Now I raced through the last Five Find-Outers book, pretty much in a day but unfortunately I didn’t quite get carried away in the story of the Secret Room as much as the Disappearing Cat.
Fatty still annoys me; I’m sorry to all those who like him as he has his flaws etc, but I want to slap some sense into him like Darrell wanted to slap sense into Gwendoline during her first term at Malory Towers. He’s an arrogant little sod, who really needs taking down some pegs and I can’t admit I didn’t enjoy his little time of incarceration by the baddies in this book. However it seemed to have done nothing for the swelling of his head because at the end everyone is talking to him as if he is a hero and he gets all puffed up like a puffer fish again.
It’s an interesting story, one that’s quite familiar to those of you who have read Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, someone who Fatty looks up to, and the Mystery of the Secret Room is definitely one used by Conan Doyle. It is, however, one of those ‘classic’ mysteries that detectives are always solving, but still, Conan Doyle wrote so many of these sorts of stories that I’m sure Blyton as the keen reader she was, would have delighted in making up her own one to add to the fray.
Blyton creates a rather complex mystery that really doesn’t get solved until the end, because there are so many pieces that the FFO can’t see or don’t put together. Goon however shows himself to have a bit of smarts when he thinks the children are off to Milton House because they’ve made a connection between a robbery and the empty house. He doesn’t execute his plan very well however when he sneaks off in the dark of night to try and catch the children playing around in the house and trying to solve another mystery. Goon, unluckily, gets himself locked in the coal cellar by Fatty, who thinks he’s a member of the gang. Not so clever really.
The story does come to a satisfactory closure, with Fatty having effected a daring escape from the house where he has been locked up and the others deciphering his secret message and getting hold of Inspector Jenks to come and round up the mystery. I am surprised however that Fatty doesn’t get reprimanded more strongly by his mother for sneaking out at night and getting himself into trouble. I guess some parents are laid back enough like that not to care what their child is up to. I wish Fatty’s parents had been stricter. It would have been more of a benefit.
What I didn’t like
A lot of what I didn’t like comes down to Fatty, as you may have guessed. He becomes even more unbearable in this book than in the last ones and even has the cheek to demand that Larry hand over leadership of the Find-Outers to him just because he’s taken up time at school to learn some ‘serious detective skills’. The problem is comes down to the others just letting him, poor Larry doesn’t even raise an argument and steps aside with good grace while Fatty waddles on in and starts taking serious control.
The others are suitably impressed by his detective skills that he has perfected, but really apart from Buster there is very little about Fatty to like. I really can’t understand Bets’ hero worship towards him – though mercifully she’s the only one who sees him this way. The others do see his boastful side, but in the spirit of Blyton’s characters they really let him get away with it. As I’ve mentioned, Darrell tries to squash Gwendoline, not to mention Julian, Dick and George coming down hard on Richard, Dinah, Philip, Jack and Lucy-Ann being scornful of Gussy when it comes to all his airs and graces. Blyton is very well known for letting people get their comeuppance and showing people that its not the attitude to have, which is why Fatty is so puzzling. He breaks the mould, and quite frankly as someone who bases a load of her personality on the manners and thing that she read in the Famous Five when she was little, I’m appalled at Fatty. He really is someone I would never like to meet!
Another thing I admit to not liking about this story is how sidelined the rest of the FFO are. Pip, who is the one who discovers the secret room, barely gets a look in because Fatty needs to do it all. Larry gets one job, to find out who owned the house in the past and then that’s it. It really is! Bets and Daisy hardly get to do anything at all, and even when they do, they are accompanied by their brothers. Its tedious; this book isn’t about the FFO its simply about how blooming amazing Fatty is supposed to be. Humph.
One last thing about this story that I don’t like before I tell you what’s more positive about it, and that is it takes so long to get started. We go from the beginning for the Christmas holidays without even hitting Christmas, and there is no mystery for the first seven chapters but only when the prank they try and play on Goon goes wrong are they sure they have something worth investigating. The whole thing seems to be such a slog, and only delivers on the excitement at the end of the book, when everything happens at once. Most tiresome I find as I do prefer a book with twists and turns all the way through – much more satisfying.
What I DID like
Bets is the first thing that comes to mind on this one. Bets who is growing up a bit, but can still the baby of the group is clearly the one with some of the sharpest brains. All right she may be trying to impress the annoying Fatty, but she can certainly have her moments. She’s the caring one of the group, wanting to make sure that everyone is all right, and that Buster’s leg is healing after he gets into a scrape with another dog. She is the one who smells the orange on Fatty’s note trying to trick the children to Milton House to get caught and locked up until the men had finished whatever they were doing. If it wasn’t for Bets, no one would have been able to phone Inspector Jenks and catch all those criminals.
The baddies are the next thing. Although aloof through much of the book, they certainly have the upper-hand towards the end. You have no idea how many of them there are, and what they are up to. At first I thought they might have been Russian spies because of the book Fatty finds in the secret room, but that turns out to be codes. The fact that they are jewel thieves is kept quite quiet for most of the book and becomes a surprise. There is one moment of it however when Goon thinks the children are on to jewel thieves but you dismiss it because its a theory of Goon’s and the reader is not supposed to think very highly of the local policeman.
The scenes where interaction takes place between Goon and Fatty’s dog Buster are quite funny, particularly to me, as I do wonder if Blyton got her inspiration from P.G Wodehouse who wrote some fantastic scenes between a village policeman called PC Oates and a lady of society’s little Scottie dog, Bartholomew. Oates always complained about Bartholomew and Bartholomew always liked to have a go at the policeman’s trousers. If this doesn’t sound like Goon and Buster, I don’t know what does. The fact that the first book with Bartholomew and Oates in was written and published in 1938, and the Mystery of the Secret Room published in 1945, it is possible that Blyton read the book an on some level the interaction between a Scottie dog and a policeman stayed with her and worked into her writing.
With all that said, I think you may be able to guess on what my thoughts about the book are and how I feel about it. Its not one of my favourites, the overbearing Fatty takes away any enjoyment for me, and drives me nuts!
Not to mention the fact that the mystery takes so long to start and there is a lot of drag, there are hardly any red herrings and the FFO don’t seem to falter because their ‘darling’ leader Fatty has it all under control and is clever, resourceful and so on.
I know a lot of you are going to disagree with me, Fatty is loved because he has ‘flaws’ that he accepts but in Blyton’s world if he had met any of the Five, Jack, Philip and Dinah, or Darrell for example, they’d have squashed him flat. I guess I just don’t like the double standards of it all. Pip, Pip.
Next review: The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters
I would love to see you slap Fatty(!) and turn him into a more modest character. What he
really needs is an older sister to bring him down a peg or two (I had one). Loved your review
of the book.