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The Rilloby Fair MysteryReview by Nakul Datar (April 3, 2005)
It's the first day of the holidays, and Blyton starts us off with the description of Roger and Diana's scrumptious breakfast. The Lynton family is in a frenzy of activity to arrange the house for the arrival of two guests—Snubby and Great-Uncle Robert—on the same day. The combination of the idiotic Snubby, lunatic Loony, spiteful Sardine and pompous Uncle Robert seems like a recipe for disaster, but disaster strikes even before they are under the same roof.
Snubby is travelling in the same railway carriage as Great-Uncle Robert, but they have never met, and they don't know they are heading for the same destination. Here is where we get a whiff of the mystery—Great-Uncle Robert sees Snubby reading about spies, and he tells him about his tribulations. We learn that Great-Uncle, who is an antiquarian (someone who studies, collects, or deals in antiquities, and not someone vehemently opposed to aquariums) was living in the Chelie Manor when valuable papers disappeared mysteriously. All doors were locked, all windows were barred, and they stayed that way, but the thief got away with the goods. Snubby thinks that the old man is feeding him a cock-and-bull story, and decides that two can play that game. However, being Snubby, he goes overboard and invents a green-glove-wearing Green Hands Gang who have the secret of the atomic bomb! If this wasn't enough, he says he is being pursued by them and is going to his cousins' place to be safe.
When Snubby and Uncle Robert come face to face in the Lyntons' home, hilarity ensues as Snubby does his best to avoid Great-Uncle. Just as we think the book is going to get bogged down on the Snubby-Great-Uncle interactions, Diana discovers that a fair has been in the same towns where the robbery has occurred, at the same time. Based on Diana's suspicion, Snubby tries to scare Uncle Robert, and warns him of a robbery at Ricklesham, where the fair is going next. Of course, the thought of a fair causes them to wonder if their friend Barney is in it.
The children go off to the fair to see if Barney is there, but Miranda finds them first. Barney is very happy to see them and he shows them around the fair, introducing them to all the performers and circus folk. They are introduced to mischievous Young 'Un, his marksman father Billy Tell, and his witch-like grandmother known as Old Ma. There's also Vosta and his two amazing chimpanzees, Hurly and Burly. And Tonnerre, the thunderous owner of the fair, with his nasty temper and loud voice. The children enjoy a day at the fair and invite Barney over to theirs'—but while this is going on they miss a robbery, this time right there in Ricklesham where the fair is!
Until this point, the story seems tame and doesn't seem to be going anywhere. But exciting news awaits the children the next day as a clue is finally found, and it is—hold your breath—a green glove! Great-Uncle Robert is now convinced that it is really the Green Hands Gang at work, and Snubby is in over his head. However, having Great-Uncle there can have its advantages and the children soon find this out as he gets them passes to the next prospective target in Rilloby. The fair also moves to Rilloby, and the children are hot on the trail of clues. Here, Blyton gives us clues, but not with any reasoning around them, so we are as clueless about the clues as the children are. The random bits of information scattered round (like Hurly and Burly looking as if they have been scolded, Hurly stealing candy, and Vosta's dealings with Tonnerre) make the mystery seem even more authentic as we try to piece the puzzle together ourselves...
The book starts off similar to the The Mystery of the Hidden House or The Mystery That Never Was, where invented mysteries come true. But Blyton makes an interesting deviation, and we accept the green glove as a mere coincidence (Great-Uncle Robert still does not). In most of her books, even other books in this series, Enid Blyton gradually unravels the mystery for us. In this book, all we get is a collection of clues, which seemed to me a bit Alistair McLean-esque. We figure out the mystery only in the last couple of chapters, and it is not an issue of when the children solve it. I think this engages the reader more. Bottomline, a very, very good follow up to the first book.
