In part one we saw Kirrin Cottage crushed by an ash tree and the children packed off to the mysterious Smuggler’s Top where they meet the Lenoirs and Block.
The problem of Timmy
Up until now Timmy has been hidden away at Smuggler’s Top, and aptly, being smuggled from the secret passage to George’s room at night and back again in the morning. Block, having seen them together in the town, however, is on to them.
When Timmy barks during lunch Julian swears Block reacts. Mr Lenoir, however, definitely does hear and quizzes the children. He isn’t impressed by the children’s silly suggestions as to what he might have heard instead of a dog. Of course none of them lie, not outright. They all with complete honestly say at that very moment they cannot hear a dog.
It’s Block that takes things further and hides himself behind some curtains in the hope of catching the children with Timmy. Sooty sees him first, though, and they pile on in the pretence they have caught a burglar. The best part is that Timmy gets excited and nips Block’s leg and Sooty is left pretending he did the biting!
related post⇒ Top 11 Famous Five moments
If that’s not bad enough, Timmy ends up trapped in his secret passage because Uncle Quentin is to stay in Sooty’s room, and the study is now being used by Mr Lenoir. On the up-side it really kick-starts the mystery.
First George gets herself locked up for sneaking into the study to try to rescue her beloved Timmy. George being George escapes via a rope ladder, and sees Block doing something strange (more on that later). That night, Sooty tries to rescue Timmy by sneaking into his room where Uncle Quentin is asleep – and both he and Uncle Quentin disappear!
So let’s backtrack a little – the mystery really began when Sooty tells them about lights that flash in the night from the tower and takes the boys to see them one night. It’s not the children’s favourite suspect, Mr Lenoir, as he’s snoring away in bed.
Then of course Sooty and Uncle Quentin disappear in the middle of the night.
Mr Lenoir threatens to – and does – call the police, which makes him look altogether more innocent than before.
Julian and Dick pull the ‘we are boys’ card and go off to poke around Mr Barling’s house only to discover he’s gone off on holiday. George, left behind as a girl (Julian tried to placate her by saying she is as good as a boy and therefore needs to look after Anne and Marybelle) gets one up on them when she searches Sooty’s room and finds another secret passage under the window-seat.
All about Block
There is something mysterious about Block from early on. After Mr Lenoir, he is the children’s top suspect though they think he’s just following orders.
After the boys see the flashing lights they check and Block is asleep in bed – but the man who was in the tower then walks into Block’s room and vanishes.
Then, on her escape from her room George passes Mr Barling’s house and sees Block there talking to Mr Barling. Firstly Block seems to be listening to Mr Barling and secondly he is also asleep in bed at the same time.
Does Block have an (even more) evil twin?
It seems likely when they see Block and Mr Barling in the catacombs later, while Block is in bed with a headache. For a servant Block spends a lot of time in bed during the day! His ruse is only rumbled when Mr Lenoir has Julian go to wake Block and Julian discovers what’s really under the bedclothes.
The return of Timmy
Timmy has been missing for quite a lot of the book and now it is time for him to make a triumphant return.
Firstly Uncle Quentin and Sooty are being held hostage in the catacombs by Mr Barling (there’s a few pages of mostly just conversation and expose) until Timmy shows up. Timmy does what Timmy does best when faced with enemies – he attacks and chases Mr Barling and his henchman off. So Sooty and Uncle Quentin are safe but still very lost. Timmy can’t seem to lead them back to Smuggler’s Top but instead takes them to the marshes edge and abandons them.
Why would he do that? Well, he just has a feeling that George is in trouble.
Timmy didn’t hear. He was too far away. But the dog suddenly felt uneasy. He stopped and listened. He could hear nothing of course. But Timmy knew that George was in danger. He knew that his beloved little mistress needed him.
His ears did not tell him, nor did his nose. But his heart told him. George was in danger!
He comes to her (and the others’) rescue, just like the did Sooty and Uncle Quentin. This time he fends off three men who are tying up George, Julian, Dick and Anne in the same cave Sooty and Uncle Quentin were in earlier.
