If you like Blyton: The Secret of Dead Man’s Cove reviewed by Chris


This review is inspired by Fiona’s of Dead Man’s Cove by Lauren St John which reminded me of one of my very favourite children’s books, The Secret of Dead Man’s Cove by R.J. McGregor published by Penguin in 1937. I have the 1952 reprint of the 1948 Puffin edition, the delightful cover of which is depicted here.

dead-mans-cove

The book is the sequel to The Young Detectives (1934) – which is slightly less good in my opinion, though still well worth a read – but can be read as a standalone. It features the same Mackenzie (Mackie) family. The Mackie children comprise Alan, Jean, David, Micky and Elizabeth. Their ages aren’t specified but seem to range from fifteen to seven years old. In this story Alan is mainly absent as he is on a school exchange and his counterpart, a German boy called Reinhard, takes his place. As well as the children other characters are Mummy, Daddy, Auntie, Chris the terrier dog, Nora and Edna the maids, and Cook.

As the composition of the household suggests, this is very much a well-to-do middle-class family, and the story takes place in their palatial holiday home, Oxmouth Manor on the Devon coast. The house and its grounds feature secret passages and a priest hole, as well as the cove of the title. So we are well into Blyton – and especially Famous Five – territory.

The adventurous aspect of the story concerns some secret plans which Mr Mackie is concealing as part of his unspecified work for the government (shades of Uncle Quentin here, although Mr Mackie seems to be a senior intelligence official rather than a scientist), and the attempts of a gang of smugglers/spies, including a sinister ‘man with a glass eye’ called Van Gorman, to obtain them. Highlights include David being kidnapped by the gang, a car chase featuring Scotland Yard detectives, and a thrilling boat chase.

However, for the modern-day adult reader at least, the greatest pleasure of the book lies in its incidental period detail, with village cricket matches, beach picnics, amateur dramatics and agricultural shows. Add to that the family’s boat, called the Kittiwake, the yacht of a rich American friend – the excellently named Hiram B. Soss – as well as a shipwreck and rescue, and there is plenty of excitement even without the adventure.

I mentioned the comparison with the Famous Five, but this book is considerably more sophisticated in its plotting and writing style than the Five, and was probably aimed at slightly older readers. Some of the adventure is really quite gripping, especially the kidnap scenes which have a genuine sense of menace. And when in one of my favourite scenes, during the kidnap, a cold and hungry David is given a door slab of a fried bacon sandwich you can almost taste it yourself.

The book is set in the 1930s, but there is no mention of the storm clouds gathering over Europe although the present-day reader can’t fail to be aware that Alan and Reinhard, now enjoying a holiday exchange, may in a few years’ time be facing each other on the battlefield. Perhaps Mr Mackie’s secret plans being sought by an agent called Van Gorman is a small hint of what is to come. But one of the pleasures of reading it today, when daily the news seems so depressing, is to be transported back to an at least apparently simpler age. At all events, I am sure that anyone who has enjoyed the Famous Five or Blyton’s Adventure series will find much pleasure in The Secret of Dead Man’s Cove.

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12 Responses to If you like Blyton: The Secret of Dead Man’s Cove reviewed by Chris

  1. Michael Edwards says:

         I haven’t read this book, so can’t comment on the book itself, or the review of it above. However, I have read “The Young Detective” which it is a sequel to, although it was so long ago that I remember it only hazily now.
         But I am interested in the idea that there is at least one sequel to “The Young Detective”, and I believe it’s possible there may be more than one, but I am not sure. If anyone here knows about this, I would be glad to hear from them.
         The reason I think this is that I seem to recall, so dimly I can’t be sure now, having heard of other titles by this author which were mentioned as being sequels. Also, if you look at a list of his work, such as on Wikipedia, there are a few titles there which sound as if they could be sequels to “The Young Detectives”.
         So the series might run possibly as follows, as far as I can make out:

      The Young Detectives (1934)
      The Secret of Dead Man’s Cove (1937) (known to be a sequel)
      Young Detectives Incorporated (1947) (the title makes me wonder if it’s a sequel, or at least related)
      The Secret of Hangman’s Wood (1948) (one of those titles I seem to recall being mentioned as a sequel)
      The Secret of Smugglers’ Wood (1957) (stated on Wikipedia to be a rewrite of “The Secret of Hangman’s Wood”)

         Other titles seem, by their titles, to be similar types of adventure story, although this is only my guess:

      The Secret Jungle (1928)
      The Jungle Mystery (1928)
      The Secret Temple (1932)
      The Secret Forest (1942)
      Jungle Holiday (1950)
      The Warrior’s Treasure (1962)
      The Musical Detectives (1950) (written with Irene Glass)

         If anyone wanted to find more similar adventure stories by McGregor, I would start by examining these, based on the titles.
         The Wikipedia article on McGregor (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reginald_James_MacGregor) is the only on-line source I know of for this author; but, If anyone is interested in McGregor’s work, I suggest they save their own copy of this article, while it is still available. It has been there for a while, but the discussion page for the article reveals that some editors think it is not notable enough by Wikipedia criteria to remain, and they think it should be deleted. This could potentially happen at any time, although admittedly the article has survived these calls for deletion for nearly 10 years. (There is also another page elsewhere on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/Reginald_James_MacGregor) which discusses whether this article should be deleted, although no consensus on this was reached.)
         I placed an appeal on the discussion page for the article for those editors who get trigger-happy with their delete button to leave the article alone, pointing out that it contains very rare information about this author which is available nowhere else (that I know of), and pointing out that human knowledge should be preserved. But this will leave some Wikipedia editors unmoved (as some posts on that page show), who can not see any way beyond Wikipedia policies, which apparently consider notability more important than usefulness or rarity of the information in question.

