Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, June 16, 2017


Tom Swift and His Big Tunnel; or, The Hidden City of the Andes
                by "Victor Appleton" (Howard R. Garis (1916)

Following last week's forgotten book, I thought I'd follow up with another adventure of the popular young inventor.  Tom Swift and the Big Tunnel directly follows Tom Swift and His Aerial Warship and involves the tweaking of the explosive from the earlier book.  His Aerial Adventure gave us a look at the militaristic side of Tom, and here we get to see the capitalist side of our hero.

Job Titus and his brother run a construction business that has been awarded a contract from the Peruvian government to build a tunnel through a rugged part of the Andes in order to connect some important railways.  Titus Brothers bid low on the contract but is still posed to make a great deal of money if they complete the project within a specified time; if they don't,they forfeit any payment and the contract will then go to the next lowest bidder who would have an advantage of using whatever work Titus Brothers have done gratis.  And it happens that the next lowest bidder is a crooked outfit that is using any means possible to have the Titus Brothers fail.  It's not the efforts of the bad guys that have stymied Titus Brothers, though, it's that they have hit a large region of impenetrable rock.  Modern equipment and explosives have failed to make much of a dent in the rock and it appears that Titus Brothers will lose the contract.  Then Job heard of the marvelous explosive that Tom had developed for the cannons on his aerial warship.  He goes to Tom's laboratory in Shopton to see if Tom could help.

Tom agrees to help and strikes a very profitable deal for his company.  Tom will make improvements on his explosive and then travel to Peru to supervise the blasting.  Coincidentally -- and there are more than our share of coincidences in the book -- Tom's good friend Mr. Wakefield Damon comes and asks Tom if he would like to join him on a trip to Peru.  Damon has invested heavily in a company that produces quinine in Peru and the Peruvian government is blocking access to the bark from which the quinine is produced.  Damon has been authorized by the company to deal with the Peruvian government.  Killing two birds with one stone, Tom, Damon, and Tom's eight-foot tall assistant Koku, along with Tom's Electric Rifle, head to Peru.

On the ship heading south, Tom encounters a strange man and fears he might be a spy or saboteur from the rival company.  Nope.  He's just Professor Swyington Bumper, a well-known archaeologist and old friend of Mr. Damon, and he happened to save Tom from a bomb thrown at him on the ship.  By another coincidence, Bumper is on his way to Peru, where he had had been trying unsuccessfully for many years to find a rumored lost city.  This time, Bumper is planning to look in the area where the big tunnel is being dug.

In Peru at eh construction site, there is underhandedness afoot.  Efforts have been made to sabotage the work.  Large groups of workers mysteriously vanish from a tunnel with no exits except for the tunnel entrance which was carefully watched.  Natives in the area fear evil spirits and refuse to work.  Tom's marvelous explosive stops working because someone has switched ingredients.  The troubling layer of rock goes much farther than previously thought, delaying the tunnel even further.

In the meantime, Mr. Damon solves his problem by bribing (!) certain officials.  Professor Bumper keeps looking for his lost city to no avail.  Tom's Electric Rifle comes in handy.

**SPOILER ALERT** Needless to say, Tom comes out smelling of roses.  The good guys win out.  Tom discovers the lost city -- which has very little to do except act as a deus ex machina.  Professor Bumper goes on the become a recurring character in later books in the series.  Tom makes a lot of money.

There's a minor subplot involving Tom's undemonstrative romance with pretty Mary Nestor.  Tom has bought her a present but had to leave for Peru before delivering it himself.  He tells his assistant Eradicate Sampson -- a former slave and current Stepin Fetchit-like comic foil -- to package the gift and deliver it to Mary.  Since Eradicate cannot read, he doesn't realize the he has packaged the gift in an empty box labeled "Dynamite."   The Nestor family panics.  Mary father thinks Tom has pulled an unforgivable prank and writes a letter telling Tom that he would never consider him as a son-in-law and to stay away from Mary.  True love never runs smooth.  It would take another ten books and thirteen years before Tom and Mary wed.

Tom Swift and His Big Tunnel is another fast read, full of dated and overworked prose, stereotypes, and facile coincidence worthy of an early Twentieth Century boy's adventure novel.  As with the previous book in the series, this certainly not everyone's cup of tea, but I enjoyed it.

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