Five Have a Mystery to Solve part 3

In part one I talked about Wilfrid and in part two I talked about how foolish the Five were. Now for part three which will include the nitpicks.

George as a boy

There are various things to unpick here.

Mrs Layman mistakes George for a boy, which of course pleases her.

At the cottage Anne is in charge of making the meals but has a little help from George sometimes. Dick helps Anne on one occasion as George is holding Timmy’s collar, and he cuts too many tomatoes as he’s distracted by complaining about Wilfrid. (I’d say there’s not really such a thing as too much of any food when the Five are around, and they do all get eaten).

He declares himself official tin-opener as Anne says she always nearly cuts herself, and then gives this very of-the-time speech:

Dear old Anne, whatever should we do without you! You take everything on your shoulders, and we just let you! George ought to help more. She’s a girl like you – but she never gets the meals or anything. I’ll tick her off one of these days.

Anne replies that she

Like[s] doing things on my own. George would only break things or upset them. She’s as ham-handed as a boy when it comes to washing up or setting out crockery, though she means well.

Dick pretends to be offended about boys being ham-handed.

 When have I ever broken anything I’d like to know. I’m as careful as any girl, when I handle crockery.

Unfortunately for him he drops a glass at that very moment and breaks it. There is also, of course, the small matter of the broken egg in Five Go Off In a Caravan.

The above is pretty standard attitudes of the times but it grates reading it now as I like the Five yet they’re so stuck in their gender roles. It’s particularly annoying that Dick acknowledges that it’s not very fair that Anne gets lumped with the household tasks, but his solution is forcing George to do them too as ‘she’s a girl’, rather than volunteering to do more than open tins and smash glasses himself. I know Anne likes doing household things, and yes, it’s probably easier if the others are useless but they don’t need to be useless. With a little bit of effort and practice they’d be just fine.

Dick continues to channel a Julian-like approach to boys v girls later, which is unusual for him. Perhaps he would have said this sort of thing many times before and just hasn’t had a chance as Julian always gets in first.

Couldn’t Wilfrid take the two girls back to the mainland, and then come back with the boat? I really don’t think we ought to let them run any risk.

George is not having any of it, as usual:

We’re staying here – though Anne can go back if she wants. But Timmy and I are staying here with you boys, so that’s that.

Wilfrid foolishly thinks that the girls are the cowardly type:

I hope the girls won’t be scared when they hear the awful wailing noise. It’s only the wind.

Thankfully George is suitably scornful in her reply.

Random points

  • This story is set at Easter. Their last adventure was in April, so this must be a full year (or near enough) later. They have just broken up from school for the holidays at the start so they can’t have just been to Demon’s Rocks.
  • Instead of one scene filling the endpapers there are two smaller illustrations on the endpapers. As far as I know it’s the only Five to do that.
  • Julian’s family have a cat called Tibby (never mentioned before but they’ve spent very little time at that house during the books, and/or the cat could be new).
  • Julian announces he’s going to phone George to invite her over. Although the language is more modern than when his father telephoned to Uncle Quentin in the first book, I thought this was vaguely reminiscent.
  • Anne was top of her form and captain of games
  • I always picture the door on the other side of the cottage. The book clearly says the cottage faces down the hill to the harbour but I imagine the door facing the road, because that makes more sense than having to walk around the cottage to get to the door.
  • Julian admits that he can’t paint very well, though he had ambitions of being an artist back in book 2
  • Wilfrid plays tit for tat, you won’t hold my beetles so I won’t carry water for you. To be honest he’s younger than Anne so I was wondering why he should carry water for her just because she’s a girl.
  • Anne, in addition to having a couple of reasonably justified moments as a tiger is also rather rude to Wilfrid. He is showing off a bit, with beetles, a toad and so on and she says For goodness sake get a nice little baby rabbit. I’d like that. Throwing water over him was a bit far, too, despite how much I dislike him myself.
  • Wilfrid tells an interesting tale of the island though it’s funny he doesn’t know the name of it.
  • Dick says his father plays a good game of golf, but the book also says they’d watched both their parents play. Is mother not good, or did Dick just not think her game was worth mentioning?
  • I found the phrase scanty bathing things a bit funny. Bathing things are usually reasonably brief as to be practical for swimming. By highlighting their scantyness it rather makes them sound more provocative than was intended!
  • The whispering trees remind me of those in the Enchanted Wood
  • Everyone climbing trees to hide is reminiscent of Anne doing the same in Five Get Into Trouble.
  • The well exploration is reminiscent of similar scenes in Five on a Treasure Island, Ring O’ Bells Mystery and The Island of Adventure.

Blyton talks to the characters and the reader quite a few times in this book

  • When Dick is down the well – Quick, Dick, quick – everybody’s waiting for you!
  • As they head up the secret passage from the beach – And there they go, all of them, climbing up in the dark passage into the cliff! What will they find – what will they see? No wonder their hearts beat fast and loudly, no wonder Timmy keeps close to George. An adventure? He must be on guard then – anything might happen in an adventure!
  • Practically in the middle of the last chapter, after Julian has said he will be glad of a little peace as they row away from the island – Well—you’ll soon have it, Julian! That little cottage is waiting for you all, with its glorious view over the Harbour and Whispering Island. You’ll have quite a bit of excitement tomorrow, of course, when the police take you back to the island in their boat, and you show them the old well, the vast treasure-chamber, the secret passage, and all the rest. You’ll be there when all the men are rounded up, you’ll watch them chugging off, prisoners, in the police boat, amazed that the Famous Five should have defeated them. What an adventure! And what a relief when all the excitement is over, and you lie peacefully on the hillside, with the little cottage just behind you.
  • And at the end of the final chapter – We’ll leave them all there in the sunshine, quiet and peaceful, watching the little creatures that Wilfrid can always bring around him. Julian is lying back, looking at the April sky, glad that their adventure ended so well. Dick is looking down at Whispering Island, set in the brilliant blue harbour. Anne is half asleep—quiet little Anne who can turn into a tiger if she has to! And George, of course, is close to Timmy, her arm round his neck, very happy indeed. Good-bye, Five—it was fun sharing in your grand adventure!

