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Secret Seven on the TrailReview by Heather from Australia (July 5, 2005)
At their first meeting, Peter announces that the society will disband until Christmas, because "nothing ever happens in term time". The angry responses from the others cause Peter to back up a little, and he decides that there will just be no regular meetings, but any of the Seven can call a meeting if something comes up.
The infuriating Susie decides to make her own detective club after being snubbed by Janet, and she calls it the Famous Five after the 'Five' books (unashamed plug there), complete with FF badges, password and a secret sign, something the Seven hadn't even thought of. Jack spies on one of their meetings, but Susie sees him hiding behind the bush and leads the Famous Five to make up a story about a mystery at Tigger's Barn. Jack reports everything to Peter, who thinks that Susie's group is making up 'nonsense' just to entertain themselves. Jack and George decide to investigate anyway. A trip to Tigger's Barn finds not the gang that Susie is talking of, but another group of dangerous criminals headed by the mysterious Cheeky Charlie and including Larry and Zeb.
Peter can't dispute this new tale, and the clues are assembled: 'Dallings', 'Hammonds', a note written to Cheeky Charlie by Larry, and 'points' and 'six-ten, maybe seven-twenty'. After Janet's brainwave during a game of trains, the Seven realise the gang must be talking about the railway. A little snooping, being ordered off the tracks by a policeman, and a night adventure at the rail yards in the fog (boys only—girls apparently don't go out at night) wrap up the adventure into an exciting finish! All in all, this is a very readable book, where things keep moving along and the excitement builds right up to the end.
Secret Seven on the TrailReview by Keith Robinson (August 7, 2006)
When Peter decides he's too busy with school work and plans to postpone all meetings until after Christmas, the rest of the Seven are determined to keep the meetings going even without Peter. "I'll run it with Janet," says Jack. "It can be the Secret Six till then." But Peter, obstinate as he is, can't allow anyone else to take charge and comes up with a compromise: They'll only have a meeting if some mystery or adventure turns up.
Ha! Talk about tempting fate. But before a mystery does crop up, that annoying Susie barges into the story with her entourage, all wearing "FF" badges—short for "Famous Five." This is new territory for Blyton as far as her mystery and adventure books are concerned. Mentioning characters from other series is almost like a Hollywood director making a cameo appearance in his own movie—sort of a private joke that only fans will get.
I suppose young readers will get a kick out of this tongue-in-cheek link to another series, but somehow the mention of the Famous Five somehow jerks me out of the story for a moment. It works well enough when a modern author mentions Alice in Wonderland or Oliver Twist because those characters are part of literary history, but it jarrs a bit when you consider that the Secret Seven books were being published one a year alongside the Famous Five. It's like crossing into a parallel dimension. Imagine if George Kirrin chastised Anne for reading "childish Secret Seven books," or if the Five Find-Outers got hints and tips for investigating mysteries by reading about the Secret Seven. For that matter, it's notable that the Secret Seven's village is named Peterswood—the same as the Find-Outers' village. I'm surprised Blyton missed the opportunity to have Peter and his Society bump into Fatty and his gang somewhere:
"I say," said Fatty, looking annoyed. "What are you kids doing here? Who are you? We're trying to solve a mystery, you know, and you kids are cramping our style."
"Well, I like that!" said Peter indignantly. "We might be younger than you, but we're quite capable of solving this mystery ourselves, thanks."
And on a similar note, I wonder if the Seven's nice but unnamed police inspector is none other than good old Inspector Jenks? If so, I also wonder where Goon walks his beat. Another part of the village?
The mystery in this particular case is a good one, although the coincidences that bring the Seven into it are a little groan-worthy. For instance, Jack's aunt's dog is called Cheeky Charlie, and just for a laugh that becomes the new password. But guess what? Cheeky Charlie is also the name of the ringleader in this book's band of villains! And when you consider that Susie leads the Seven on a wild goose-chase that inadvertantly ends up at the very building the gang are meeting in—Tigger's Barn—on the exact right night, at the exact right time... well, it stinks a little.
That said, it's all quite nicely done. The villains, for once, come across quite believable in their secret plot, and I like the way Jack and George only hear snippets of the conversation—a fairly common idea in the Seven books, but a nice touch. I also like the way the men pounce on George and question him. Luckily George is so petrified at being caught snooping that he finds himself unable to answer, so the men hazard guesses as to why he's there and end up assuming he's just a messenger boy. This works well for me. George displays just the right amount of "eh? what?" for this scene to work the way it does.
Peter goes up in my estimation a little too. He's seen in this book chopping wood. That's a real manly-man's job, and not the sort of thing most Mummies and Daddies would let their kids do these days. He's also disbelieving of Jack's tale about Susie's meeting, and sees right through the ruse immediately. Yes, Peter is a cut above the rest of the Seven, for all his arrogance.
Another notable aspect of this book is that Zeb, one of the villains, comes across as quite a decent chap at his work on the railway tracks. He quite happily shows the boys the points, and talks to them about the goods trains. Still, not to veer too far from the stereotype, Blyton still describes him as "mean-looking with shifty eyes."
This story has a nice atmospheric and exciting ending, a cross between Five Go to Mystery Moor and Five Go Off To Camp, but with lots of policemen on hand to wrap things up.
"Hey, you kids there! What do you think you're doing, trespassing like that? You come back here. I've got something to say to you."
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