking in the editing department. More attention to continuity would have vastly improved the finished product.
One interesting note: The "Chinese Ring" here, is a jade ring that serves as a sort of passport for Biff. I just finished reading Sin-Kiang Castle from the Dan Perry series. It also took place in China and it also featured a jade ring (several actually) that served as an entre or introduction. Sin-Kiang Castle was written 22 years before Chinese Ring.
Back to Biff main page
Back to Commentary
copyright 2001 by R. Mark Johnson