Mischief at Midnight is set at Knight’s Haddon, a girls’ boarding school, and the first chapter or two sounds rather like Malory Towers.
ON THE SURFACE
The language is different – but it has a clear posh boarding school sounds – for example most of the girls are just back from some rather ‘brillo-pad’ holidays. Malory Towers girls would have gone for smashing or wizard (especially in the lower forms.)
There are familiar things like dormitories though Knight’s Haddon’s hold four girls each , and there are two dormitories holding our main characters. When the story starts the girls are settling in, all organised as to who is in which dorm when Matron comes along to ruin it all.
There’s a new girl joining, in the middle of the school year too, and she is to be put in with Edie (our main character) while her best friend Anastasia goes next door.
Matron is just like a Blyton matron – no nonsense! The headmistress, Miss Fotheringay, is more approachable than the kind but rarely seen Miss Grayling.
She has an even closer relationship with Edie than the other girls, even having her to stay in the holidays as she is an orphan. Edie dares to see the headmistress to complain about the dormitory change, and is told that the new girl has been taken on at very short notice, from a bad circumstance, rather like the orphaned Edie herself. (This is actually the second book in the series so I don’t know how much of Edie’s backstory is known at this point). Edie is therefore to take this Janet under her wing.
And so Janet arrives and immediately stakes a claim to the role of Elizabeth Allen (the Naughtiest Girl, to bring another series into the mix). She is not happy to be at Knight’s Haddon, and intends to behave as badly as possible to be sent home. Soon she is picking up order marks by the score for being late to class and breaking any other rule she can think of.
THE OTHER STORY LINE
The other main story involves Anastasia, who is the daughter of a rich and famous Russian. In the previous book someone tried to kidnap her, and she and Edie hid out at a nearby tower which the school has used for sleepovers. The big news here is that the tower has been sold. Unbeknownst to most of the girls, it is Anastasia’s father who has bought the tower and surrounding land so her mother can keep an eye on her. In a fit of rebelliousness, Anastasia decides she is going to celebrate her birthday by taking a sneaky trip to a gypsy fair being held ten miles from the school.
BACK TO BLYTON
So far, it’s all sounding reasonably Blytonian, isn’t it? The surprise for me came in the second chapter when it’s revealed that this is not in fact the 1950s. It is the present (or at least very recent) day. Knight’s Haddon has banned all technology, however, which is a neat way for the author to get around many of the problems that modern technology throws into books that hope to have any air of mystery in them. There are no mobile phones, and the only computers are for the exclusive use of the sixth formers.
The girls all have quite old-fashioned names, Edie (Edith), Anastasia, Sally, Alice, Janet, Belinda (who draws caricatures and sketches like Belinda Morris), Rose and Phoebe, and perhaps because they are all rather posh they manage to sound like they’re from the 50s anyway. Rose in particular sounds very much like Helen George playing Trixie from Call the Midwife.
AT THE FAIR
At the fair there is a strange group of young men there to protest the destruction of the woods around the prefects’ tower. Not much trouble ensues though, until a drunk follows the girls and thrusts a basket containing two ferrets on them, asking them to pass them on to Josie (whoever she may be, he must think she goes to the same school as the girls as he recognises their logo on a rucksack). Anastasia wants to keep the ferrets and manages to smuggle them back to the school even though the girls are found at the fair by Mrs Fotheringay and another teacher and escorted back.
The next part of the book revolves mostly around the ferrets. Anastasia is gated for the rest of term – meaning she can’t leave the school grounds, but she is also banned from the animal house (like Whyteleaf the girls have a big shed where they can keep pets like rabbits or indeed ferrets). That doesn’t stop her sneaking out to see Precious and Treasure (I kid you not). It’s around now that she starts to seem quite spoiled and annoying and I wonder why Edie is such friends with her – but there was some sort of explanation at the start that they stuck up for each other as neither truly fit in. At this point though it seems Anastasia rather uses Edie.
She also blames Edie for them getting caught – accusing her of tattling to the headmistress. For that reason she is instructed to pretend the ferrets are hers, so that they can be kept. Miss Fotheringay sees through that, but lets the ferrets stay anyway. On one hand Anastasia is pleased, but on the other, she feels this just backs up her idea that Edie is Miss F’s pet.
THE RETURN OF JANET
Janet comes back into the story now too, and starts seeming like a better person. She adores the ferrets and spend a lot of time properly playing with and taking care of them (unlike Anastasia who wants to pamper and cuddle them). This leads to even more strife between Edie and Anastasia as the latter feels Edie and Janet are trying to steal her pets (made worse by Janet renaming them Thing One and Thing Two).
Then two mysterious things happen: first, Janet is very worried when she hears the ferrets were meant for a girl called Josie, and then, in the middle of the night, someone sneaks down and sets the ferrets loose.
Anastasia immediately blames Edie, as Edie had (perhaps foolishly) said she’d like to set them loose and be done with them. Despite appearing as a bit of a misfit, who needed Edie, Anastasia turns practically the whole school against her. It doesn’t help that Edie’s dressing gown was found the next morning, covered in mud at the bottom.
Janet is the only one on her side, but the mystery around her is deepening. Her mother turns up, in a helicopter no less, bad mouths Janet to the other girls then whisks her off for an afternoon. Janet then gets dumped on a train to come back. Janet then sneaks out to town when she’s supposed to be in lunch but refuses to tell Edie why.
I’ll stop there, and continue in another post, as this has gotten a lot longer than I intended!