Last time we had 90 pages of nothingness before the tiniest sniff of a mystery.
Things finally kick off
After running his mouth off to Mr Wooh Tinker is upset at his telling off from Julian and goes to sleep in the house instead of camping out with the rest of them. This is completely irrelevant to the story, however.
The witness to the first exciting thing to happen is Jenny the housekeeper. It’s unusual (as far as I can recall) to have a POV from anyone but the Five, beyond the odd single line where Mrs Kirrin sighs and thinks how difficult George is, or suchlike.
We get at least a full page with Jenny, though, as she wakes in the night and sees a dark shadow on the wall of Prof Hayling’s tower, and hears whispering and a slithering sound.
She raises the alarm – most loudly and enthusiastically though Tinker doesn’t wake. The Professor does and he is inclined to think she just dreamt it but she persuades him to go out to the courtyard with him to have a look as she is convinced the tower room has been burgled.
Their logic – or at least the explanation of it – is rather baffling. There are three locked doors – one to enter the tower, one to enter the room at the top and another in between and all should be locked. Prof Hayling still has the keys so it seems reasonable to believe that nobody can have gone through the doors. It would also be reasonable to believe that if Jenny saw someone on the wall, then they must have gone in via the window.
But they decide to check the doors and say that if the inner door(s) are locked then the thief can’t have gone in that way. But if the outer door is locked then either a) the thief didn’t go in that way and there’s no need to check any further doors or b) the thief had picked the locks and/or copied the keys and relocked the door(s) behind them.
The illustration above does show some other windows lower down in the tower so it’s possible a thief could have climbed into one of those, then gone up the stairs and through the two inner doors but nobody ever mentions these other windows.
So it’s a shock to them when Prof Hayling discovers that his room has been broken into and some of his papers – along with a little clock – have been taken, while other papers are left on the floor, perhaps missed if the thief dropped them, though the random pages ripped from notebooks aren’t really mentioned.
The FF are not the FFO
Now I love the FF and enjoy their books more than the FFO but the FFO would have made a much better job of solving this mystery.
The Five are adventurers and explorers rather than detectives and it shows. Despite their forays into copying footprints and tire treads they make a poor show of investigating this theft.
“Your father says nobody could have brought a long ladder into that courtyard. Not without us seeing it, anyway, or hearing some kind of noise when it was dragged in. But it might have been a sliding ladder, mightn’t it?”
Jenny begins the idea that a ladder was used, which is not unreasonable. But then everyone gets very hung-up on the idea that nobody could have used a ladder because it would have left marks. A small group of experiences thieves could surely carry a ladder quietly and put cloth around the top/bottom to avoid noise and marks.
Not to mention the idea of using ropes, acrobats, lock picks and so on.
Anyway, she and Tinker look for marks and find none, this beginning a further repetitive back-and-forths about ladders and marks.
See if we can find the marks where the ladder was dragged in… I didn’t hear any dragging noises… The slithery noise might have been made by the ladder when it was dragged along… I don’t believe there was a ladder, either! There would be marks on the paving-stones of the courtyard if there had been a ladder.
Meanwhile Prof Hayling wants to hide his remaining papers and Jenny surmises that he’ll be silly enough to hide them in his room where the thief will just climb his ladder and take them. The ladder that couldn’t possibly have been used.
Tinker lets the Five know about the theft later – they’ve been obliviously in their camp the whole time.
They do come up with a good idea to make some false papers to trick the thief should he come back, and it’s a shame they don’t follow through on them as Mr Wooh spots them inside their tent.
This is rather another case of them being right by accident rather than logic. They already assume Mr Wooh could be dodgy and when he has a funny look on his face after seeing the fake pages that cements the idea. In reality, he could well have been innocent and been thinking that the Five were the thieves!
Their other idea is far less clever. Tinker suggests they hide the papers on Kirrin Island, something that can only be done at night lest someone see them rowing over and realise what they’re up to.
I could sort of see George making that suggestion as she’s (understandably) obsessed with her island. But the rest of them? Surely there are dozens of better places to hide some papers. Assuming nobody knows that Tinker has them up his jumper he can wander into the house and secretly deposit them somewhere that his father isn’t going to accidentally discover them. They could be taken in the bottom of a shopping basket to the police station. The Five could keep them in their tents.
What’s worse is they fear they’ve been overheard and yet they stick with the plan!
But before that they go ladder hunting in the camp – ladders are mentioned more than thirty times in the story despite everyone being fairly convinced that it would have been impossible for a ladder to have been used in the first place.
George finds out who is responsible for the thefts by finding him on her island, while Tinkers finds out who did the thieving by complete accident.
I might be reading too much into it all but the fact that George goes off to her island alone does sort of nicely bookmark the series – she’s a loner in the first book and she and Timmy go off to her island all the time.
Julian is not impressed, however, and rather rages about it all. All I could think was that THEY’RE ALL CHILDREN and he’s being a bit arrogant to think that he was guaranteed to do a better job and be safer than George. Interestingly she goes such a good job that he pretty much forgives her for disobeying him.
Arriving at Kirrin George sees a light on the island and hides the papers in a fisherman’s boat. Yet she still goes across just to turf the trespassers off. That’s wild even by George’s standards – remember it’s the middle of the night and she knows it’s a thief or thieves who think she’s got the papers they want.
On the island she sees Mr Wooh and another man, who conveniently have a nice bit of expositionary conversation explaining everything but who did the actual thieving. I don’t really understand George’s actions as she them tells them to leave, knowing they can’t as she’s let their boat float away. She and Timmy push them into the water – so perhaps she had that plan in mind the whole time?
I have my long list of nitpicks and other points ready for next time, but sorry, Pete, there are no Maxey illustrations in the Cave for me to use!
It’s almost fifty years since I read it so my memory is somewhat sketchy but I seem to remember that they gave up on the ladder idea and suspected it might be one of the circus acrobats who scaled the wall following Jenny’s description of a shadow, Having read Riloby Fair mystery prior to this I was able to deduct that the chimpanzee was the thief. I must say the illustration showing Jenny looking through the window at the moonlit tower was definitely a case where a picture told a thousand words.
Eventually the ladder idea was abandoned, and they made the briefest suggestion that an acrobat (or a clown) could have climbed up but it’s dismissed almost instantly despite Jo making a similar climb at Red Tower’s place.
I liked the “who conveniently have a nice bit of expositionary conversation explaining everything “. Yes, that happens in movies too, so we the viewer are let in on what the bad guys are planning. Guess it’s unavoidable.
You do find exposition of some sort in a ton of places and I always like to shout ‘exposition!’ when I notice it (as long as I’m not at the cinema of course!) I just find that Blyton isn’t usually so heavy-handed. Her characters usually overheard a little bit and work out what happened themselves instead of the baddies just so happening to talk through exactly what happened.