…announces the back page. “Here are two thrilling mysteries to keep you guessing till the very last moment!”
The ‘two books in one’ are The Secret of Cliff Castle and Smuggler Ben, appearing together as Mystery Stories in this 1982 Armada format, and both new to me.
Chicken or egg?
Now I could be wrong here, but I first thought Cliff Castle could have been a short pre-cursor to the more elaborately plotted Castle of Adventure, which is part of a series using established characters Dinah and Philip Mannering, their mates Jack, Lucy-Ann and Kiki the parrot, and undercover copper Bill Smugs.
Similar features between these two books are there: kids on a countryside holiday; sinister, derelict castle which comes with a warning;secret passages and hidden entrances; mysterious lights at night; baddies from foreign parts; discovery of loot; evasion, capture, escape and eventual apprehension of baddies by responsible grown-ups. (In C of A it’s Bill Smugs and a contingent of burly police, while in S of CC it’s Brock’s dad and same said contingent of burly police).
Looking deeper into the dates of publication, it seems that C of A came first, in 1946, with S of CC appearing a year later. The reason why Enid penned such a brief and similar story to C of A so shortly after – or at all – is a bit of a mystery to me. I don’t remember the characters Peter, Pam and Brock turning up elsewhere, not in my current collection at least. Maybe Enid didn’t feel she’d given them enough time in which to fully develop, and subsequently has not used them since.
All we know of our heroes is that Pam is 11, isn’t as strong and brave as the others but is a trier, has determination, the occasional good idea, but not, seemingly, enough sense to wear trousers or longer socks when she’s already been very stung by nettles, and extensively scratched by brambles. Maybe that’s a bit harsh on my part (an almost constant jeans wearer), how many little girls wore long pants in the 1940’s?
Peter, her brother, is 12. He is stronger, endowed with a spirit of adventure, and apparently also has a smidge of the psychic about him, for early doors he has a premonition of impending adventure, which would be more believable from other characters in established series who find themselves embroiled in mysteries every time school breaks up, and have come to expect it.
Cousin Brock is also 12, and almost death-defyingly daring, much more so than Peter. He emerges straightaway as the unofficial leader, though in a way quite dissimilar to Julian, Fatty or the ‘Secret of’ series Jack. He knows more of country ways than his town cousins and comes from sensible stock. His parents fill the responsible adult roles in the most Blytonian way. Dad works hard, has a motor car and is fully capable of taking charge in dangerous situations. Mother uses the pony and trap, looks after the home and provides plenty of pure Blytonian nourishment.
Maybe this story was designed for younger children who may have found The Castle of Adventure, and similar stories, too challenging, but wanted to read of adventures rather than tales of toys, fairy folk or silly-billies like Mr Meddle.
I will be embarking shortly on Smuggler Ben, the other story in this book, and giving my ten pennerth soon. You can bet your locked crates of stolen jewels upon that!