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The Ship of AdventureReview by Keith Robinson (May 19, 2005)
The sixth adventure for the Trents and Mannerings begins on board the Viking Star, a cruise ship that sets sail from Southampton and heads for the Greek islands. On the way, the children come across an old ship in a bottle which contains a Greek treasure map, and they set out to hunt down the treasure on the remote island of Thamis. For me, the best part of the book is while they're sailing about the islands trying to figure out how to translate the treasure map, while the actual "adventure" part of the book—searching for the treasue and dealing with bad guys—is all a little contrived and unbelievable.
To back-track a little: Mrs Mannering decides that she and the children are to go on a cruise—without Bill, because (she says) he keeps leading them into trouble. I thought it was the other way around! So anyway, off they go to Southampton, staying the night in a hotel so they can set sail at eight thirty the next morning. Kiki is not allowed on board the ship, so Jack quietly "makes arrangements" for his friend Porky to look after her in Southampton while they're gone. Finally the ship sets sail and, as they pull away from the docks, the children suddenly spot someone waving them off with a parrot on his shoulder—a parrot that looks suspiciously like Kiki. The parrot breaks free and flies towards them. But Jack has by this time mysteriously disappeared, and it takes a while for the others to find him. When they do, he's in the boys' cabin—with Kiki on his shoulder! Jack has cleverly plotted with his friend Porky to "accidentally" let Kiki loose so she can join the children on board!
Oddly, Mrs Mannering—who was standing on deck with the children when all this business started—conveniently drops out of the story at this point and makes no comment until the children tell her all about it later. Luckily none of the ship's crew (or, presumably, the captain) has any problem with one of the passengers bringing a pet on board. And later, while visiting one of the islands on the cruise, Philip rescues a monkey and happily takes that on board too—with absolutely no repercussions from Mrs Mannering or the ship's crew, despite the fact that he took it all the way back to Southampton and home for tea. I wonder what happened to Mickey the monkey after that? He wasn't in the last two books of the series.
Anyway, with the whole gang once more reunited the adventure can get underway! The cruise takes them first to Portugal and then on past French Morocco and to the Agean Islands. There are very few children on board other than Jack, Lucy-Ann, Philip and Dinah, but there is one other who latches onto them—a boy called Lucian. He's a little older than the others, but he's such a sissy that it's hardly surprising his friends at school call him Lucy-Ann instead of Lucian (an odd coincidence, that). He's with his aunt and uncle. His aunt is like Mrs Mannering—almost completely irrelevant to the story. But Lucian's uncle is another matter, an interesting character called Mr Eppy who apparently buys and sells islands for a living.
I found an interesting parallel between the Lucian/Mr Eppy relationship and the Ern/Mr Goon relationship of the Mystery series. In both, the boys are gullible and fearing of their hot-tempered uncles. Of course, Mr Goon is not a criminal, and Ern has far more redeeming features than Lucian—but there was one scene in particular where Mr Eppy uses Lucian to worm information out of Jack and the others (in this case, to find out where the map came from). Like Ern, Lucian is gullible enough to believe whatever cock-and-bull story the others come up with, and off he goes to report back to his cunning uncle. And like Mr Goon, Mr Eppy explodes and punishes the boy for being an idiot to believe such nonsense! Considering The Ship of Adventure and Ern's first appearance in The Mystery of the Hidden House are only two years apart, it's not surprising there are similarities. In any case, I loved all the detective work and goings-on where the map was concerned—finding the map inside the bottled ship, cutting it into four pieces so they could have each piece translated separately, Mr Eppy showing a little too much interest, and Lucian being the cowardly, snivelling dullard that he is...It was all very enjoyabale and put me in mind of a Five Find-Outer mystery set aboard a cruise ship!
Then things start happening in a way that's a little too convenient to be believable. Knowing the map points to an island called Thamis, how can the children possibly go exploring when they're stuck on a cruise ship? It's not like they can hire a boat and take off by themselves—and Mrs Mannering is NEVER going to let them out of her sight. Everything seems hopeless. But then, by sheer luck, Mrs Mannerings's "aunt" is taken ill back in England, and she needs to leave the children on board the ship and catch a plane back home. Bill, she says, will fly out very soon and take over. I was a little confused by the message Mrs Mannering received, which stated simply that "her aunt was ill"—with no mention of names, and yet Mrs Mannering instantly seems to know the message is referring to Aunt Polly. And that's another thing—is Aunt Polly Mrs Mannering's aunt too? I always assumed Aunt Polly must be her sister, although it was never made clear in earlier books. Anyway, with Mrs Mannering finally out of the way (I swear I heard Enid Blyton sigh with relief at this point) and Bill once more on the scene, a boat is hired and a jaunt to the island of Thamis is arranged. "Luckily" the cruise ship is stuck in port because of engine trouble. Phew!
The island is dead apart from a few farmers who live elsewhere on the island, and this comes across well. Nothing is left but ruins of an old town, but with the map the children and Bill quickly find the entrance to underground tunnels—which are securely blocked by a relatively new brick wall. Exactly why this wall is here is not explained—and since someone has obviously been down in the tunnels to build the wall, how come the treasure was never discovered?
Anyway, luckily Mickey the monkey gets into a fight with Kiki and he accidentally falls into another secret entrance, this one inside one of the crumbling stone columns. How lucky! This kind of thing annoys me a little; I'd prefer the gang to work things out for themselves instead of relying on luck. But in they go, and they find the treasure...and run afoul of baddies hot on their trail! At this point they realize their boat has been sent away, and they're trapped on the island.
All in all, I loved the cruise itself, and Lucy-Ann buying the ship in a bottle, and the discovery of the map, and the detective work while trying to translate it, and the bother with Mr Eppy. I didn't care for the convenient way Mrs Mannering was removed from the book and Bill planted in the story. I also didn't much like some of the reasoning and logic behind the treasure itself. And considering that a local boy kept arriving on a donkey to deliver food to the bad guys (which Bill and the children took instead), I'm surprised they were all so worried about being "trapped on the island" when they could have sought out the local farmers for help. Surely they'd have boats or a phone or something?
Still, I enjoyed this adventure. I rank it number four, after Valley, Island and Castle. Mountain and Sea follow behind. As an aside, since Philip astonishingly took Mickey the monkey all the way home to England (again with no apparent trouble from authorities or Mrs Mannering), I wonder what creatures he'll end up with after visiting the circus in the next adventure...
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