The Secret of Cliff Castle
Review by Prabhu Viswanathan (May 30, 2006)
The spirit of adventure crawls yet again through the spines of Enid Blyton's heroic children, and this time the tingling nerves belong to Peter, Pam, and their cousin, Brock. Set in the village of Rockhurst, an express train ride away from London-via-Deane, the brother-sister duo—accompanied by a rather "small" lunch of a few ham sandwiches, two pieces of cake, chocolate, and the ever present lemonade—make their summer way to their cousin's country farm, presumably to spend glorious weeks in the company of animals and woods.
However, Peter's got a funny feeling about this holiday. "It's going to be exciting all the way through!" he says. Little does he know...!
After a sumptuous tea, the children soon settle into their rooms. But outside the window of Pam's abode in the attic, beyond the smiling countryside, the grazing cattle and drowsy cottages, a strange, grim and very silent castle frowns upon her. Learning that the building once belonged to an ancient old man and his equally ancient servants, and now apparently the property of an absentee owner and thus deserted, the children determine to explore the place in search of adventure. Here they find small and secret entrances, unopened rooms and dusty yet magnificent interiors, and when they discover a tiny door set low into the wall, they decide to leave it open so as to revisit the place.
But flickering lights in the night excite the children, who now clearly feel the irresistible pull of danger. They once again explore the still castle only to find signs of visitors other than themselves. They discover a secret passage via yet another hidden entrance through the chimney, but a deep fear of their Aunt's tongue hastens them away towards a late dinner, and they have no time to hide evidence of their visit.
When Brock comes back a few nights later to make amends, he is captured, and what follows is, of course, the familiar rescue of the hero, discovery of stolen treasure, and the catching of dangerous criminals.
It's one of Enid Blyton's shorter stories, and there is no description of farm life at all. The book involves only journeys between the cottage and the castle with a pitstop for lemonade at a local shop. I'm afraid it possibly needed a stronger set of characters like a George or a Fatty or, dare I say, even a Mr Goon to provide a storytelling fulcrum—or, at the very least, a Timothy or a Kiki or a Barney to introduce some claws and jaws into the whole affair.
As it is, the story is rather dry, and when one is brought up on the heart-stopping escapades of the Five, or even the simpler adventures of the Seven, this book fails to induce chills and shivers or even a moderately-racing pulse. I'm afraid I read it between helpings of Five Are Together Again and the Faraway Tree series, and I felt neither the thrill of the former nor the magic of the latter. Read this book because you have a Holy Responsibility to read all Blyton books... but you don't really need to read it again! Save your repeats for Kirrin Island and the rest of the bunch.