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    • RereadingBlyton says:

      Thank you for this, Michael. I am afraid I don’t know any of his other books (apart from The Young Detectives), but the Puffin site (presumably authoritative) refers to there having been sequels, in the plural: http://puffin-books.weebly.com/the-authors/rj-mcgregor

      I also found a site listing The Secret of Smuggler’s Wood as part of the same series: https://www.librarything.com/series/Young+detectives

      I do hope the Wikipedia entry is retained, there seems to be no other source of info about McGregor and only The Young Detectives and Dead Man’s Cove seem to have any availability on ebay or bookseller sites, even though he was clearly a prolific writer in his day.

      Chris

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  2. Francis says:

    Excellent – many thanks.
    Francis

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  3. sasspoll says:

    So lovely to find such a detailed review of one of R.J Mcgregor’s books! I’m always on the lookout for his books (and reviews of his books) to show my children. He was my great grandfather on my father’s side. The characters in the Young Detectives books were named after his children, Jean was my dad’s mum. Even though I obviously never met him I’m still very proud to know that I am his great granddaughter!

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  4. Lasair says:

    Finding these books is difficult and they don’t come particularly cheap either. The Young Detectives has sat on my shelf for years and I too was after sequels. The Secret of Dead Man’s Cove is definitely the sequel to The Young Detectives, featuring the same Mackie family at the same house on the coast.

    I managed to get a copy of The Secret of Smugglers’ Wood which also involves a set of children in a home by the sea with strange secret passages, smugglers (of course), horses, farmers’ wives and thrilling car and boat chases.

    This one is written later on by publishing date, but reads very much in the style of the earlier two, and there is a line in the story mentioning war ships, so I don’t know how far back it is harking. I would guess perhaps it’s referring to the post-war 40s since there is no other mention of war: “It was a wonderful morning, and from the hill they could see away over West Bay, and in the distance a line of warships steering for Portland.”

    If you believe Wikipedia then this is a rewrite published in 1957 of the much earlier version The Secret of Hangman’s Wood published in 1948 with an increase in size from 196 pages to 239 pages which is a significant amount. I don’t have a copy to compare though.

    But on to the real question. Is this a sequel? Well although the family is different the story works very well as one, even though it’s written decades after the first. Puffin’s own introductory page states: “Here at last is another mystery story by the author of The Young Detectives and The Secret of Dead Man’s Cove. In it, Mr Douglas, father of Alison, Gordon and Ian, found a house near the sea, and while the business formalities were going through, he arranged for the children to camp by themselves on the property. The house had stood empty for a long time, and was in the charge of caretakers who were not welcoming. Ian, which his customary curiosity, immediately set the plot in motion, for he found no room to match a window which seemed from the outside just one of the row belonging to the bedrooms facing the front of the house. Then there seemed to be secret understandings between several of the village people; speed boats made mysterious journeys by night, cryptic messages were slipped into coat pockets… those were some of the clues. The young detectives were sometimes right, sometimes not, but they never let go, and with them, the reader rushes into a thrilling, breathless chase which ends triumphantly. A story for boys and girls of ten to fourteen.”

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    • Lasair says:

      For those interested, the introductory page of The Secret of Dead Man’s Cove reads: “To those who enjoyed The Young Detectives. Here is another story about the jolly Mackie family and their holiday house on a lonely part of the Devon coast where smugglers and other bad men abound. This time they have a swift motor-boat to add zest to the holiday and excitement to their new adventures, which are desperate enough to please anyone. R.J.McGregor is skilful in combining his thrills with a delightful family background and all the pleasant diversions of a summer holiday by the sea. Warmly recommended for boys and girls, mainly between the ages of 9 and 13.”

      I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed all three books and I think that they got even better as they went along. The only sad part is that I don’t seem to be able to find more in the series. I may have to keep an eagle eye out for the earlier adventure stories.

      These are well worth getting hold of, if you can. I even have half a thought, wondering if, with the timing, Enid Blyton herself may have read The Young Detectives and been inspired.

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    • Lasair says:

      Going to modify my earlier statement and say that the later book harks back to the early 30s. There’s way too much class distinction and a surplus of young male farm labourers for it to be post 1945.

      On a different note I also managed to find a copy of RJ McGregor’s “The Secret Forest” and it’s definitely nothing to do with the Young Detectives or the like. It’s a story set in Colonial India.

      I got it as a set of three School Readers, the other two were “Odd Man Out” by Cary Lamb and “Through the Green Gate” by Nelson Davis. The book is flimsy, set with 2 staples as binding and a pale pink/orange unlike the pale green of the other two in the set. All three have a picture of children and a horse passing through a forested area, with gypsy style caravan in the background. McGregor’s is twice the thickness of the other two books also.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    The girl Jean in the book is my Grandmother…it makes me very proud of my great grandfather and his books and plays…

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