Fiona told me that my reviews might be a bit more positive if I got myself an older version of the text. I managed to find one on eBay for around five pounds, which was good because there weren’t very many copies. The copy I have brought however has been loved good and proper. It has had several owners who have written extensively in the inside cover, not to mention some of the pages are loose. It also comes with pieces torn from the corners and rips in the paper. In theory, how could I not love and enjoy a story that had clearly been the source of reading and re-reading throughout the years? Well, lets take a look shall we?
Slow, Slow, Not So Slow, Slow
Seriously, I think this may have been the slowest starting Blyton that I have ever read. The children have just come back to Peterswood after their spring term and are itching for another adventure but its surprisingly slow to start. We’re a good five or so chapters in, having been introduced to Fatty’s “hilarious” new disguises of a telegraph boy and butcher’s boy. One day those disguises are going to get him into trouble, and in fact they do in this book, he gets himself caught by Mr Goon and locked up. It’s only his ability to get out of a locked room that saves him this time.
This little bit of drama is probably one of the most exciting in the book! Due to the nature of the mystery of the spiteful letters there isn’t a lot of clues or suspects for the FFO to follow. In fact it is all rather pulling at straws and then gets solved in literally the last four or five pages and even then I’m not sure that the whole thing ties up neatly. I would suspect that Blyton had been trying to mimic Agatha Christie’s mystery writing style but without the practice. I dare say that if I read the book again I may enjoy it more, but I just didn’t have time to do that when I had to review it for you. I might get round to it eventually.
I just can’t see the magic in this book, the oomph, the sparkle, the finish to it that you see in so many others of Blyton’s books. Now I come to think about it, I haven’t felt that magic in the FFO at all, and I’m not overly sure why! It might be because of my childhood mindset that nothing could be as good as the Famous Five.This was certainly not helped when I joined the Enid Blyton Society forums and discovered that lots of people were raving about this character Fatty, who I had no idea about, and saying that he was much better than Julian! Oh, my aching heart. Anyway, I’ve gone off topic in a spectacular way haven’t I? Maybe one day I’ll treat you to a blog called “The FFO and Me” and we’ll explore all these bits and bobs then!
How many suspects can you have in a poison pen letter mystery? Answers on a postcard please, because it can literally be anyone you so think of! With the initial mystery of the letters being shrouded from the FFO, we spend a good chunk of time wondering what the matter is with the maid Gladys and why she leaves so suddenly. When the five children find out what is afoot, they have no starting point. Goon has the letters, and they have nothing to go on – there are no clues that come with a poison pen mystery.
It feels very haphazard in the search for clues as to the culprit of the letters, but everything is circumstantial. I know that the Find-Outers aren’t really police dectecives but even Fatty with all his research and knowledge of literary sleuths can’t magic suspects out of the air.
In the end they narrow it down to three suspects, Mrs Moon, Old Nosey and Miss Tittle. They only get this far because there is a change in the delivery of the fourth letter. It was shoved under the door of a victim and not posted from the market village. These three people were all out early in the morning that the letter was delivered so they are the ‘prime’ suspects. Even then its impossible to find a way to prove that any of them did it!
Fatty as usual has a way to identify the real perpetrator, he will disguise himself and go around collecting handwriting samples from their three main suspects (two of whom were not introduced until this early morning letter posting business.) We get very little investigation into the three suspects themselves, and come to that anyone else who makes the list in the book, whereas usually the Find-Outers books provide a lot more detail and depth into their suspects.
The long and the short of it is that you do not know who the wrong-doer is until the last chapter, and even then it seems mucked up. Goon was supposed to be a few steps ahead of the children and failed abysmally by dumping the main ‘clues’ into their lap and accusing them of planting them so he would go down the wrong path. Now I can usually identify a Blyton villain very quickly and with this one I had a hunch, but wasn’t sure. The options were there to jump to anyone because each reason seemed so flimsy to suspect them or to cancel them out.
The revelation from Fatty at the end was over dramatic and very poorly handled on the part of Inspector Jenks, who as an Inspector should have asked Fatty to tell him what he suspected first of all before he went forth and accused someone who may have possibly been the wrong person! Gah! (as Goon would say) at least the Famous Five recognise there are consquences (Julian getting his ears boxed by Mrs Penruthlan comes to mind) but no, there is never any comuppance for Fatty because he is magically always correct even though its hard to see how!
Anyway, lets just say I’m not overly happy with the layout of this mystery… Before I go into another full blown Fatty – I – Can’t – Like – Him rant!
Let’s Wind this Up!
I suspect that most of you are about to write in the comments and tell me to read it again, and that Fatty is really nice and amazing etc etc, but I have news for you; I just don’t like the boy! I reckon thats just where it ends for me. The others I do like, Philip, Bets, Larry and Daisy. Its a shame they get overshadowed by Fatty because I reckon they would do just as well on their own!
Unfortunately Spiteful Letters is not one of my favourite Blytons and I don’t know if it will ever be; the plot is full of holes and it is definitely not one of my favourite Five Find Outer books. Sorry to those who like it, but its just not for me!
Let me know what you think in the comments!
Next review: The Mystery of the Missing Necklace
So was this the 200th Blyton Blog?
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Not sure, Chrissie, will check.
It was our eight-hundred-and-forty-first post. We’re nearly at our 200th Monday, which is probably what you’re thinking of, Chrissie.
There used to be a number at the beginning of each new blog post which was missing this morning. So I guessed it’s # 200.
So clearly an original text didn’t help. I admit the ending of this one is a bit disappointing but the mystery is a good one. They do actually do some good detective work like getting the envelope and therefore the post-mark from Gladys, and then working out it has to be someone that always goes to market on a Monday at Sheepsdale.
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The Fatty books were my favourite Blyton series, quite a bit better than the famous five. Followed by the adventure series (The Island of adventure etc). Fatty was great! I don’t think the spiteful letters was one of the better ones, although I still liked it. Actually I do remember it was the very last Fatty book I managed to buy and read back in the 70s. No Amazon or Internet in those days so was difficult getting hold of all the Blyton books. But anyway, better books in the series are the missing necklace. Or the hidden house. Or the secret room.
“Goon was supposed to be a few steps ahead of the children and failed abysmally by dumping the main ‘clues’ into their lap and accusing them of planting them so he would go down the wrong path”.
Wasn’t that in the 10th book the mystery of the strange bundle? Many years since I’ve read these books!
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Yes, “Hidden House”, “Secret Room” and the one with the stolen painting by the river (with Ern using the tree house in the winter) are very atmospheric FFO & Dog sequels.
I have got to agree with you Stef but as you say there are a lot of people who like Fatty and the Fine Outer stories. For me it is the Adventure series (so exciting and inspiring) and the Famous Fives (wonderful characters Timmy, Julian, George, Dick and Anne).
You are not the only one!
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Same here, Francis, I prefer adventures to detective work in a small town. I love the FF, think the Adventure series is EB’s best work and also enjoy the Adventurous Four.
I’ve only read Spiteful letters once, and that was a couple of years ago. I enjoyed it, but will re-read closer, and re-examine.