In a twist of fate Timmy himself needs rescued not long after that – as he falls into the marsh. Usually once the children are rescued it’s all jolly times again, so it’s a change to have another heart-in-the-mouth few pages before the book ends. Uncle Quentin is, perhaps surprisingly, compassionate and risks his life in saving Timmy.
The book still isn’t over, though. There is still the Five’s triumphant reveal to the police that they’ve solved the mystery and Timmy escorts the police to find Mr Barling etc in the tunnels – he scared them off so thoroughly the second time they got entirely lost.
My usual nitpicks, questions and observations
The Timmy’s name saga continues. His first mention is as Timothy, in Blyton’s narrative, the remainder of the chapter she calls him Timmy. Uncle Quentin is the only other one to call him Timothy. In the first chapter Julian calls him Tim, Fanny calls him Timmy, George calls him Tim, then Timmy twice and then Tim and Timmy both in the same speech. Not that it’s hugely important, they are all forms of the same name but it is interesting to see the gradual change from Timothy to Timmy. Past the first chapter or so he’s always Timmy.
I was surprised that it is Dick who asks what Smuggler’s Top is when Uncle Quentin first mentions it. He and Julian are not best of friends with Sooty but they know and like him. I would have expected them to have heard about Smuggler’s Top from him – I know if I lived somewhere that interesting I’d be talking about it all the time. Then again, later Sooty says he doesn’t know Quentin’s surname and doesn’t even guess at Kirrin so maybe they don’t know each other at all well.
Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert!
By the time we finish the book we know that Block is not really deaf, but faking it instead. The problem is that Block does a great job of playing deaf (perhaps too good – not turning a hair at loud noises etc but maybe he wears hidden earplugs!) it’s everyone else that’s the issue.
Sooty says Block’s deaf, silly, quite early on when one of the children addresses a remark to the servant. Yet Sooty speaks directly to Block several times. He doesn’t always get an answer but he expects Block to obey him.
He doesn’t, at first, seem to recognise that Block could be lip-reading and often speaks in front of him, thinking he won’t know what’s being said. Later though he warns Anne not to speak in front of Block because he might lip-read.
At least once Blyton says Block did not appear to hear – when it’s something like someone shouting through a door to him. Also, the Five suspect that Block heard Timmy barking and that he’s told Mr Lenoir which is why he came to the dining room to check on them. How did Block tell Mr Lenoir about the dog without admitting he could hear it?
Lastly there is a bell in Block’s room to summon him. Lots of big old houses had these, but it would be useless for Block if he’s asleep or otherwise not looking at the bell. Mr Lenoir is really quite cross and surprised when, after ringing and ringing Block – asleep in his bed supposedly – doesn’t appear. He also speaks to Block Block come here. Then has to say Sarah tell Block I want him and give Block a note of instructions. Block’s been with him for a year or two, and he’s known him a long time before that so it’s not like he’s just forgotten he can’t hear him.
Less nit-picky but another Block related questions I have is: Does Block know he is being followed after flashing the lights that night? If not it would be natural for him to go into his room, turn the light on, take off his shoes (I assume he wasn’t doing it in his pyjamas). At the very least he would need to remove the fake Block from his bed before getting in – yet Dick looks in mere moments later to see him in bed, pretending to be asleep.
Also, whole idea of Barling kidnapping Uncle Quentin kind of falls down when he explains it. He wants to buy his plans so he can destroy them and prevent the marshes being drained. That only works as long as nobody else comes up with a draining solution. Plus, as an adult, it’s obvious that a contract/sale like that, carried out via a kidnapping would never stand up in a court. The buying them is bizarre as well. Why not demand he destroys them, or just gives them to him? It’s almost like he thinks that buying them legitimizes it and Quentin will just toddle off happy to have made some money. But then again Mr Barling is clearly mad.
end of spoilers
Other ponderings I have:
- Where is Joanna? She was not at Kirrin last summer, with an excuse given (though we all know it was just so Blyton could temporarily replace her with the dreadful Sticks) but she isn’t even mentioned this time. According to Five Fall Into Adventure she sleeps in an attic bedroom so the ash tree would have completely destroyed her room.
