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The Mystery of the Hidden HouseReview by Keith Robinson (January 18, 2005)
The sixth mystery is, I think, the best so far—maybe even the best in the whole series although I should reserve judgement until I've re-read them all; it's been over twenty-five years since I owned these books, and I can't remember many of them. But compared with the previous five mysteries, this book is like the feature film version of a popular TV series: the 2-hour special, presented in wide screen. It dares to go a little further than normal, providing a new major character called Ern (Mr Goon's gormless nephew) and a fake mystery dreamt up by the Find-Outers—not to mention the real mystery in the background, which in itself is a huge racket involving a giant-size gang of baddies and a massive James Bond-style underground garage where stolen cars are repainted and sent back out for sale. Everything in this book seems bigger than normal, including Mr Goon's foul-ups.
Ironically, all the Find-Outers except Fatty have been forbidden to get involved in any mysteries!
It's because the Find-Outers are so bored that they decide to send the gullible Ern off on a wild goose chase, with talk of "robbers" and "kidnappers" and "clues" and "lights flashing on Christmas Hill" and other such nonsense. Ern, who thinks Fatty is a marvel, falls for it easily and can't help writing stuff down in his notebook and thinking how important it looks. But of course Mr Goon, his uncle, gets hold of the notebook and falls into the "mystery" himself—much to Ern's disgust and, secretly, the Find-Outers' delight. All this leads to a lot of fun and games for Fatty and his friends...but somewhere along the way Ern discovers a real mystery and the Find-Outers, keen to keep Ern and Mr Goon out of it, keep up the pretense of the fake mystery while quietly investigating the real one.
Mr Goon's mood swings and Ern's colorful character really spice up this book. I wonder if Enid Blyton was ever fearful about inventing a new major character and spending so much of the book following his and Mr Goon's footsteps. It could have backfired and been "the book with that horrible boy in it" (remember Jar Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace?). But it worked a treat, and as far as I know most fans of the series rate this book as one of the best. Ern is an excellent creation with his love of "portry" and the way he strings words together and retorts things like, "Goanborlyered...and fry your face too!" It's probably by popular demand that he returns in future books.
We really get inside Mr Goon's fat head in this book. In some ways you have to sympathize with him, and can understand why he loses his temper with Ern; the boy really can be rude and thoughtless sometimes, although usually in an innocent, helpless kind of way. On the other hand, Mr Goon can also be nasty and unbelievably stupid. Once again he completely fails to spot faked clues—and in this story there are no less than ten of them! And once again, annoyed at being made fun of, he inadvertantly hands over the real clues to Fatty just when the plot thickens.
There's an entire scene missing from my 2003 Egmont edition. When Mr Goon reads the pome about himself, that Ern supposedly wrote, Goon canes him across the hand: Swish! "That's for the pome," said Mr Goon, "and so is that! And that's for not telling me about the robbery and so is that!" Ern howled dismally and held his hand under his armpit. But the whole caning thing is missing from the 2003 edition. Thanks to Paul from Australia for pointing this out—I'd forgotten about it, but remember it now from my original 70s edition that I read when I was young.
Having looked again at the 2003 edition, it's more obvious that it's been messed with; Goon is clearly leading up to something along the lines of punishing Ern, but after saying "You're a bad boy. And bad boys get punished..." he continues with "And don't think you're going loot-hunting tonight, because you're not!" and Goon promptly leaves the room and locks the door. I think the deleted scene is right there—but as Paul said, there must be plenty of other changes after this relating to Ern's sore hand. It makes me mad to think I'm not getting the real-deal with these 2003 editions. Serves me right, I suppose. :-(
My wife said she'd like to read one of these books sometime. Being American, she'd never heard of Enid Blyton before we met. The Mystery of the Hidden House is probably one I'd suggest she reads first.
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