Last October onwards, I began reading the Five Findouters books by Enid Blyton, in chronological order for the first time. This was one of my favourite series as a child, and Blyton among my favourite authors (she still is), but while I had read all of the books (some many times over), I’d never read them in order. The Findouters are siblings Laurence ‘Larry’ and Margaret “Daisy’ Daykin, and Philip ‘Pip’ and Elizabeth ‘Bets’ Hilton, and Frederick Algernon Trotteville whose initials give him a very fitting nickname, Fatty, all of whom live in the English village of Peterswood. Larry is thirteen, the oldest of the lot, Pip, Fatty, and Daisy, twelve, and Bets only eight. The Findouters are of course not complete without Fatty’s Scottie Buster, who is as much part of the group and of any adventure they have, as children themselves. (They are after all the Five Findouters and Dog; this is unlike the Famous Five books where Timmy is one of the five).
The Findouters and Dog with Mr Goon, the village constable. The illustration is by Mary Gernat from the Mystery of the Spiteful Letters (Armada ed., 1988) and also appears in Eva Rice’s Who’s Who in Enid Blyton.
The findouters have their first outing in the Mystery of the Burnt Cottage, where Larry and Daisy, and their friends Pip and Bets smell a fire one night and step out to investigate. It is there, at the scene of the fire, in one of their neighbours’ homes, that the four first encounter a ‘fat boy’, who’s been staying at the local inn with his parents and who they don’t much like but who has a Scottie they all love. Before long, the five have formed a detective club of sorts, looking into the secret behind the fire at the cottage and staying a step ahead of the somewhat bumbling village Constable Mr Goon, who soon becomes something of an enemy. Along the way, they also make friends with Inspector Jenks who thinks highly of their skills and supports, and even relies on them through all the books. Inspector Jenks, who goes on to be Chief Inspector, and Superintendent as the series progresses, also gives them a talking to when they need it or when their tricks go that little bit too far. (My review of book 1 is on this page here)
Burnt Cottage cover (1943 Methuen)
By the second book, the Mystery of the Disappearing Cat, Fatty’s parents have bought a house in and moved to Peterswood, so the findouters are together again in the next holiday (the four older children attend different boarding schools while Bets is still at home), this time to tackle the case of a prize Siamese cat, Dark Queen who belongs to the Hiltons’ neighbour, and who disappears not once but twice. My review is here
Disappearing Cat cover (1990 Dean and Sons)
It is really in the third book, the Mystery of the Secret Room (no I’m not discussing each of the fifteen in separate paras) that Fatty begins to develop his detective skills, and pass them on to the others. He is by now thirteen (and Bets has turned nine), and he promises to teach the others what he’s learnt only if he is made head of the Findouters which the children agree to since of course, it is really he who solves all the mysteries. This adventure takes them to a mystery ‘furnished’ room in an otherwise empty house, and the secret that it holds. My review is here
With book 3 Fatty has begun to develop his detective skills, and these include over the books, writing in invisible ink (or since that’s much too expensive, orange/lemon juice, an effective substitute- it’s been used in real life), escaping from a locked room (if the key’s been left in the keyhole, outside, of course), disguising himself, and ventriloquism. Fatty uses all of these skills or a combination of different ones in their different adventures and also passes them on to the others. From tramp to old woman, to rag-and-bone man, Fatty assumes many guises fooling poor Mr Goon and most of the others almost always. Bets however, manages to spot him much of the time. He and the others use disguises to solve cases of course but also to prank poor Mr Goon, and even his nephew Ern (who makes his first appearance in the Mystery of the Hidden House [review: here , and after this in 5 titles, become more and more a friend of the children and a fairly good detective in his own right). Mr Goon is not to be left behind in the disguise game and tries his own hand at them (in the Mystery of the Missing Man [review: here], and in the Mystery of the Invisible Thief [review: here ]).
