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The Rubadub Mystery

Review by Keith Robinson (July 16, 2006)

It all comes down to The Rubadub Mystery. Enid Blyton only meant to write four books in this series, and while each is a standalone book in its own right, there is a common thread running through the series that culminates in this fourth installment: that of Barney's missing father. The first book introduced Barney and his quest to find the father he had never met; the second and third books hinted that he was continuing the seemingly futile search; and in this, the fourth book of the series, Barney makes it perfectly clear that he wants to find his father once and for all. So when he meets Mr Marvel, who promises to find him, Barney's dreams seem to be coming true at last...

It's the holidays again, and once more the children are off to stay with Miss Pepper while Mr and Mrs Lynton set off to America for a few weeks. They've timed their own holiday just right so they won't have to spend time with their pesky son Roger, and their irritating daughter Diana, and their dreaded nephew Snubby—or at least that's how it seems to this reader, who finds it hard to imagine why parents should want to go off somewhere just when their children arrive home from boarding school. How inconsiderate! But away to America they go, leaving the children once more in the capable hands of Miss Pepper, who is to take them all off to Rubadub, a delightful place she frequented in her younger days.

Rubadub is truly an exciting place for the children, an old-fashioned seaside village with a pier, a promenade, a sandy beach... and a Secret Harbour where new submarines are tried and tested! Not only that, but there's Rubadub Pool, a dangerous whirlpool nestled between rocks that sucks everything down to its watery depths. And there's a blowhole too, where water surges through an underground passage and blows out the other side. It all sounds too exciting for words!

The inn is named Three Men in a Tub (after the Rubadub-dub-dub nursery rhyme) and the hostess is a glumpish woman named Mrs Glump, who has a dog named Mr Tubby. Other guests at the inn, Mrs Glump informs Miss Pepper, include the tetchy Professor James, who thankfully is half deaf, and the twittery Miss Twitt, who is an appallingly gushy woman. Blyton is in her element here, with silly names and personalities to match. Snubby delights in firing back at Miss Twitt with equally twittery comments, much to Miss Pepper's disapproval.

Then there are the performance artists. They work on the pier, at a show called the Rubadub Rollicks. They're an odd collection of guests that include Mr Marvel, a very clever conjurer, plus the Funny Man, whose job description needs no further explanation. And then there's Miss Iris Nightingale, a singer who Snubby finds himself curiously drawn to.

In the background, running errands and doing daily task for the inn, is Dummy, one of Blyton's dim-witted characters. He's much like Boysie from The Mystery of the Pantomime Cat, slow and childlike. However, whereas Boysie was "dropped as a baby" and turned out "funny in the head," Dummy grew up "normal" with a career at a fair. One day he hit his head rather badly, which evidently knocked all the sense out of him, turning him into a simpleton. It turns out, as the story progresses, that Barney once knew Dummy, and after some prompting Dummy too remembers Barney, and in particular his pet monkey.

Like the three preceding books, the children—Roger, Diana and Snubby—start out without Barney; in each, Barney is brought into the story some way through. In The Rilloby Fair Mystery, Barney happened to be working at the fair that set up near their home, but in both The Ring O' Bells Mystery and The Rubadub Mystery Barney is brought into the story in a perfectly realistic, non-coincidental way, in that he writes to his friends to find out where they are and if he can come and visit them, thus making a special trip and arriving well after the other children have settled in. In this latest story, Barney has fallen on hard times again and is looking a little worse for wear, and—quite unlike him—he pours out his woes on the others as soon as they meet up, and explains how lonely he's been feeling lately. The reader is, by this time, pretty certain there's going to be a great deal to do with Barney's father...

And there is. When Barney quits his job on the pier (because they're a rough lot) he finds himself landing a job with Mr Marvel, as the conjurer's assistant. "I will pay your lodgings for you," Mr Marvel tells him. "You will have three pounds a week—to start with. A good assistant is worth more than that to me, if he does what he is told." Mr Marvel goes on to say, "And about your father. I think I can find him for you. In fact, I am certain I can. I shall cause inquiries to be made immediately and let you know where he is..."

It's hard to say more about this without giving away vital plot details, but suffice to say Barney works his socks off for Mr Marvel and has the happiest job he's ever had for a while. Why, the sun virtually shines out of Mr Marvel's backside, and all the children—who had previously thought him to be a bit of a grump—agree he really is a nice chap after all.

Then there's an explosion at the submarine base, and the police turn up, and there's all sorts of funny business going on with flashing lights, people creeping about the inn at night, and so on... What with talk of traitors in their midst, and Dummy doing a runner as soon as the police arrive, and suspicious goings-on at the inn, it's no wonder things go pear-shaped as the children delve deeper into the mystery. Barney takes the brunt of it, as his work for Mr Marvel takes him right up close to the whirlpool... and there's a dramatic scene where Barney and Miranda are trapped by swelling tides.

I have to confess that the ending induced a lump in the throat. Not since The Secret Island have I put the book down and said to my Blyton-indifferent wife, "Gosh, you really should read this." The Rubadub Mystery stands alongside some other personal favorites of mine, such as the aforementioned The Secret Island, The Valley of Adventure, The Mystery of the Hidden House, and—if you're wanting me to list a Famous Five title, Five Go To Smuggler's Top.

As I said at the beginning of this review, Enid Blyton was only supposed to write four books in this series. The Rubadub Mystery should have been the last of the four, and it did feel like a final episode. But fans pleaded with the author to write more, and she gave in, producing two further novels. The Rat-a-Tat Mystery is next, but I fear it has some very big footprints to follow.


Loony tears up the newspaper before Mr Lynton has had a chance to read it!


Roger helps with the packing by sending the trunk down the stairs.


Arriving at the old Three Men in a Tub Inn at last!


Professor James is a bit of a grumpy, moody guest, and best avoided.


Barney and Miranda finally show up on the beach. Hurrah!


Snubby accidentally barges in as Mr Marvel practices his magic trick.


Rubadub Whirlpool is a fascinating place to visit... and very dangerous.


The door to the skylight appears to be stuck... and then the handle comes off!


Creeping about on the roof, Snubby and Roger spot a signalling light from the skylight.


Snubby, frightened of all the goings-on tonight, hides inside the clock.


Who else is in the boat? Someone hidden under the tarpaulin?


Barney and Dummy dry off in front of the fire.

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