VICTOR APPLETON – Don Sturdy on the Desert of Mystery, or Autoing in the Land of the Caravans

Grosset & Dunlap; c.1925.

   Here’s the first paragraph. Read this and see how you could possibly resist reading on:

    “It certainly is a great idea, to cross the Sahara Desert by auto,” remarked Captain Frank Sturdy, as he sat on the shaded veranda of an Algerian hotel and looked out on the shimmering sea of sand stretching away to the horizon.

DON STURDY Desert of Mystery

   On the next page:

    “Gee, that sounds good to me, Uncle Frank!” broke in Don Sturdy, a tall, muscular boy of fourteen, who had been listening to the discussion. “What a lot of wonderful things a fellow would see on a trip like that!”

   And of course off they go, and besides having a fine adventure, there are also a few more tangible goals: to locate the famed Cemetery of the Elephants, to view the fabulous City of Brass, and to find the fantastic Cave of Emeralds.

   Not to mention finding missing father of Don’s new friend Brick, who has been kidnapped by natives and is being held for ransom. Their means of transportation out across the desert, as I pictured them, are three early SUV prototypes, equipped with tank treads (and side curtains).

   Along the way they encounter numerous dangers: landslides, tarantulas, sandstorms, a band of thieving Arabs and more. It certainly made me feel fourteen again. I read a lot of the early Hardy Boys mysteries when I was a kid, the older thicker ones that belonged to my great-uncle, but never one of the Don Sturdy books, until now. What fun!

   But the adult that’s also inside my head found a bit of wonderment at the pacing. On page 209 they are trapped in a cave surrounded by the combined forces of the native kidnappers and the band of Arab thieves. Things indeed look black, as black as they could be.

   Not to worry. By page 211 they have escaped, and not only that, they’ve made their way back clear across the desert, and they’re busily making plans for their next adventure. Whoosh! And whoo-wee!

— March 2002

[UPDATE] 06-27-08.    Copies in dust jacket are a bit scarce, although certainly not overly expensive ($20 and up on ABE). At any rate, I’ve not been able to come up with a decent one to show you. I think as a young boy I automatically threw the jackets of my books away. So did every other kid, except the smart ones.