The nitpicks – I have so many questions

The events at the start of the book are unclear. It’s said that they ate all the sausages, as Timmy was there – and obviously George as well.

But then they say that today is the first day of the holidays, and George will be disappointed if she’s not with them. Firstly, they are often apart on the first day. Secondly, did George go straight to Julian’s after travelling back from school, only to stay for tea then go back?

Mrs Layman always gives them treats and never forgets their birthdays but Dick can’t remember her name. Also it’s interesting that Mrs Layman is a long-time friend but she lives near to George, and not where Julian etc lived before the final few books.

Julian’s family’s cook is referred to as the cook, Cook and Cookie all on the same page.

The Five have to buy food for eight. If you include Timmy, there’s the Five and then Mrs Layman and Mrs Kirrin/Barnard. If Mr Kirrin is there he is never even mentioned.

I cannot fathom the arrangements at Mrs Layman’s cottage. The one bedroom mentioned has two mattresses in it, and George and Anne are going to sleep on the sofa bed in the living-room. So where does Mrs Layman normally sleep? On a mattress on the floor? On a sofa bed even though there’s a bedroom upstairs?

I also wonder where Mrs Layman is. She says she needs to go off to her cousin, but then she turns up again to check on them, so she can’t have been far away. If the cousin’s is too far for her to keep an eye on Wilfrid then surely it’s too far for her to pop back to see the Five? It would have made more sense for her to be there to greet them when they arrive, having stayed over night. But then they wouldn’t have met Wilfrid by themselves.

Apparently their daily woman who does shopping for them had come that morning, so why was there only old milk and stale bread in the kitchen? But then a whole cake suddenly materialises from the larder – even though Anne looked in there earlier.

On the island the questions continue. Dick says the bolt is too stiff to move, yet it falls right off in his hand after that. The bolt doesn’t make a lot of sense anyway. I can understand a door in the well, so that people in the underground rooms could get water – though it is far too high to use without climbing on the furniture. But why is the bolt on the outside, in the well. How many people went down the well to open the door from the outside?

Blyton mentions them being in the room that the boys had seen through the opening, but George and Anne both went down to look too.

When a man comes into the room Julian pushes the girls behind a chest, while Dick, Wilfrid and Timmy are behind the bed. Dick has a hold of Timmy. When the man discovers George’s foot sticking out the boys shoot out of their hiding places and suddenly George is holding back Timmy.

As they escape up the well Dick shouts to Julian that he and George are staying, as Timmy can’t climb a rope (yet again they all forget about that until the last minute, despite having come up against that problem before). On the next page Dick says he must tell Julian as he’s expecting George and Timmy at the top… surely Julian couldn’t expect Timmy up the rope in the first place and Dick’s already told him George isn’t coming up.

Did you notice any of these anomalies or can you explain them away?

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4 Responses to Five Have a Mystery to Solve part 3

  1. James Hogan says:

    It is almost fifty years since I read this book and while I can’t remember if I noticed any discrepancies at the time I did hear later that Blyton was beginning to show signs of dementia when writing this and several later books.


    • Fiona says:

      Yes, her writing definitely declined in the 1960s before she finally retired. The prime examples being this, Five Are Together Again, The Mystery of Banshee Towers and The Hidey-Hole. While it’s hard to pinpoint the exact timescale her official biography and other sources say that she was showing signs of dementia in the early 1960s, leading to her being moved to a nursing home a few months before her death.


  2. Dale Vincero, Brisbane Australia says:

    Not one of my favourite FF books. I think I have only ever read it about twice in my whole life. However here are some notes I made about ‘Mystery To Solve’ last time I read it.

    The Five go to a cottage on the hill above where they currently live and suddenly see Whispering Island lying in a harbour, which they themselves (it would appear) have no knowledge of!! Yet this is the area where they have always lived! Not very observant.

    They all take torches with them when setting off for an afternoon row in a boat. Which is rather fortunate as they need them on the island. In the last chapter, Anne displays some uncharacteristic aggression, running with Timmy down to the cove yelling to some men, “How dare you come & take our boat. Bite them Timmy!”

    This book is a bit unique. It’s April. They go to the cottage, have lunch there and sleep for a while. Then the whole adventure lasts from 4pm when they hire the boat to about 11pm the same night. A very short time span for a FF adventure. By then they are back & sleeping their first night in, quoting Julian from Chapter 19, “that dear little cottage”. Strange and quaint talk for a lad who is now in his late teens.

    Typical of their other adventures they arise from bed, have breakfast, walk down to the village and next thing it is way past lunch time! This is a characteristic of FF books. EB makes time pass by quickly. So they have lunch & next we are told the sun is setting!! This book is sprinkled with exclamations of “Gracious!”.

    I’m sort of glad I have seldom read this book. This means when I do read it, the story is vague and seems new somehow.

    Not a wonderful yarn by any means. But thanks Fiona for your review.


    • Fiona says:

      Yes it’s odd they haven’t heard of or visited that area seeing as they live within cycling distance, at least as far back as the previous book. It feels as if they should have travelled past Whispering Island to get to Demon’s Rocks but of course they could have gone the opposite way along the coast.


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