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Secret Seven MysteryReview by Julie Heginbotham (July 6, 2008)
Usually, the grown-ups in the Secret Seven series play a regulatory role, and, at times, even forbid the children from getting involved in mysteries. However, it is Peter's and Janet's father who drops this mystery in their lap and suggests that the Seven tackle it. A girl—Elizabeth Sonning—is missing after she is accused of stealing money from her form mistress. Since her grandmother lives in neighbouring Belling Village, Peter and Janet take on the case and call a meeting right away.
The meeting starts off with fresh baked ginger biscuits as is the norm, and the Seven discuss the information they have gathered from news sources. She loves horses, is tall for her age and strong. They also find out that she was wearing her school uniform and did not take any clothes with her. They draw up a plan of action to explore all the places in Belling where they might hide themselves and set off after a division of labour.
Peter and Jack decide to visit the grandmother, and they start looking for her address in the telephone directory. Surprisingly, it is Peter's mother who comes to their aid when she gives them Mrs. Sonning's address and hands them some jumble to take with them as well. Peter and Jack find out that Mrs. Sonning is unwell, but they meet her companion, Mrs. Wardle, who has some juicy information for them. She tells them that someone has been coming into the house at night and taking rugs and food.
Meanwhile, the other members are looking for leads too. Pam and Barbara are exploring the woods and fields. They come across a locked farm shed and an empty caravan, but both are dead ends. Colin examines a number of barns, sheds, outhouses and a caravan colony, but does not turn up anything. George and Janet go round the stables inquiring if any new stable girls had been employed or come round. They don't find any new stable girls, but a new stable boy—Tom—at Warner Stables informs Janet that he saw a girl matching Elizabeth's description in Gorton. He also says that the girl told him she was heading to France to visit her brother! The Seven discuss the conflicting reports, one from Peter and Jack and the other from George and Janet. Assuming both are true, the Seven think that Elizabeth must have come to her grandmother's place to get enough money for her journey to France.
No Secret Seven story is complete without Susie, and she jumps on the mystery when she finds Jack's newspaper cuttings. The Seven have her on their tail constantly as she tries to find the girl herself. Peter and Jack take more jumble to Mrs. Sonning, where Mrs. Wardle tells them food is still disappearing every night, even when all windows and doors are fastened. Armed with this fresh information, the Seven visit the stable boys at Warner Stables. Peter is telling Tom about the missing food in Mrs. Sonning's house when Jack says that the Seven will keep a watch on the house that night. Tom is surprised by this, but he says that he would come and keep watch too, since he has sharp ears. Peter is not very happy, but reluctantly agrees. Just as the Seven are leaving, they see a schoolgirl in uniform hurrying over a hill with a suitcase!
The Seven think it could be Elizabeth, and they pedal rapidly after her. On the way, they find a handkerchief with an E on it by a stile. They continue the pursuit, but the girl disappears around a bend. They find a ruined house at the bend with a suitcase in it, but there is no sign of the girl. The suitcase has E.M.W.S. emblazoned on it and contains successively smaller boxes labeled 'THE MONEY'. Eagerly, the Seven open the boxes hoping to find the money Elizabeth stole. Instead, the smallest box has a card with the message 'Lots and Lots of Love from Susie'. One up to Susie, and consternation for the Seven.
That night, Peter, Jack, Colin, George, Tom and two policemen keep watch over Mrs. Sonning's house, but Elizabeth still manages to steal some food from the larder under their very noses. The Seven are baffled and meet the next morning, where the girls blame the boys for not being alert enough. The Seven find out that Elizabeth's brother, Charles, is coming over from France to join the hunt and they decide to go see him. Charles doesn't believe that Elizabeth could be thief or that she would run away to France when she doesn't know where he would be staying. This casts a little doubt on Tom's story and Jack and Peter are going to the stables to investigate when Mrs. Wardle gets a phone call that Elizabeth wasn't the thief after all, and that her best friend Lucy had owned up to being jealous and planting the money in Elizabeth's trunk. Tom reiterates his story but is surprised and runs off when he hears that Charles will be dropping by to ask him a few questions.
The Seven are puzzled by Tom's behaviour and they think he might know more than he is saying. The next day, Peter and Jack go to the stables again to see if they can get more information form Tom, and they invite Charles to join them as well. Peter and Jack manage to catch Tom and request him to tell them where Elizabeth might be hiding. But when Peter presses him further, he says he doesn't know where Elizabeth might possibly be and rides off on his horse. The Seven are puzzled, but Peter seemingly goes mad and dashes after Tom, telling him to stop and that no one knows better where Elizabeth is!
So where exactly is Elizabeth? And has Peter finally gone cuckoo after cracking so many mysteries? Do the Seven manage to solve this puzzle with sparse clues?
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