Danger at Anchor Mine is an uncommonly terrible Choose Your Own Adventure book. Louise Munro Foley is an excellent writer, and she’s written excellent CYOA books before. How this utter mess of a book happened I’ll never know. It might have been better called Boredom at Anchor Mine, or perhaps Frustration at Anchor Mine. Or maybe we should just leave Anchor Mine alone and call it a day.
Danger at Anchor Mine by Louise Munro Foley (illustrated by Leslie Morrill)
Published: October 1985
Number in the CYOA Series: 49
Danger at Anchor Mine springs from an excellent premise for a CYOA book: there’s an old abandoned mine that may have a treasure of gold in it, and presumably the story is an obstacle course you have to overcome in order to get it. Great start! Ms. Foley, who is Canadian, elects to set the book in a small town in northern Ontario–again, great start, good possibilities. “You” are a kid who’s spending the summer with your grandmother in this small town. Unfortunately you don’t even get a chance to put on a mining helmet before the story grinds virtually to a halt.
The first couple of pages are very talky exposition. You listen to your grandmother getting yelled at by the villain, Roderick Carter, the town policeman, for not paying her taxes on time. (I thought the Canada Revenue Agency collects taxes in Canada, not local police, but whatever). You recall reading an entry in your grandfather’s diary hinting that there’s gold in Anchor Mine, and the key to finding it is in the old desk of some guy named Sam Carter. The first choice is whether you ask your grandmother about Sam Carter, or whether you go find the policeman who just yelled at her, who’s related to the guy who owned the old desk. This isn’t much of an opening choice.
As it turns out, however, this isn’t really a fair choice. Going off to find the policeman takes you through four pages of a limp story with an abrupt “The End.” You never see the inside of Anchor Mine. If you take the other choice–asking your grandmother about Sam Carter–the next choice after that also leads to an aimless story with an unsatisfying ending. So if you want to keep reading, effectively you have only one pathway through roughly the first quarter of the book. Essentially what we have is a CYOA story with an unusually protracted stretch of exposition, one that’s cleverly disguised by inserting choices that dead end very quickly. This is a serious structural defect that has the effect of infuriating the reader.
When I think of adventures in abandoned mines, this is more the sort of thing I had in mind!
Once the story finally does get started, after taking much longer to do so than usual, you manage to make your way into Anchor Mine. There’s the requisite stuff you’d expect from a kid’s adventure in an abandoned mine: cave-ins, pockets of explosive gas, falling down shafts, canaries, that sort of thing. But these set-pieces are interspersed with some of the most boring and random plot tangents I’ve seen in one of these books. In one plot you get mixed up with a truck hijacking ring. In another you discover your grandmother is involved in an Underground Railroad type operation smuggling refugees from Central America into Canada. One ending, on page 108, involves an encounter with a dog at a general store in the town. Yes, that’s what passes for suspense: a dog growls at you. Big whoop.
There are some mildly interesting bits. One part where the canary dies in front of you–signaling that you’re about to suffocate in a shaft with no way out–is genuinely suspenseful. There’s a subplot involving a ghost named Annie who haunts part of the mine. But the good bits are spread about amidst a lot of really dull stuff, like paging through library books or negotiating with Sam Carter. When I pick up a book with a title like Danger at Anchor Mine, I’m thinking we’re going to have 113 pulse-pounding pages of crashing timbers, dramatic rescues and careening out-of-control mine cars like in Indiana Jones. In reality Danger at Anchor Mine totally fails to deliver on its attractive premise.
The structural problems with the story and the dullness of much of it caused something that should never happen with a Choose Your Own Adventure story: I completely lost interest. After several stories of mindless page-turning and nothing really happening, I just stopped caring what was in Anchor Mine, or whether my grandmother could pay her taxes or whatever the hell was in Sam Carter’s desk. I couldn’t wait to put the book down.
For a book supposedly with a plot the reader chooses, there are surprisingly few choices. After I was finished with this book I did a quick statistical analysis. There are only 15 pages on this 113-page book where the reader gets to make a choice. By contrast, there are 62 pages where the reader is directed to a specific page, i.e., where there is no choice, and that’s not counting illustrations or endings. There are four times as many non-choices in this book as there are decisions. By contrast, R.A. Montgomery’s The Abominable Snowman, the paradigm of a CYOA book in many respects, has 30 choice pages and 31 non-choice directions, about equally balanced. No wonder the story seemed forced for me.
Danger at Anchor Mine just doesn’t work on any level, much less a subterranean one. I really considered giving this book a flat-out failing grade, which would be the first time I’ve ever done so in this review series. But because there are about two or three elements that were decent, and because I have great respect for Ms. Foley’s writing ability, this book is very lucky to scrape by with…
Grade: D minus
Next up: the 50th book in the CYOA series, Edward Packard’s Return to the Cave of Time.