Here we are at book #4 in the series and, as I’ve probably said a hundred times or more, this is my absolute favourite Famous Five book.
- It won first place in my list of favourite Blyton books, and unsurprisingly was also top of my favourite Famous Five books.
- It features twice on my list of top Famous Five moments.
- One of its quotes appears in my list of favourite Blyton quotes.
- I’ve also written about it in 10 Facts About the Famous Five and Me, and about my Smuggler’s Top birthday cake here.
And yet I’ve never reviewed it (my review of the dramatised audio doesn’t count!) so I’m ready to change that today.
I haven’t actually read this in over six years (!) so it’s definitely time to put that right as well.
Five Go to Smuggler’s Top
Now, as much as I love the Kirrin-based adventures it’s exciting that the fourth book takes us somewhere new, after summer, winter and summer at Kirrin. They haven’t been at Kirrin since the summer of Five Run Away Together, and we are now at Easter the next year.
related post⇒Five Run Away Together
Smuggler’s Top is the perfect change of scenery for the Five and for us readers. Although it is also coastal it is as different from Kirrin as you can imagine. Instead of blue seas and clear skies there are miles of dangerous, misty marshes. Rather than a country cottage surrounded by moors and beaches Smuggler’s Top is a house perched on top of Castaway Hill and surrounded by a walled town.
The only way to get to Smuggler’s Top is via a narrow causeway road – step or drive off that and you will sink into the marshes unless you have memorised one of the narrow twisting paths that reportedly go from the mainland to Castaway Hill. Then, through the old archway and through the steep, narrow cobbled streets to the door of the large, brooding house which boasts at least one tower. I will leave the mysteries of what lies inside Smuggler’s Top for later.
It’s very old, built on the top of a queer hill surrounded by marshes over which the sea once flowed. The hill was once an island but now it’s just a tall hill rising up from the marsh. Smuggling went on there in the old days. It’s a very peculiar place, so I’ve heard.
– Uncle Quentin.
Out of the slowly moving mists rose a tall, steep hill, whose rocky sides were as steep as cliffs. The hill seemed to swim in the mists, and to have no roots in the earth. It was covered with buildings which even at that distance looked old and quaint. Some of them even had towers.
The Five were supposed to be having Easter in Kirrin so why are they going to Smuggler’s Top? Because of what happens in my favourite Famous Five chapter. A huge ash tree falls on Kirrin cottage and nearly kills the girls – they are only saved by Julian waking up the household with moments to spare.
This scene is in my favourite moments and favourite quotes posts so I won’t go on about it for a third time. It’s a bit of a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’ as Uncle Quentin had initially thought of having a scientist colleague and his son to stay, but changes his mind after hearing how mad-cap the boy is. And then a very large (though Eileen Soper perhaps overdoes the size in her illustration!) tree falls on the house and prevents any guests staying.
The only problem is that Timmy isn’t allowed at Smuggler’s Top. George initially rages and insists she will go back to school with him, but curiously changes her mind not long after. Rather like in Five Run Away Together she hatches a secret plan and won’t say anything to her cousins. They don’t suspect much, but are puzzled that she didn’t make a fuss of saying goodbye to Timmy and doesn’t look very sad. In true George fashion she has arranged for Timmy to meet them (presumably aided by Alf) a short way along the coast and so he goes along with them anyway.
Smuggler’s Top, the Lenoirs, Block and Mr Barling
Smuggler’s Top and Castaway Hill are inhabited by some strange people.
Mr Lenoir is a tall, thin, fair-haired man whose nose-tip goes white when he’s angry. He is a scientist colleague of Uncle Quentin, and that’s how they ended up invited to stay there. He seems affable, and laughs a lot but he smiles with his mouth and not his eyes, which remain cold.
Mrs Lenoir is a tiny ‘frightened mouse’ of a woman, and very quiet. Pierre ‘Sooty’ Lenoir is a friend of Julian and Dick from school, a class joker and nothing like Mr Lenoir who is actually his real father’s cousin. Sooty and most of the Lenoirs are dark-haired and dark-eyed but his step-father is fair. Fair Lenoirs are no good is apparently a known saying.
And lastly of the Lenoir family, there’s pale, blonde, timid Marybelle, who is ages with Anne.
Being a big house there are, of course, servants. Most of them are unimportant to the story as they stay in the kitchen and don’t have any part in the plot. Sarah (fat, round and jolly) appears to clean rooms and serve meals but most important is Block, Mr Lenoir’s man which I interpret as a valet/butler type role.
He had a queer face. “It’s a shut face. You can’t tell a bit what he’s like inside, because his face is all shut and secret.”
“He’s deaf, so you can say what you like, but it’s better not to, because though he doesn’t hear he seems to sense what we say.” – Sooty
Sooty tells the Five about his step-father just after they arrive – saying that he’s a queer sort of man, who seems full of secrets. Strange people visit Smuggler’s Top in great secrecy, and lights shine in the tower some nights. He doesn’t think his father is a smuggler, however. That role if fulfilled by Mr Barling. Everyone knows him, apparently, even the police but they can’t do anything to stop him because he is so powerful. When the Five meet him Anne things that he’s long everywhere his hair, legs and feet, his eyes nose and chin. The Five dislike him, and notice that he seems to dislike Mr Lenoir as much as they do too.
So we have three interesting people there, any or all of them could be a baddie. Are they in on some smuggling ring together? Is one of them a red-herring who is secretly a police detective in disguise? We will have to read on to find out.
An exciting arrival and many secret passages
Luckily for George it is Sooty and Marybelle that answer the door when they arrive. Otherwise, had Mr Lenoir set eyes on Timmy, things would have not gone nearly so well. As is is she, Timmy and the others are swept up to Sooty’s room via the first of our secret passages at Smuggler’s Top. This passage starts in an oak panelled study, and is entered through a sliding panel much like the one at Kirrin Farmhouse. The passage is so narrow it must be traversed in single file up to the inside of Sooty’s bedroom wardrobe (another similarity to Kirrin Farmhouse!).
related post⇒ Five Go Adventuring Again
The next one they explore is the one that leads out onto the hill, and that is found in Marybelle’s room. They have to move the furniture back against the walls and lift the carpet (thankfully it’s not a modern wall-to-wall one!) to reveal a trap-door in the floor. I have to say I wouldn’t have liked a secret passage in my own bedroom as a child. Far too many scary thoughts there, of baddies and ghosts and monsters creeping down it in the dark of night! Anyway, the trap-door is basically a giant pit where they used to chuck people to get rid of them (according to Sooty, anyway). Not wanting to break any bones the children use a rope-ladder to get down, and Timmy is lowered in a big laundry basket.
They are in the catacombs at this point, with passages leading off every which way. There are other pits – including one that leads to Mr Barling’s house – and you wonder how Sooty manages to ever find his way into the town and back especially the first time. After climbing back up the hill and over the wall they wander the town and have a run-in with Block and meet Mr Barling.
Next time: The boys investigate a flashing light in the tower, Timmy bites Block and they are launched into a great big mystery. Also, I will look in detail at Uncle Quentin’s role in this book and have my usual nitpicks and observations for you.
Next post: Five Go to Smuggler’s Top part 2