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The Mystery of Tally-Ho CottageReview by Keith Robinson (February 10, 2005)
This is a nice solid read. Everything focuses around the Larkins, who live in a small cottage in the grounds of Tally-Ho. Tally-Ho House is a huge, sprawling place, home to the Lorenzos and their little poodle Poppet. Tally-Ho Cottage, on the other hand, is sort of tucked away at the bottom of the garden and is home to the scruffy caretakers, Mr and Mrs Larkin. When a priceless painting is stolen from a famous gallery and the Lorenzos disappear, leaving their little poddle behind with the Larkins, the police are on the lookout—and so are on the Five Find-Outers, with a little help from Ern Goon!
Ern is staying with his aunt, Mrs Woosh, who (luckily) lives in a cottage right next to Tally-Ho! This means Ern is able to spy on the Larkins over the hedge. He builds a little treehouse and, together with his cousins Liz and Glad, keeps watch on the cottage to see if the Lorenzos pop back for any reason. Perhaps they'll return to collect a few things. Or more likely, Mrs Lorenzo will come to collect her darling poodle, whom she adores. So Ern, feeling all important-like, keeps a faithful watch on the goings-on over the hedge.
Poppet is not looking very happy. It's obvious the Larkins don't like her, and when the Find-Outers meet the Larkins they're quite struck by their appearance. Mr Larkin is a shambling, sniffling old man with a shaggy grey beard, and Mrs Larkin wears a frightful wig and dark glasses. Fatty is so taken by Bob Larkin's appearance that he makes a mental note to disguise himself as the old man sometime...and when he does, much later on, it's a hoot!
Fatty amuses himself by first dressing up as an Indian boy with a turban. He pokes about in the grounds and bumps into Mr Larkin, and announces himself as Mr Hoho-Ha of Bong Castle, India. Then he slips away—forgetting that Ern is watching from the treehouse over the hedge! Ern, not realizing that the strange Indian boy is Fatty in disguise, tails him...and Mr Goon in turn tails Ern. (Ooh, that's portry, that is: "Mr Goon in turn tails Ern...") When Fatty disappears into the Trottevilles, naturally Mr Goon makes a fool of himself as usual by banging on the door and demanding to speak to the "stranger"...
Ern stays up late one night watching over the Larkins, and then realizes he's locked out of the house! So he sleeps in the treehouse, and during the night hears a few strange noises...the sound of swans splashing down by the river, a deep rumbling motor, voices...All this is important stuff and the Find-Outers really start putting things together when they visit the little boathouse on the river. The Lorenzos had visited in the night! Had they come to collect Poppet? Had they brought the painting and hidden it somewhere?
All this prompts Fatty to put on his Bob Larkin disguise and go snooping around Tally-Ho grounds. Primarily it's for fun; he first raps on Mr Goon's window and shuffles away. Goon, of course, follows him. Then Fatty leads Goon on a wild goosechase around Peterswood. He ends up Tally-Ho, and disappears into a bush—and Goon bangs on Tally-Ho Cottage's door and demands to know what Mr Larkin was up to, running about everywhere! But then Fatty bumps into Mr Larkin himself and they get into a scrap. Mr Goon happens across them—TWO Mr Larkins!—and he believes he's going quite mad!
Lots of fun—but before and during all this Fatty and his friends make a few startling discoveries, all of which lead to one of those great moments where Fatty nearly wobbles off his bike and stares at Bets in amazement. Bets has once again said something perfectly innocent and inadvertantly "solved the mystery." It always amazes me how she can say something so obvious and yet no one but Fatty makes the connection. We can forgive Bets, but honestly, Larry, Pip and Daisy are complete dunces.
I don't know whether I guessed or remembered the ending, but it was no great surprise to me. I am, however, a thirty-something-year-old reading a book I'd first read two and half decades ago. I'm pretty sure that on first reading at a young age the resolution of this mystery would have been very satisfying, one of the better ones. It's a real mystery mystery (like Burnt Cottage, Disappearing Cat, and Invisible Thief), rather than an adventure mystery (like Secret Room and Hidden House); it had that special "all is revealed" moment where everyone slaps their head and says, "So that's it!"
A final word about Superintendent Jenks. In this mystery he actually encourages Fatty to get involved. "What a fahead that fellow Goon is, isn't he?" he says. "Still, I'm glad I came over here. I'd like you to take a hand now, in this mystery, Frederick." He goes on to say, "I'm not telling Goon this because he's such a blunderer," and then, "Go your own way. Do what you like." Well! Fancy the Superintendent encouraging a young teenager to get involved with criminals! And if Goon is such a blunderer, why exactly does he still have a job?
Maybe this explains why Jenks seems to have been demoted once more to Chief Inspector in the next book, The Mystery of the Missing Man. Honest, guv! I flicked through a while ago and was quite startled. Maybe I'm mistaken; maybe it was a flashback sequence! Incidentally, I found a little guide to police officer ranking, and it's Constable, Sergeant, Inspector, Chief Inspector, Superintendent, Chief Superintendent, Commander, and so on up to Commissioner. I'd love to read an early Mystery where Jenks is just a constable on the beat. Wouldn't that be great? Wouldn't he be a nice policeman?
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