- When Mrs Lenoir says to George Your aunt is ill I wonder who she means? We’ve never heard of any other family being mentioned. Perhaps it’s Fanny’s sister? It’s certainly not Julian’s mother.
- Why does Uncle Quentin get Sooty’s room? Surely there are others free in such a big house instead of sticking him next to Marybelle and putting Sooty in with Julian and Dick.
- Why does Mr Lenoir only start to use the study half-way through the book? I have a theory that he wants to show off to Uncle Quentin. Perhaps he normally works in the at a messy desk somewhere and for a learned colleague he respects he sets up the study to display his work and make himself look more professional. Or it’s just convenient to the plot! Mind you, they could have sneaked into the study while Mr Lenoir wasn’t there, rather than making out it wasn’t used and then having to backtrack later and say it’s only now being used. A similar after-thought is the moving of the rope-ladder to George’s room. If it was mentioned at the time it would seem natural for her to use it later. As it is she gets locked in and then we read that they moved it earlier, making it seem contrived.
- Who hit Sooty on the head? He is watching Mr Barling come out of the window-seat and someone hits him on the head. It could be Mr Barling, I suppose, it just doesn’t sound that way. It can’t have been Block as he comes along later to screw the seat down again and it can’t have been Mr Barling’s servant as he would have to have been in the room before Sooty entered it (besides, Mr Barling wouldn’t have had to open the window seat again).
- How did the drugging of Uncle Quentin come about? I imagine Block slipped something into his tea earlier but I’d liked to have read about it as well.
- How does George find a screwdriver in a house as big as Smuggler’s Top?
- Why doesn’t Sooty think to look for Timmy from Marybelle’s room or from his window-seat after that is revealed? We find out that the passage between the study and Sooty’s cupboard also leads to a passage which passes both those other entrances. Sooty himself says that there’s an entrance to the passage from the dining-room, so even if he didn’t know about the door and the connection between two passages surely they could have tried to enter from the dining room? Blyton could easily have made it a low-down and hard to see hole that Timmy sneaks through, and omitted the mention of an entrance in the dining room.
- Why isn’t Uncle Quentin more surprised to see Timmy? He shouldn’t be at Smuggler’s Top!
Phew. That was quite a lot of nitpicks. As always, though, they are just me applying grown-up thinking to a children’s book!
And lastly, my general thoughts
It’s good to see Uncle Quentin as more of a real person and less of a shouty background figure. He and Mr Lenoir both redeem themselves a lot over this book. In fact I had so many observations about the two of them I have written a whole other post about it.
I chuckled when Mr Barling did his stereotypical reveal ala Bond villain with a captive (literally) audience. I actually found myself a little bit on his side, though! Uncle Quentin (and Mr Lenoir) want to drain the marshes to build houses there. I don’t think I really paid attention to that detail before. Usually Uncle Quentin’s work is for the benefit of human-kind like readily available fuel etc rather than purely to make money for someone. Just think of the eco-system of a marsh being destroyed! In fact I’m surprised there’s no mentions of bird life apart from sea-gulls. If this had been an Adventure Series book Philip would definitely have picked up a pet or two from the marshes.
This is still my favourite book of the series – despite my many questions and nitpicks. It has so many great moments. Attacking Block behind the curtain, the kidnapping of Sooty and Uncle Quentin, dramatic scenes in the catacombs with Timmy saving the day, the ash tree falling on Kirrin Cottage to name but a few. It also has a brilliant house full of secret passages (I’m always sad when I read that the Lenoirs plan to sell it!) The whole setting is great. It has that air of being from another world – like a couple of the Barney Mysteries. The children even remark that it’s like a world from long-ago with the lead-paned windows and the mysterious tales of the hill being cast away from the mainland.