Clifford B. Hicks

Clifford B. Hicks
Alvin’s Secret Code 

Secret codes are sure winners with kids, and Alvin Fernald is a distinct original. The clock in his room—rescued from a junk heap—gains exactly 35 minutes a day. So to get the correct time, he subtracts 35 minutes the first day, 70 minutes the second, and 105 minutes the third day. After that he resets the clock and starts over.

Fascinated by a book about real-life spies, Alvin dubs himself Secret Agent K-21½ and paints a sign for his bedroom door announcing ALVIN FERNALD, CRIPTOGRUFFER. (Spelling isn’t Alvin’s strong suit.) His pal Shoie (Agent Q-3) and hero-worshipping little sister, known as the Pest, accompany him on visits to Mr. Link, an invalid neighbor who teaches them the fundamentals of codes and ciphers.

What begins as a game quickly turns out to have practical applications—especially when Mr. Link’s life is threatened. He manages to get a message to Alvin—in code, of course—and K-21½ acts swiftly, borrowing four dimes to make four telephone calls. In no time Mr. Link’s house is surrounded by police cars, fire engines, and utility trucks. “When you holler for help,” says Alvin’s father, “you holler mighty loud.”

But it works; Mr. Link is rescued and the bad guy gets carted off to prison. And there’s still a buried treasure to hunt for along the river bluffs.

Shoie’s Spoonerisms (“Dock on the noor and ask them?”) add a comic touch, and the Pest can be counted on to repeat whatever is said to her. Novice “criptogruffers” will be pleased to find an appendix with half a dozen ciphers and sample messages to practice on, along with Alvin’s personal suggestions (“Beware of mop handles until you discuss their use with proper authorities”). Wordplay and secret agents together—what could be better?

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