The Rilloby Fair MysteryReview by Keith Robinson (June 26, 2006)
I too thought this was an excellent follow up. It had more of a happy, carefree feel to it than The Rockingdown Mystery, possibly because in this second book we're on "familiar ground" at the Lynton's house—familiar to the Lyntons, that is, not the reader, since this is the first time in the series that we meet the parents. The father of the house is a bit of a stern man though. This isn't stated explicitly (as in the case of grumpy Uncle Quentin in the Famous Five books) but, nevertheless, Mr Lynton seems a bit of a sour-puss and doesn't have time for any nonsense—or the kids, for that matter. Mrs Lynton, on the other hand, is just like Mrs Hilton of the Five Find-Outer books, or Mrs Mannering from the Adventure series—quite posh and strict, but forgiving and good-natured.
This is also the first time we meet the Lyntons' cat, named Snoek in the original editions. For a mere cat, Snoek gets quite a role to play! Snoek (pronounced "snuke") is a type of tinned fish similar to tuna, common in the 1940s and 1950s. But the cat's name was changed to Sardine in later editions; it was Snoek in my 1961 copy, and Sardine in my 1970 copy. Here's a trivial fact about snoek in the form of a limerick:
Barracouta (the fish known as snoek)
More than half the book passes by before the fair of the title arrives at Rilloby. In truth the mystery follows the fair wherever it goes, so to say it's the Rilloby fair mystery is a bit misleading—in fact I initially assumed from the title that Rilloby was the name of the fair itself, but not so. Since the children first visit the fair while it's at nearby Ricklesham, it might have been called The Ricklesham Fair Mystery instead!
In any case, once the fair arrives the mystery really does get going, although everything's pretty predictable; we know in our hearts that the children have guessed right about the burglaries taking place wherever the fair goes; we also know that, through Barney's connections with the fair, the children will be able to get a pretty close look at what's going on. And we know that the green glove Snubby invented will show up somewhere, somehow, if only to set Great-Uncle Robert's head spinning. But, as Nakul pointed out in his review, unlike most of Blyton's annoying little coincidences, this one doesn't seem to matter too much.
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT! The method of entry for the burglars is very similar to that used in Five Are Together Again, although that book was written thirteen years after this one. Still, anyone who's read the Famous Five books will know straight away that the chimpanzees are the culprits here. That said, The Rilloby Fair Mystery is a far superior book in every way, and the chimps here are portrayed as real characters, especially Burly with his love of stuffed animals. The whole "chimney" scene at the end is very nicely done, witnessed first from outside by Barney and Snubby as the chimp scales the wall, and then inside by Roger and Diana as the chimp comes down the chimey and into the room.
The characters throughout are very lively. Snubby is fast becoming my favorite in this series—always cheeky, obstinate, and foolish, and getting himself into all sorts of awkward situations so that the others have to keep on at him all the time. Great-Uncle Robert is a nice supporting character too, although much like many other eccentric old men in other series. And all the other characters manage to retain their personalities quite nicely; Roger and Diana as a sensible brother-sister team, and Barney as dependable and friendly as ever. Oh, and Miranda is still very cute!
I think Blyton's humor shows through in this book, and perhaps this series, more than any other I've read in a while. It's as if she's really enjoying herself, completely in her element. On the third page, for instance, we have that immortal line spoken by Diana: "Why is dad so mouldy, Mother?" Meanwhile, Great-Uncle Robert's desire to sit in peace and quiet and write his memoirs is frequently messed up by noisy pets, tiresome children, and even a neighbor who asks him to keep his voice down after he shouts at everyone to be quiet. Even when he does get some peace and quiet, he promptly falls asleep; "Writing Memoirs," Roger quips, is another name for "Nodding over a Pipe."
Finally, throughout the book the author keeps dropping hints about Barney's search for his father. If I was a child back in 1950, when this book was published, I would be writing to Enid Blyton to demand that Barney finds his father in the very next book!
But the author keeps us waiting a bit longer. First it's off to the village of Ring O'Bells...
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