Fatty in disguise in the Mystery of the Missing Man. Illustration by Mary Gernat (Granada ed., 1984).
PC Goon in disguise, also in the Mystery of the Missing Man (1975 ed.). I used a book cover here because none of the pictures I took came through properly.
Each of the Findouters 15 mysteries pops up in successive school holidays, Easter, Summer, Christmas breaks. Their cases come to them in different ways, sometimes they simply stumble upon them, sometimes their friend Inspector Jenks seeks their help when they’ve come across something, and sometimes the tricks they play (upon Goon, Ern, and others) with false clues and mysteries lead them into real mysteries and adventures. Their ‘cases’ range from missing people and kidnapped children to robbery and stolen jewels, and even a poison pen (The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters, review: here).
Spiteful Letters cover (Armada, 1988)
Solving their ‘cases’ involves not only clues the children pick up on, but also interviews of suspects and witnesses, shadowing, and proper detective work. Also, many of their cases are pretty complicated with a twist or two along the way which makes for interesting reading (the Disappearing Cat, and the Mystery of the Invisible Thief [review: here], for instance). What makes these books also stand out for me as mysteries (as a child and even now) is how imaginative some of the solutions are. This is not the case in all of the books but quite a few of them, and this is something that I enjoyed in all my revisits. Among the most imaginative are the Disappearing Cat, Missing Necklace (review: here), Holly Lane (review: here ), Vanished Prince (review: here ), Strange Bundle (review: here), and Tally-Ho Cottage (review: here).
Holly Lane and Vanished Prince: Some of the Findouters’ Cases with quite creative solutions. (Holly Lane cover, 1991 Dean and Sons; Vanished Prince cover 1951 Methuen). More disguises on the Vanished Prince cover.
All the children play a role in the investigations in most of the books, following suspects, following up on clues, and interviewing various people, and all this is done in a believable way, through family connections, people they meet in the course of the day, and such. But it is Fatty who puts everything together at the end, piecing together the jigsaw and coming up with the solution. (Fatty is a whiz at many things, though a bit of a boaster, but has usually done whatever he boasts of.)
Fatty (in the Mystery of Holly Lane, Dean and Sons, 1991, Illustration by Trevor Evans.
And very often, it is little Bets who picks up on the most important clue in the case―her observations or remarks are what leads Fatty to ultimately solve everything.The other children, Pip especially fails to see this often chiding her (in an older-brother way) for being childish and not knowing things. Pip too finds the all-important link in one book (the Invisible Thief). Ern Goon, Mr Goon’s nephew who the children initially make the target of one of their pranks, too plays an active role in many of the books that he appears in (Vanished Prince, Tally-Ho Cottage, Strange Messages, and Banshee Towers [review: here]). In Tally-Ho Cottage and Strange Messages, particularly I though he showed great resourcefulness and courage, besides always being a loyal friend. One can’t write about Ern without writing about his ‘portry’ as he calls it (many of which start with ‘the Pore/Poor Old…’, which he always manages to begin can never finish, but Fatty who among his many skills sprouts poetry, can finish in no time. One of my favourites (or at least one that I always remember) from the Mystery of the Vanished Prince (started by Ern and finished by Fatty)
A pore old gardener said, “Ah me!
My days is almost done.
I’ve got rheumatics in me knee,
And now it’s hard to run.
I’ve got a measle in my foot,
And chilblains on my nose,
And bless me if I haven’t got,
Pneumonia in my toes.
All my hair has fallen out,
My teeth have fallen in,
I’m really getting rather stout,
Although I’m much too thin.
My nose is deaf, my ears are dumb,
My tongue is tied in knots,
And now my barrow and my spade,
Have all come out in spots.
My watering can is…”
And speaking of Ern, one must also mention his twin brothers Sid and Perce; Sid always has his mouth stuck with toffee which makes it hard for him to speak even when he has important things to tell. (Sid and Perce only appear in Vanished Prince but we hear of them in other stories as well). He also has twin cousins Liz and Glad who appear in Tally-Ho Cottage.
