As you may know, I’m not very good at bringing you the blogs I promise, but this week I have been super good, even though I’ve been on holiday with Fiona, and re-read the first Five Find-Outers book The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage. In fact there was a moment or two in which it wasn’t looking likely that I would finish the book, so I had to go out and buy a copy of it (I was borrowing Fiona’s at the time). So I started off with a wonderful 12th impression first edition and had to end on the most recent 2015 edition. I didn’t bother with trying to find all the changes in the book, just so you know. I thought I would leave that to Fiona – I’ll be sending the book back up North when I’m finished with the review (well Monday) so she can line it up for a chapter comparison.
Now some of you will already know about my feelings towards the “darling” of the group, Fatty. Hands down, I do not like it. The rest of the characters I can get on with; Larry, Daisy, Pip and Bets are fine and in fact are very similar to the rest of the Blyton’s quartet’s which I suppose is why Fatty stands out so much and makes such an impression on people, because he is that little bit more ‘in-your-face’ and different from the others. He has flaws if you will, boastfulness being a very key one in the first book; Larry and Pip are always telling him off for boasting. Fatty’s nickname isn’t a co-incidence either, not only do his initials spell FAT (Frederick Algernon Trotterville), he is a fairly robust round shape by all descriptions. Dear Frederick doesn’t like this very much, but puts up with it for the sake of being a Find-Outer. I just can’t stand him I’m afraid, he doesn’t make a very good impression with me, and not to mention the fact that he gets compared to my beloved Julian all the time. I’ve said it before and I shall say it again, it is not a fair comparison.
Spose I better get on with the book now, hadn’t I? Well the book starts out with Dairy, Larry, Pip and Bets coming across the fire in Mr Hicks back garden as his workroom goes up in flames. His workroom houses all his precious documents and naturally when he gets back to the house after an afternoon in London he is furious. In front of the burning cottage is when Larry, Daisy, Pip and Bets all encounter Fatty as he tries to help put the fire out, much to the local constable’s displeasure.
Mr Goon (who I’m almost certain should be called Constable Goon, not mister) doesn’t like children or dogs, so is very angry when the children turn up and Fatty appears with his little dog Buster. He uses a phrase “Clear-Orf” to shoo the children away and they decide to nickname him that and they think of him quite scornfully. In fact the children don’t think Mr Goon has much brain at all!
Slowly, once they realise that the cottage had been deliberately set on fire, the Five children and dog agree to become the Five Find-Outers and try and find out before the police who set fire to the cottage.
They collect a series of clues quite quickly, a footprint, a scrap of grey material and list of suspects that seems to always be getting longer. There’s Mr Smellie, a absent minded academic who is friends with Mr Hicks but has had a row with him on the day of the cottage burning; Horace Peeks, the valet who leaves on that day, Mrs Minns the house keeper because Mr Hicks doesn’t like her cats and a Tramp who was caught trying to steal eggs by Mr Hicks.
Methodically, and almost one step ahead of old Clear-Orf, the find-outers go through their list and try and cross people off. Larry takes charge for this adventure, discussing with the others what they should do, and how is best to do it. They get quite far in their investigation, eliminating people until Bets unfortunately gets carried away.
Being the youngest of the group, she is a little more excitable and more inclined to believe the best in people. As she and Fatty both get singled out for teasing by the others, I believe a bit of a bond forms between them more readily than the others. Bets finds a trail of the footprints they found in Mr Hicks garden and follows them back to Mr Hicks house. She mistakenly tells the man everything, thinking she is helping and makes him promise not to tell on them.
Unfortunately Mr Hicks very clearly doesn’t keep his promise to Bets because in the next chapter Mr Goon visits all the children’s parents to “tell on” them. The children are then banned from interfering just as they solve the mystery.
Luckily they find someone to help them and the mystery gets solved. I won’t tell you who helps them or who the culprit was, because they would just be mean. But I can tell you that when I pushed my dislike of Fatty to one side, the book is actually quite enjoyable. Its a neat little mystery that in a way is very Agatha Christie like, but for children. Quite a clever book in fact. I do prefer the more dramatic storylines of the Adventure series and the Famous Five however, but there is something to be said for making the “little grey cells” work as Poriot would say.
Overall, I think I should encourage you to read this book, or re-read in many cases and see if you can figure out who fired the cottage before the children can. Go on, get those brains working! It’ll be a jolly good work out if nothing else!