In our quest to find books that could be considered similar to Enid Blyton’s novels for you to try yourselves, I have discovered another book by Elen Caldecott, an author I reviewed a few months ago (The Mysteries of Marsh Road, Diamonds and Daggers). While I was researching her books on my library system and discovered that one, the Mystery of Wickworth Manor popped up on the list and I thought it was worth a go. So shall we take a look at it?
What it’s all about
Wickworth Manor is one of those old houses that has been converted by the family into a week retreat for school children in year six who are about to leave for their secondary school (for more information on the English school system, see here) and they are there to meet all their new school mates. One of our main characters, Paige, arrives at Wickworth manor with her two best friends, planning on not needing to make any more friends. She does feel as though she doesn’t need to make friends with anyone else because she already has her best friends, however, circumstances are not her friend and she finds herself separated from them and partnered with Curtis, a strangely behaving boy, without any other people from his school present. There appears to be some sort of back story to Curtis, that we’re not immediately aware of.
Curtis is dropped off at Wickworth Manor by his mum in a rented car and not on a bus like the other children. Paige picks him out on entry to the building and stares him down, and they both hate each other on sight. Unfortunately for the both of them, they end up being partnered together for the week of activities, and really can’t wait to shake each other off.
Anyway, Curtis makes himself at home in an old attic and finds an oil painting of a young black slave who was part of the house’s staff and Curtis wants to know all he can about it. Elen Caldecott puts in her authors note at the end of the book that this painting is based on a real one, which is currently held in Wrexham, England. You can see a photograph of the painting here.
Paige finds out about the painting and tells Curtis its a portrait of a ghost who roams the halls of Wickworth Manor. As she is interested in being a psychic, Paige wants to told a seance to try and contact the boy, but they manage to anger the manager of the manor and get told off in the morning.
This makes Paige and Curtis all the more determined to find out what happened to the boy in the painting, even though they both want to go about it different ways and don’t want help from one another. However, thrown together as they are, they manage to solve a nearly two hundred year old mystery and become quite good friends. Its quite a roller coaster of a book, and gathers pace towards the end of the novel.
How is it like Blyton?
Simple, the mystery. All right its not considered a ‘current’ mystery, as in it’s not happening to the characters as they go through the book. Its something they have to research and deal with historical facts to find out what’s happened. We get a little bit of this in some of Blyton’s books; a little bit in the Famous Five, occasionally in the Adventure series, and tiny bits and pieces in the Five Find-Outers to name just three of her many series that have a bit of ‘historical’ digging to them.
The characters, although there are only two of them, manage to rub along together and make a good pairing at the end , even though they didn’t like each other in the start. We see them go from strength to strength and find the clues they’re looking for and finally solve the mystery. It’s a good read, especially for younger children as it’s short, and the descriptions Caldecott gives are very Blytonian. They certainly manage to give you the chills and wonder what’s going to happen next. She’s very good at weaving her story and her magic around the story just like Blyton did, and I think that makes her a good author. Anyone who can capture the spirit of Blyton, while writing something that doesn’t quite compare to any of Blyton’s own books is a phenomenal talent. I managed to read this book in one setting which allowed me to get immersed in the story and the characters.
The modernness of the book doesn’t really show too much. The kids are in a place where there isn’t any phone signal really, and there’s only one computer and its old, cranky and hidden away in the library. They do have to resort to more ‘traditional’ sleuthing methods, such as looking through books and interviewing people to get their information, all with the added bonus of the teachers watching over them to keep them under control.
I wasn’t too convinced when I did take the book home to read from work, only because I didn’t really think it was going to be well done, or not what I was expecting. I was pleasantly surprised though as it turned out to be quite a gripping adventure, and had some nice historical elements added to it, context for the history and good social economical present day threads through it all.
I would very much recommend this book if you like Blyton, because its sort of different to things we’ve been looking before but it contains the best parts of a Enid Blyton mystery. If you read it, or have read it, let me know in the comments below of what you think of the book!