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The Mystery of the Pantomime CatReview by Keith Robinson (January 22, 2005)
I have fond and fairly clear memories of this book. Along with a few others, this is one I remember well—which sort of spoiled my enjoyment of it a little. I knew before I started that it wasn't Boysie who committed the crime; he's a little slow and isn't capable of such nasty business. It was a frame-up, and I knew exactly how the crime was done even though I couldn't remember the name of the culprit. When I started into the book and was introduced to the characters, the memories came flooding back and I remembered who it was, and how that person's alibi was falsified. Sadly, then, I had no surprise resolution to look forward to here—but it was still an enjoyable read, with a nice serving of possible suspects who each have alibis. Each of the suspects has a motive to commit the crime, but can the Five Find-Outers figure out who has the false alibi? Of course they can!
There's a new policeman on the beat. PC Pippin is an affable young chap, a bit of a rookie who Mr Goon thinks is a complete turnip-head. Goon shows Pippin around before heading off on holiday, with a warning "to watch out for those meddling, interfering kids." The Five Find-Outers like the look of the new policeman, but decide he's a little green and needs to be led up the garden path a little. So they set out to trick him and lay false clues—and the trail leads PC Pippin right to the scene of an actual robbery at the theatre. The manager is sprawled across his desk, having been drugged with a sleeping draught in his cup of tea, and behind him the safe stands wide open and empty.
Pippin immediately starts investigating the case, using the false clues as a starting point, but then Goon comes home in a fury having heard about "a mystery in Peterswood" that he wasn't informed about! That's it for Pippin. Goon yells at him and assigns him to desk duty, telling him he's useless and to stay out of it. The purple-faced policeman then takes the false clues from Pippin and sets off on the trail of the thief.
Mr Goon is downright horrible in this book. In The Mystery of the Hidden House he was constantly mean to Ern, but at least he had moments of genuine concern and tried hard to be nice. In this book he's rude throughout, attacks Buster with a poker, and forces a confession from poor Boysie! This is Goon at his worst—but he also falls hardest in this one, after a wrongful arrest and just generally being mean.
PC Pippin, on the other hand, is a nice policeman, the sort of village bobby old grannies would be delighted to bump into on the streets. I feel he was a little wasted though. After the initial wild goose chase and accidental discovery of the burglary, his involvement dwindles and he basically becomes Fatty's source of inside information. I would have liked to see him be a little more forceful and take control of the situation, working with the Find-Outers rather than for them, but it was not to be. He shines at the end, but only because Fatty presents the solved mystery to him on a silver plate, which Pippin then relays to Inspector Jenks—much to Goon's disgust.
It's actually Bets who solves the mystery, with an off-the-cuff "joke" that puts Fatty on the right track. For me, Bets' comment seems like a blindingly obvious observation, something that anyone would have thought of (not to mention two policemen!)...but maybe it just seems obvious because I knew the ending.
As a footnote, there's a comment by Fatty that makes me wince. When talking about Boysie, who is "odd in the head," a child in a twenty-four year old's body, Fatty says matter-of-factly, "I suppose he got dropped when he was baby. Babies like that don't develop properly, do they?" Ouch!
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