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The Mystery of the Secret RoomReview by Keith Robinson (January 6, 2005)
The third in the mystery series is where Fatty really begins to take detective work seriously. The focus of the first six chapters is Fatty spending all his pocket money on disguises: a couple of wigs, several pairs of stick-on eyebrows, false teeth, some makeup, and a cap. Naturally Fatty tries out a disguise on the other Find-Outers, and completely fools them with his "frightful French boy" act. In addition to the disguises, Fatty astounds his friends with a few simple detective tricks, such as how to get out of a locked room, and how to write letters with invisible ink. Naturally all this comes into play later...but before that, Fatty suggests that he really ought to be head of the Find-Outers instead of Larry. Larry rather sportingly accepts this, and Fatty takes charge.
In chapter seven, Pip tries out a disguise and heads off into the cold fog. The false teeth look so "frightful" that he startles a lady, and Mr Goon comes running. "'Ere, what's all this?" he demands, and Pip scarpers. He finally gives Mr Goon the slip by hiding up a tree in the garden of Milton House, which has been deserted for years—but there he discovers a single furnished room on the top floor. Surprised and puzzled, Pip realizes he might have stumbled on the Third Mystery!
I think the children are clutching at straws a little with this. There could be any number of logical explanations. But they set out to solve the mystery of the secret room anyway. Does the owner of the house know a room is being used? Why furnish one single room at the top of the house? It all seems a little shifty, and the Find-Outers go to see Miss Crump, the last known owner of the house. She reveals that, in fact, just after she bought the house a man came along and bought it off her for much more than she paid—a man named John Henry Smith. And yet, the house remains empty except for that one room...
Without giving away what happens, Fatty ends up in a pickle and has to write a letter in invisible ink as well as escape from a locked room. The rest of the book turns into more of an exciting adventure romp than a curious mystery; although the mystery of the secret room is revealed, it's not the same kind of revelation as in Burnt Cottage and Disappearing Cat. But it's certainly exciting, and quite a bit darker than the previous books, with actual danger and truly nasty people who are quite willing to cause bodily harm if they don't get their way:
Quite suddenly, without any warning, the thin-lipped man put his hands around Fatty's neck. Fatty gasped. The hands clenched him tightly, and almost choked him...
For once parents do get in the way of the story, but it seems contrived. Pips and Bets suddenly have chores to do one morning, which delays the resolution of the story for no particular reason other than to let night fall and make things a little more logical and convenient for Enid Blyton. It's very transparent, but never mind—the story is still a lot of fun.
A final thought: Inspector Jenks once again praises the children for their astounding work and, in my opinion, irresponsibly urges them to stick their noses into more danger when it comes along. Hmm.
The Mystery of the Secret RoomReview by Heather from Australia (January 14, 2005)
I first read this book in 2003, so my memories only stem from recently. Even as an adult I was amazed at the dark, scary parts of the book in comparison to the others—the only other one that comes close as far as danger and unknown elements is The Mystery of the Hidden House. Fatty's capture and subsequent escape are quite frightening, and the evil men involved differ dramatically from the bad guys in the previous books.
I love the tricks that Fatty introduced at the beginning of the book (then subsequently used to escape)—I had used both techniques myself as a child while imagining myself as a detective, before reading this book. The orange juice trick (I used lemon) didn't work so well with me though—I didn't have any appropriate writing implements so I used a stick, which made writing intelligibly very difficult. The key trick only worked on one door in my house because the others all had new locks that couldn't be tampered with so easily!
I'm glad Blyton made the decision to have Fatty become head of the Find-Outers. It makes much more sense, especially since Fatty is the chief character in every one of the books. I did find it strange how easily Larry gave up the position though; I would have expected a character with such pride to put up a fight.
Pip finally gets to play a more important role in this story, being the one who actually discovers the secret room and also cleverly obtaining the name of the true house owner during the interview with Miss Crump. He does however lose his credibility again when he (along with Larry and Daisy) falls for the bad guys' trick in Fatty's letter. Again it is Bets who saves the day; she smells the oranges and realises that the letter is a fake.
Larry, after giving up his authority, begins to fade into the background a little along with Daisy. However, they both have important parts to play in interviews.
I love the French boy that Fatty creates—he is so perfectly annoying while still so polite. He adds some comic relief in an otherwise frightening mystery, and is so wonderfully "Fatty-like" (in that only Fatty could come up with something so ridiculous but believable!). He is an excellent predecessor to some red-headed butcher—and messenger—boys who pop up later in the series, along with some voluble old women, tramps, foreign princes and various other over-the-top characters which Fatty brings to life.
It is definitely Fatty's adventure in the end—he provides the disguises, does the snooping, gets himself captured and finally foils the plot (as always!). He comes into his element and begins to behave more like a real detective rather than a child, interviewing adults masterfully, showing his bravery and almost unwittingly getting the best of Goon yet again.
It's quite lucky that Blyton wrote Fatty's parents as ones who "rarely bother" about him, as the nighttime escapades and constant activity in this book would surely be vetoed by any normal parent! However, that is Blyton's forte, creating children who don't have to worry about their parents except when it is necessary to the plot—especially noting the intrepid Famous Five who travel around the countryside, and also the Wishing Chair children who manage to go on all kinds of adventures while their parents never seem to notice their absence.
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