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The Case of the Counterfeit Coin

A Brains Benton Mystery by George Wyatt

The second in the Brains Benton series is just as good as the first. Without wasting any time, Jimmy is plunged into a mystery as he finishes his paper round and takes a well-earned break at the local Saffron's drugstore where he usually sits down with a Cherry-Fizz. The place is mostly empty apart from Doc, the owner, and Jimmy enjoys his drink in peace. But, on paying, he finds that his dime is a dud—a silver piece about the size of a dime but with an owl on it, and the letters AOE. Perhaps he was given it along the way, during his paper round. The question is, was he given it deliberately or accidentally? Was the coin a worthless piece of junk, or a rarity that might bring him a fortune?

He phones Brains from one of the phone booths at the back of the store. Not paying much attention to the man in the booth next to him, he explains all about the coin—and at this point a hand snakes into his booth and tries to snatch the coin from where he's placed it on the shelf! Startled, Jimmy yells and gives chase, but the man is too fast and vanishes. The only clue to the man's identity is a blackened thumbnail.

So commences the mystery. Is the coin valuable? If so, who had slipped it to Jimmy during his round, and why? By mistake? Who was the man who had tried to snatch it? An opportunist thief, or someone who had perhaps known Jimmy had the coin and had followed him to the store? Brains quickly sets to work in his lab examining the coin, and discovers it to be an Athenian coin from the fifth or sixth century—at least at first glance. But a supposedly old crack in the coin looks new under a microscope, and the oxides on the coin taste sharp and bitter, whereas ancient coins are always tasteless. The coin is a fake.

As the mystery deepens, their investigation takes them on a long walk round the town, retracing Jimmy's footsteps by visiting every subscriber to the newspaper. They think they hit on the answer when they come across one of their teachers burying something in the yard—but it's a false lead. Then a lucky break: One of the subscribers is an annoying boy named Binky, who says it was he who gave Jimmy the coin by mistake. He's astonished to find out the coin is a fake, especially since he paid twenty dollars for it. Hot on the lead, Brains and Jimmy go with Binky to the old junk store where he bought it, and they find a sign that says "Genuine Greek Drachma, 2500 Years Old." Angry with the obvious deception, Binky demands his money back, and Brains explains to the shopkeeper, a surly Mr Gorme, that the coin is a fake.

Gorme is clever. He at first comes across as a stupid ogreish brute, but throughout the book he shows himself to be a bit more cunning than he appears. He takes it upon himself to lead the boys across town to an antique dealer's, from where he claims he bought the coin in the first place. The owner of this shop, Mr Dexter, is a pleasant fellow who is dumbstruck by the accusation that he sold a dud to Mr Gorme. "This is most confusing, Mr Gorme," he says. "This coin is definitely a counterfeit. But it is most certainly not the specimen I sold you."

The police get involved and Mr Dexter seems to be in a spot of bother—especially when, as the policeman is standing there, Brains finds a couple of dies in a drawer, dies that are used to produce counterfeits! Were they planted there? Convinced Gorme is involved somehow, and that poor Mr Dexter is innocent, Brains and Jimmy set about snooping around Gorme's shop, and this leads them into the hands of a Mr Devlin, and his gang of counterfeiters producing coins in a deserted house outside town...

All exciting stuff! Mr Dexter's daughter, Terry, is a welcome addition to the story although she often gets in the way of the investigation. And Brains develops a couple of neat contraptions, the first being a radio transmitter that is used to confuse a prowler at Jimmy's house (see book cover), and the second being a customized camera that can take pictures in absolute darkness with an infrared flash. This proves useful later when the boys go to spy on the counterfeiters' workshop—but Jimmy forgets to remove the lens cap and the pictures are useless! Still, his second attempt is more successful, even if it does land him hot water.

As usual in this series, the villains are mean and rough, and not stupid either. While Gorme is a wheeling-dealing anything-for-a-quick-buck type, Devlin is cool and sophisticated, the brains of the scheme—and he and Gorme don't get along very well much of the time. The counterfeiting operation, from Gorme's little dark workshop to Devlin's offices and finally to the house filled with smelting equipment, comes across as very realistic, one of the nice things about these books; nothing about these stories stands out as "written with junior readers in mind" except perhaps the occasional melodrama as Jimmy, in the form of first-person narrative, believes he's about to die at every turn. A minor quibble though; overall this book is excellent!

Keith Robinson
September 24, 2006

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