Bandstand, The Search for Oak Island Gold, by Jib Ellis, Veranda Publishing, 363 pages.
In Bandstand, his exciting new caper novel, Jib Ellis dances nimbly through a millennium of Viking, Knights Templar and pirate buried treasure lore to weave a gold-threaded contemporary tapestry of beguiling wit and vision.
And satire: “Amid sleep, I had gone to heaven and it was Sears.”
Though flirting loosely with an Ian Fleming plot formula, Bandstand at times moseys into capricious, highly entertaining dabbles of character depictions, comic antics, casual love making and breakfast menu options before gathering a commanding momentum and resonating with an explosive climax fit for a Spielberg big payoff thriller.
Peter Morgan Ryder (prefers to go by his last name) is 40-something, a divorced bachelor, a teetotaler and self-described “gentleman sailor” of modest independent means. He lives on Martha’s Vineyard, where “the sky is clear enough to almost hear the stars” and where “I fool around with boats, sometimes write tidbits for the local papers and obsess on history.”
As an undergraduate at Columbia, Ryder became obsessed by the legend of massive treasure buried way down (the diagram says over 170 feet) deep on Oak Island, Nova Scotia, and thought to contain countless gems, stacked cords of bullion, Viking plunder, French New World army payrolls, and perhaps even the Holy Grail. This “Money Pit” was carefully sequestered under layers of subterranean barricades constructed through the centuries by a cavalcade of Knights Templar, Caribbean pirates, and other hardy and nefarious creatures, who needed a secret, remote place to hide their untold wealth.
After a scarring marital rejection while in college and a subsequent spirit-numbing employment from time to time with Reubenfeld, a dark and untraceable USA-government-contracted (but no receipts, please) dirty-tricks consortium, Ryder has harbored and fussed over this lifelong curiosity-cum-obsession for the Oak Island legend and trove. After many centuries, the story has grown to include curses, hexes, ghosts, and a long history of unsuccessful amateur and professional adventurers, including that famous part-time safe cracker, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (Who knew?)
At Columbia, Ryder became close friends with Frederick Remsen Benson, a burly and brilliant dormitory mate and subsequent accomplice on many sinister Reubenfeld cloak-and-dagger operations, most significantly a dark-of-night helicopter mission to Bulgaria to deliver heroin and counterfeiting plates to undermine the then communist regime. A firefight ensued, during which Benson was shot in the shoulder. (Benson and Ryder were subsequently to receive medals of valor for these quasi-patriotic shenanigans at an off-the-record special forces award ceremony at Camp David — presented by POTUS himself — which is the opening sequence and fictional hook of Bandstand.
Twenty years later, Ryder lures Benson onto Martha’s Vineyard to plot a high-tech raid on the legendary Oak Island lode. In mid-life now, though still professionally connected to Reubenfeld, Benson has nonetheless up and declared himself a Druidic Bard. (That’s what he says — one of those Celtic nomads who spouts poetry and song, refuses physical wealth, but will accept the hospitality and affection of good-hearted, preferably attractive and female well-wishers.) Benson sports a purple robe and cowl, bushy beard and red clogs to affirm his image. Considering Ryder’s project worthy and oddball enough for his participation, Benson tacitly agrees to score the necessary equipment from Reubenfeld to execute the mission.
Ryder has meanwhile found the gorgeous and brainy lawyer Charlotte Rosen, who has fled to the Vineyard to escape an abusive marriage. The romance has only begun when Benson appears on the scene — an indisposing challenge to their budding and not-yet intimate relationship. But Charlotte, a stabilizing influence and closet kleptomaniac herself, hears enough about the Oak Island project to become a believer and then an organizer. She tolerates the Druidic Bard and embraces him as a partner in the plot.
Ryder’s old Columbia roommate from Jamaica, Fitzroy Jackson, has always been an Oak Island disciple. In the years since graduation, Fitzroy has stayed in close touch with Ryder and has become greatly successful in the world of finance. His expertise is to set up small corporations and attract venture capital, often on the web. When Fitzroy creates an LLC and opens an internet website with the promise for share offerings in the plunder of Oak Island gold, money pours in from greedy investors — rich and poor — around the world. Everybody wants a piece of the Oak Island gold, and they are betting on our team.
Daniel Red Deer, a Pawtuxet Indian, and Marketa, an athletic and upbeat Czech 20 year old who signs on as a volunteer, complete the team. By now the gang is reminiscent of — but one wishes, more competent than — Marcello Mastroianni and his Italian heist-happy buddies in Big Deal on Madonna Street.
As Benson establishes the digging station on Oak Island, and as a small industrial site develops around the pit, Oak Island natives, monitored by the mounted police, assemble at the perimeter to root on the treasure hunters. The island is a news hot spot for round-the-world, 24/7 coverage. TV cameras sprout at the site, jacking up interest and creating in the camera-friendly, bearded Druidic Bard Benson, a bigger-than-life icon for the world to recognize, celebrate and puzzle about.
With a delightful cluster of rather preposterous but lovable characters, the ringleader a pipe-dreaming Vineyarder, and with a cleverly nuanced plot replete with Viking gold, Apache war helicopters, trailer sex, a disrupted West Tisbury Agricultural Hall nativity scene, a visit with POTUS and even a late-in-the-game Dickensian familial epiphany, Bandstand deserves a spot at the top in any beach reader’s toggle bag.
Final secret from the book: code word is Bandstand.
As in the TV Philadelphia disc jockey Dick Clark? That Bandstand?
Yes. Now, shhhhh!