Clearly I’m a glutton for punishment as I picked up a copy of the new Secret Seven book while at my nearest library for Bookbug with Brodie. That branch is closing for a while to be refurbished so I grabbed it before I lost the opportunity (silly as there are another seven copies across the system!).
We all know how much I tend to dislike modern remakes, adaptations and interpretations of Enid Blyton’s works. I don’t even like modern reprints with rubbish artwork and modified texts! What’s even worse is I’m not even a big fan of the Secret Seven. I only read them as an adult, and while the mysteries are generally decent enough I find most of the children far too interchangeable and bland.
So here I am about to read a book that wasn’t written by Enid Blyton about characters I’m not that fond of. I’m sure to love it (not)!
The glimmer of hope I can see is that as I don’t hold the Secret Seven in the same regard as, say, the Famous Five or Adventure Series lots, I might not be expecting so much or be so disappointed if it’s not good.
What’s it all about?
In 2017 Pamela Butchart, a Dundee author known for her Baby Aliens series, was approached by Hodder and asked to write two new Secret Seven books. The first, The Mystery of the Skull, came out in 2018 with a cover and illustrations by Tony Ross, who is responsible for the latest reprints of the Secret Seven series.
The blurb reads:
The Secret Seven Mystery of the Skull begins two weeks into the summer holidays when Janet and Peter return home from a fortnight with their gran. Peter discovers a skull in his bedroom and calls an urgent meeting of the Secret Seven. Where did the skull come from? How did it land up in Peter’s bedroom? And most importantly of all, what does this have to do with the new hotel down the road and its secretive proprietors?
It doesn’t sound very Secret-Seveny. I can’t see Enid Blyton writing about bits of dead bodies turning up anywhere let alone someone’s bedroom. I’m also not sold on the new hotel with secretive proprietors. Old hotels with secret passages are much more Blytonian.
Also not right is the title. Every other title has Secret Seven in it. Ok, so a lot of them were quite vague, but at least you knew what series they belonged to! This could be a Find-Outers book, though it’s still a bit too short a title for that. It seems unfinished, somehow. (Incidentally, apart from tipping them off that something odd is happening, the skull has no relevance to 95% of the book.)
From a Bookseller article is this sentence which doesn’t fill me with hope:
Set in the same world as Blyton’s original stories, the new mysteries promise “all the fun, adventure and humour that Butchart is known for, while satisfyingly extending this much-loved series”.
If you’re writing an Enid Blyton book you really should leave most of your personal style at home and try to channel at least a bit of Blyton! I’m imagining a zany tale worthy of David Walliams now. I don’t have a problem with Walliams – I quite enjoyed most of Gangsta Granny – but it’s not fitting for a Secret Seven book.
Where do I start?
I suppose I will start with the general story, which was probably the best thing about the book. In short; the Seven investigate the new hotel owners and discover they are digging behind the hotel. They interview Pam’s uncle about him and the other staff all being fired, and use a birthday meal at the hotel to do some snooping. There’s a midnight expedition to the digging site too, and the final chapters are concerned with the Seven searching the hotel (some of them in disguise) and uncovering the motive, the means and a few other surprises.
The detective work isn’t the best they’ve ever done but most of it stands up to scrutiny. Unfortunately they are extremely slow on the uptake at times, leaving two or three pages at a time which seem to just serve as padding as they blunder about before making an obvious conclusion.
Related post⇒ The Secret Seven reviewed
The language, the characters and everything else
The language sucks. There’s nothing even remotely recognisable about the writing. It’s full of armpits, needing to wee, throwing up, huge sweaty guys and dog drool. People are mega annoyed, told to calm their pants and Peter says Me and Janet instead of Janet and I. One of the girls wears pug slippers. Yes, pug slippers. On a midnight search of muddy land.
Everyone either gasps, shouts or screams. It feels like half the book is in capitals. Weird appears on almost every page, at least as frequently as queer ever featured in any Blyton book. The hotel owners’ dialogue is so stilted and terrible that everyone in the village should have identified them as phoneys within one sentence. We know from fairly early on that the hotel folk are up to no good, but they are too buffoonish to be genuinely considered a frightening pair.
Some characters are slightly improved and others become worse. Pam and Barbara are still quite silly but we get to see them do more, and Janet also gets to shine a few times. Peter, on the other hand, becomes a buffoon who is late to his own meeting and, although bossy at times, acts very daft. He (and the others) return from a night time mission and nobody notices they left George behind, for over a quarter hour. They only realise when he walks in! Colin becomes afraid of the dark, ghosts, and skulls, Jack is obsessed with food, and despite these ‘unique’ insights, are still more or less interchangeable. Susie, after her brief appearance at the start is entirely absent for the rest of the book.
While most of the plot is reasonable, the three visits to search the hotel become a bit repetitive. Janet even twists her ankle on two separate occasions. The final one has Pam and Barbara going to huge lengths to disguise themselves and booking a hotel room. But then the others sneak in and steal keys, so what was the point?
When’s a Blyton not a Blyton?
When someone else writes it, and especially when they disregard everything from the original and write their own book which just happens to feature characters with the same names.
I’ve said it before: if this wasn’t supposed to be an Enid Blyton book, I wouldn’t be as hard on it. Even as a modern children’s mystery, though, it wouldn’t rate particularly highly with me. It’s nowhere near as good as the Adventure Island series for example.
I gave it two stars on GoodReads. I do not recommend. (I had intended to include a link to a preview of the first two chapters, on the official Enid Blyton website. But when I tried to check it tonight the website just keeps redirecting to spam sites. I will add it later, if the website starts behaving again.)
I’ll probably still end up reading the next one, though…