This book is one of a series of books about Tom Swift, Sr., the father of Tom Swift, Jr. This book is the 17th book in the series, following "Tom Swift and His Giant Cannon" and preceding "Tom Swift and His Aerial Warship." This book's complete title is "Tom Swift and His Photo Telephone; or, The Picture That Saved a Fortune." The book was originally published in 1914.
In this book Tom Swift is working to invent a telephone that will transmit an image of the person on the other end of the call. The science involved is imaginative, but fictitious. While Tom is working on his telephone someone steals one of his airplanes. Mysteriously, the plane is later returned. However, his friend Mr. Damon is missing. We learn that Mr. Damon has entrusted most of his fortune to a "promoter," which we would recognize as a scam artist. The promoter wants to get his hands on Mr. Damon's property, but Mr. Damon wisely put his property in Mrs. Damon's name. The promoter even makes an effort to take some of Tom's inventions but Tom is too smart for the sleazy promoter. Good for you Tom!
Someone phones Mrs. Damon and tells her that she must sign the deeds and hand them over if she ever wants to see Mr. Damon again. Let us think for a moment. Tom Swift has been working on a gadget that makes a picture of a telephone caller, and someone is calling for a ransom. Do these two facts suggest something? Oh, yeah. How about putting Tom's gadgets into various phone booths to try and get a picture of the caller?
There are a number of other mysterious elements and plot delays thrown in to try and keep the suspense level high. Tom's plane is stolen again. Where could Mr. Damon possibly be? There are other suspicious characters lurking about who may want to steal Tom's photo telephone. The excitement is unbelievable!
Howard Garis wrote this story before World War I. The concept of a telephone that relays the picture of a sender was remarkable at that time. There are many details that Mr. Garis failed to consider, the biggest being the technology it takes to safely and economically send a picture from one place to another, but having the idea is very foresighted.
This story is a bit slower than other Tom Swift, Sr., stories from this era. The story is interesting and there was enough mystery to keep me reading, somewhat overcoming the lack of action. If you are looking for a Tom Swift, Sr., story to see if you would like the series, then I recommend you look at one of the other books in the series.
I give readers a warning regarding stereotypes in this book. This era was nearly a century away from us and many races were routinely represented stereotypically in that era. Such is the case with Eradicate Sampson, who Howard Garis depicted as quite intelligent and helpful, but in a demeaning way. Koku, a giant that Tom supposedly picked up in Patagonia, also manages to receive comments that show bias. If you can overcome the dated story and the portrayal of some characters, I think fans of Tom Swift, Jr. and those looking for a quaint mystery from the era before World War I will find this book an interesting read.