The Avila Gold is a novel by David Westheimer, who also wrote, amongst other things, “Von Ryan’s Express”, later made into a very good film, with Frank Sinatra in the eponymous role.
The Avila Gold concerns two friends, the elder of the two, Professor Arthur McDowell, a set in his ways, comfortably off educator, and the younger man, Professor Steve Sussman, a rather hot headed, ruthless, energetic leader of men.
Arthur stumbles across a 125 year old letter, in the course of his research, giving details about a hidden cache of gold hidden under the streets of downtown Los Angeles – the Avila Gold of the book’s title.
The gold was a curiosity, a footnote in the history of Spanish America, and he didn’t believe that it was still there, but could find no record of it being discovered.
After extensive research he could find no record of any claim to it either, but dismissed it as a curiosity, an interesting fact, no more. As his salary satisfied his modest needs he thought no more about it, until he told his younger colleague about it.
Sussman, being the person he is, is immediately struck by the idea of finding and digging up the gold.
After an exploration of the site, now a rather busy area, they take a core sample from the ground, and in it find a gold coin.
McDowell reluctantly agrees to dig for the gold, with Sussman being the driving force in the team. The plan they come up with is to sink a shaft from a vacant store they rented across the street and from there tunnel under the street and the property until they reach the location of the treasure. It’s a summer project, they construct the tunnel, but are eventually spotted by suspicious crooks while haulng large quantities of dirt out of the store.
Finding the treasure, the mild mannered professor becomes obsessed and dangerous, while in a role reversal his adventuresome partner attempts to keep him under control. On locating the treasure they are robbed by the criminals, a man and a pretty woman. The mild mannered professor turns violent and vicious at the notion they are about to lose the gold. He kills one of the robbers during a bizarre sequence of events leading to the conclusion. The adventuresome professor is greatly disturbed by the personality shift of his partner. It’s a classic story of what a treasure hunt can do to essentially decent people, much like the evolution of the characters in the “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”
I believe this book is long out of print, but copies come up on the usual sites and is well worth reading.
It starts off in a rather light hearted, almost comedic vein, but turns dark part way through.
Why it has never been made into a film I don’t understand.
I read this book when it was first published, 1975, and loaned it to a friend and never got it back. I recently spotted a copy on Amazon, Used but in good condition and promptly bought it to read again.
This is a book I would recommend to anyone wanting to see just how a master storyteller can take a simple idea and make a great yarn from it.
© text & image Grimy Miner 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file