(Tally-Ho Cottage, 1965 Armada ed.)
Still on Ern, reading these stories as an adult I couldn’t help notice and disapprove of their attitude to Ern (especially initially) and Mr Goon. As far as Ern is concerned, they’re invariable checking him for his manners and commenting (Pip, particularly) on his being a coward as he’s scared of Mr Goon, but they think nothing of playing a mean trick on him which gets him into a fair bit of trouble with Goon, nor Pip of the fact that he himself is pretty terrified of his own parents. Plus, the children (other than Bets) seem always to doubt Ern’s intelligence or observations, not even always trusting what he says (probably because he belongs to a different (read: lower) rung of society), but still, in this I thought their behaviour not really acceptable. And then Goon (I never thought I’d be writing in his defence) but there are times when their tricks do go too far, and let’s face it, the children may be cleverer than Goon and able to put two and two together faster, but he is the policeman, so deliberately planting false clues and misleading him doesn’t exactly qualify as outsmarting him or good detective work. There are of course occasions when Goon too crosses the line, especially when it comes to Buster, and one can’t help but dislike him there (Holly Lane), and feel for poor Buster and the children, and cheer on when Fatty gets back at him.
Goon with Fatty and Mr Trotteville in Holly Lane, Fatty having outsmarted him after his nasty trick with Buster. Illustration by Trever Evans from the 1991 ed. (Dean and Sons).
One other thing I had a problem with (besides the childrens’ behaviour) was not to do with Blyton herself but with the ‘updated’ editions of these books (of which I happen to own a copy of Strange Messages) which make what I felt were unnecessary language changes which any child can understand (as did we), as well as one for political correctness that spoiled the whole intent behind its usage. I won’t rant too much here but I have in my review: here
On the point of pc-ness, an aspect of the books that might bother readers looking at these books with a ‘modern’ or present-day pov is that these aren’t the most politically correct books so bear that in mind when you read them. As far as I understand this, this was simply a reflection of the time when the books were written, I feel one needn’t attach too much to it (even if one does raise one’s eyebrows).
One can’t write about the Five Findouters or for that matter, any Enid Blyton book without talking about food. Most of the books are rather full with food (some overflowing), with not so much breakfasts and lunches and dinners (though these are there too), but more the teas and little treats in between, sandwiches and cake, macaroons and hot buns, lemonade and icecream in summer, and hot cocoa (and coffee, in one instance―Missing Man) in winter. Buster (and in the last book Ern’s dog Bingo) has his share too, with biscuits topped with potted meat, bones, and biscuits besides sharing the childrens’ icecreams as well (At the tea shop, separate ices are ordered for him too). In pretty much all of my reviews, I’ve rated the books on a ‘foodmeter’ not specific marks but low, average, and high (Pantomime Cat [review: here] and Invisible Thief are among the ‘highs’).
Missing Man (another cover, Granada 1984)
This was overall a very enjoyable reading experience for me and while noticing issues such as the childrens’ behaviour did change the impression I had of the books (from my childhood reading), it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of them too much. I had great fun revisiting these, watching how the children first met, and developed their skills as detectives, how the findouters leadership changed (and rightly so), and especially, finding that the solutions to the mysteries that I found interesting (and different) as a child (and also on revisits from time to time) still come across as creative, and make these ‘proper’ detective stories, which stand out from Blyton’s other series.
For my next EB challenge, I plan to pick up a shorter series, and one that I haven’t really read that much as a child, Malory Towers (I read the St Clares books more and am thus more familiar with those as well). Like this challenge, I will of course be reading them in order, and my reviews will appear on this page as these have. So, time to set off to school!
First Term at Malory Towers cover (1946, Methuen)
[Pictures of illustrations are all mine: I’m not very good at this. All my reviews of the books (linked) are spoiler-free]