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The Mystery of the Burnt CottageReview by Keith Robinson (January 1, 2005)
This book kicks off the series and introduces the main characters along with a bunch of others. My mental image of Mr Goon, the local policeman, is pretty well fleshed out from having read the entire series when I was young, but he only has a bit part in the first book and hasn't been fully realized. The story starts with Larry and Daisy Daykin spotting a flare up out the window at about half past nine one evening. They get dressed and sneak out of the house with Larry explaining (a little vaguely) that "Mummy and Daddy are busy, so they won't know anything about the fire." Vagueness about unnecessary details is Enid Blyton's style throughout this series. Parents never get in the way of the plot.
So they head outside and meet Pip and Bets Hilton, who have also snuck out. Together they race down the lane to find Mr Hick's cottage burning. There, in the garden along with other onlookers, they meet Frederick Algernon Trotteville, a plump boy with a small black Scottish Terrier named Buster. Later the others pick up the initials of Frederick's name, F.A.T., and henceforth call him Fatty. Introduced in the first chapter is Mr Goon, the local policeman, who is not described much but whose first words are, "Clear orf, you!"
We're introduced to a number of characters throughout the story as the children set about solving the mystery of the burnt cottage; who started the fire, and why? Mr Hick's staff includes Mrs Minns the cook, Lily the young maid, Horace Peeks the man-servant, and Thomas the chauffeur. (How the other half live, eh?) Then there's Mr Hick's colleague Mr Smellie, a doddery old man interested only in old parchments. His housekeeper is Miss Miggle. There's also a tramp and, towards the end, we meet Inspector Jenks, a much nicer man than that horrid stick-in-the-mud Mr Goon! All the characters are pretty colorful and their dialogue nicely conveys their personalities.
From memory I knew who the culprit was before starting into this book, but it was still fun to read. Several aspects of the story are questionable, such as the piece of torn fabric Fatty found in a bush. Realistically the Find-Outers should have figured that bit out straight away. And you have to wonder how dumb Mr Goon and all the other adults really are for not figuring things out before the children.
There's an important scene where some planes fly over, and for twenty-five years I've remembered those planes as Tempests (first flown right about when the book was written in 1943). But this book just says "jets"...so am I remembering wrong, or did the publisher change it for some reason? Jets in 1943, when this book was written? I think not. I think my memory is correct. Does anyone have an older copy of this book to confirm this?
"Your memory certainly is correct," says Heather from Australia. "In my 1953 edition (published by the original publishers Methuen) the planes are definitely Tempests. I (being a girl and not interested in aeroplanes in the slightest) never had any idea what Tempests were, I just assumed they were something special in the old days."
The Mystery of the Burnt CottageReview by Heather from Australia (January 6, 2005)
Being the first adventure where the children meet Fatty, this book is one of my favourites. This is despite the character of Fatty not yet being very well developed, and the rest of the Find-Outers don't hold him with much esteem at this point (except of course Bets who hero-worshipped him from the beginning). This is the only adventure where Larry and Pip hold more of a leadership role before they are eclipsed by Fatty's obvious abilities and his self-proclaimed "brains" in the later books. As in all the books, it is of course Fatty who notices the clue at the end and wraps up the mystery nicely. Larry does assert his authority occasionally and "squash" Fatty a little, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Bets is one of my favourites, always speaking her mind and providing some entertaining remarks about her "glues". She tries so hard to be like the "big ones", and always puts in her full effort. In most of the books she manages to spot an important detail, and in this one she finds the tramp ("the most important glue of all") and also puts them on the trail of the mysterious footprints. Pip makes most of his comments and appearances as a rather dominant older brother in this book—he plays very few integral parts in the mystery, except for spotting a rather useless "clue". Daisy also takes a back seat, mostly there as scenery. She is an integral part of some interviews, and befriends Mrs Minns' kittens which leads to helping cut down their list of suspects.
I also like the way Inspector (later Chief-Inspector and Superintendent) Jenks is discovered doing a leisure activity rather than in a role as a lawman. Mr Goon makes his appearance right at the beginning, but manages to hold on to his stead as a serious policeman early on before being branded a buffoon. This is one of the mysteries where he shines a little more, tracking down the same suspects as the children and following them only a little later. However, he isn't able to spot the final clue and so is unable to solve the mystery.
This is one of those mysteries that is impossible to completely solve before the final clue is revealed, although I had an inkling of whodunnit in my first reading because a person's basic character in all of Enid Blyton's mysteries always has a bearing on what part they play. A character with bad morals or behaviour is almost always the culprit, or one of the bad guys. The best thing of all about this book is it begins a wonderful mystery series with lovable characters that I will probably never get tired of reading about.
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