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Shock for the Secret SevenReview by Nakul Datar (March 2, 2006)
The Secret Seven series has a lot of fun, ginger biscuits, secret meetings and an intelligently crafted mystery in each book. But most readers will agree that it is tamer than the Famous Five, Five Find-Outers, and Adventure series as far as intrigue and exploits are concerned. This time, though, Blyton packs in enough drama, suspense and a shocking mystery that hits very close to home for the Seven.
There is discord in the Secret Seven even before they have a meeting, and the story starts with a very rocky beginning. Jack has a French friend named Bony—short for Bonaparte—staying with him over break, and his mother has asked him to take Bony along with him everywhere. Peter forbids him from bringing Bony to the meeting, and Jack unhappily agrees despite his mother's instructions. On the day of the meeting, Peter and Janet are waiting in the shed for the other members to arrive, when Jack knocks on the door and says that he has forgotten the password. Peter is angry at him and is just about to tell him that he cannot enter when there is a tramp of feet outside and a girl's voice says the password, "Toad-in-the-Hole." Thinking it might be Pam or Barbara, Peter opens the door but is horrified to see Susie standing there with Bony!
Susie says that she overheard Jack reciting the password to himself, and that her mother insisted that Jack was to bring Bony along to the meeting. Since Jack had 'forgotten' to bring him, she had brought him instead so that he could attend the meeting too. This makes Peter really furious, and he tells Susie to get out with Bony. The remaining members of the Seven show up just then, and Colin suggests that everyone go inside to escape the freezing cold. They all troop in, the uninvited Susie and Bony included. Peter is cross and tells Susie and Bony that they don't belong and should leave at once. Susie escorts the terrified and puzzled Bony out while apologizing to him at the top of her voice for Peter's lack of manners.
As soon as the door is shut, Peter ticks off Jack throughly and says that he doesn't deserve to belong. Jack had been listening silently all this while, but at these words he tosses his badge on the ground and resigns! The Seven write an apology note to Jack the same day, but Jack sends his reply through Susie that he is going to start his own club with Susie, Bony and four others and call it the Secret Seven. Peter shakes the shell-shocked members together and says that they will henceforth be called the Secret Six, with Scamper as an honorary member.
But the Seven's troubles are just beginning, as Pam's granny's dog, Snowy, is stolen. This is followed by thefts of five other dogs in quick succession, including that of sheepdog Shadow (not the one from the book 'Shadow the Sheepdog') belonging to Peter's shepherd Matt.
The Seven—sorry, SIX—hunt for clues, but all they find is a set of large, heavy footprints and tire-tracks in the snow. They also realize that the dogs did not bark while being dognapped, which suggests that they must have been drugged. The village is agog with speculations about the robberies, and everyone is watching out for the thief. Even the village postman warns Peter about keeping Scamper indoors. Peter says that Scamper is a very smart dog, and would never get stolen. Right?
Peter and Janet get the shock of their lives when Scamper is the next to disappear. At first, Peter and Janet think he might have gone for a walk or gotten lost, but they have a gnawing doubt that he has really been stolen. The Six spring into action and start examining the suspects, eliminating them one by one. Soon, all they are left with is the large-footed policeman and the tiny, friendly postman. Baffled, the Six decide to look for other leads by scouting around the village.
Meanwhile, Jack is shocked about Scamper's disappearance and furious at Susie for suggesting Peter was served right when Scamper disappeared, and tells her that he wants nothing more to do with her or her friends. He knows about the leads that the Six followed, so he tries to find something that they might have overlooked. After some systematic shadowing and daredevil snooping, Jack makes an astonishing discovery that leads him to the dog-stealer. What's more, the thief was right under the Seven's noses all the time! Who is the dognapper? And can Jack get Peter to believe him even though he isn't a part of the Seven anymore? Will Scamper be saved? Will the Secret Seven solve another mystery together?
On the whole, I thought this book was quite well written, but some scenes stuck with me particularly. The scene where Peter and Jack fight is set up very nicely so as to not have any 'black and white' divisions. Usually, Blyton has been accused of painting the good kids and bad kids stereotypically, but she makes a welcome exception in this case. Since both Jack and Peter are the good guys, she may have been in a dilemma as to which person is at fault for the quarrel. Creditably, she paints an impartial picture, and the dilemma is transferred to us—the readers—instead. We agree with Peter since Jack clearly broke the rules. But we also sympathize with Jack since his parents have told him that he is obligated to entertain Bony.
While your typical Enid Blyton myteries are chock-full of ginger beer and buttered scones, I thought this book was quite heavy on emotion. When Scamper is lost, Peter and Janet blame themselves for not watching him all the time. Their desperate search as they try to convince themselves that Scamper is probably begging for a new bun from the cook or scrabbling down a rabbit hole is depicted very sensitively. Another similar moment is when the forlon Janet is standing at her door calling out to Scamper in the evening, waiting for him to show up at the gate. But the very last scene in the book takes the proverbial cake, and it isn't the Seven or the police who steal the show, it is Shadow the Sheepdog.
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