This is one of my lesser favourites, in fact it comes in at 18/21 in my ranking of the series. This is the first time I’ve read it since I wrote that list, so it will be interesting to see if I’d still rank it so lowly once I’m finished.
A story in many parts
Due to the fact that the Five take quite a while to come together, you could divide this into quite a few parts.
- Just George and Timmy
- Anne joins George and they discover some odd goings on
- The boys join them and more strange things happen
- Guy goes missing – and everything hots up
The building blocks of the Five
The Five are, well, the Five, and I always prefer it when they are together. At least two books suffer from a lack of key members, in my opinion, such as when George is kidnapped in Five Fall Into Adventure and Five Have Plenty of Fun. However there are times when it adds to the book, such as when George has an adventure of her own in Five Go Off to Camp.
It’s rare, though for books to start without the Five coming together quickly – obviously Five on a Treasure Island they have to meet for the first time, and Five Have a Wonderful Time has Julian, Dick and Anne for a short time before George and Timmy join them, plus a few have the boys travelling to meet the girls in chapter one.
Secret Trail has the longest period between page one and the Five being together, as far as I can see. It begins with just George and Timmy, then Anne joins them on page 19, but the boys (who have been in France) don’t show up until page 69!
More characters = more excitement
Timmy has a mishap with some barbed wire just before the book starts so George’s time as the main character is mostly about her fussing over him and being furious that people are laughing at his carboard collar. She decides to run away – not far, though, just to Kirrin Common.
Anne arrives the next day and heads to the common too, and they have a dull (by George’s standards) time at first. The only interest is a completely mad boy who is friendly one minute and then cross the next, appearing and reappearing in different places and denying all knowledge of past conversations. More about him, later.
Things are suddenly not dull when they seek shelter from the rain in an old cottage one night, and the first of the strange happenings, well, happen. More about that, also later.
Then the boys show up and things escalate – stone slabs lifted for no obvious reason, wailing noises in the night, strange lights. It sounds like the plot of a Scooby Doo episode, so it’s clear someone’s trying to scare them off. Then there’s the watcher on the hills with the field glasses, the faux country woman, the gang searching the cottage in the dead of night… and the boy who is hysterically claiming that Guy is gone… so it takes the full might of the Five together to sort it all out.
The conundrum of the mad boy
George and Anne meet the boy at the cottage, and find him to be a bit of an annoying joker. He makes a load of (apparently convincing) animal noises and ties a ribbon to Timmy’s tail. But he also tells them not to visit the Roman camp he’s camping in, as he doesn’t like being bothered.
Later that day the boy* appears at the girls’ camp, and when they call him out for bothering them when they’re banned from his camp he denies all knowledge.
The next day go to the dig site and the boy is annoyed that they’ve broken their promise about leaving him alone.
On their way back to camp they stumble across the boy* reading under a tree and he denies having seen them at the dig camp.
The next time they see the boy he acknowledges their agreement not to bother each other, but when they see the boy* at the pool just a few minutes later he says they’re barmy as usual.
After the storm the boy (and his dog) visit the cottage to check they’re OK, but soon after the boy* comes to their camp and denies already having seen them that morning.
Once the Five are together they find the boy* reading, and he denies having been with the dog in the morning. Then at the Roman dig, a few minutes later, they find the boy again. There are also two shelves of small finds, one of which the boy insists they don’t touch. He does, however, introduce himself as Guy Lawdler.
They see the boy* later in the day and he says his name is not Guy, but when they see the boy at the pool after that, he says he is Guy.
They next see the boy* at a distance and he ignores them. Then finally, they find the boy* at his camp and discover the truth.
“Twins! Why on earth didn’t we think of that before?” – Julian
Why indeed, Julian? Did they really have completely identical clothing on? Wasn’t it a clue that they appeared some distance apart within minutes without appearing out of breath? Haven’t you met any identical twins before?
I’m being harsh but it’s pretty silly. It’s all carefully orchestrated, yet implausible. It relies on the fact they’ve fallen out and won’t acknowledge each others’ existence, them looking completely identical in every last way, the girls/the Five never seeing one up close and one in the distance, the fact that unlike in any other book none of them introduce themselves.
(Spoiler – * denotes all the interactions with Harry rather than Guy, as far as I can work out!)
Since when did Enid Blyton write horror stories?
I don’t think there is any scarier moment in an Enid Blyton book. There are plenty of tense moments – the tide coming into the underground passages at Demon’s Rocks, or into the mines in The Island of Adventure, Tiger Dan waving his gun around in Five Go Off to Camp, or other similar scenes, but this one is by far the scariest.
It’s not far off the sort of scenes you might see in a horror movie – though of course the people would turn out to be monsters or axe murders, not petty criminals intent on finding some blueprints.
I can just picture the lightening flashing and the two or three figures in the distance showing up clearly. Then, another flash, and a face is looking in the window. Truly creepy!
And on that scary note, I’m going to end the review for now. Next time I will look at the last six chapters where the more serious adventuring happens, plus there will be all the usual nitpicks, a look at the food they eat and George’s I’m as good as a boy moments etc.