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Enid BLYTON: 8. Three Cheers Secret Seven (1956)
(U.S. title: The Secret Seven and the Grim Secret)
Review by Michael Edwards - also appears on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
Appears on Amazon.co.uk (as Three Cheers Secret Seven) and Amazon.com (as The Secret Seven and the Grim Secret):
Date : 13 January, 2000
Rating : 4/5
Heading : Simple but effective mystery with well-prepared-for answer.
This Secret Seven story is known as "The Secret Seven and the Grim Secret"
in the U.S. (where most of the Secret Seven books are retitled), and as "Three
Cheers Secret Seven" in the U.K. and English-speaking Commonwealth countries.
Although the U.S. titles don't strike me (as an Australian who has seen only
U.K. editions) as properly and traditionally Blytonesque, I have to say that
they are far more descriptive of the content of the stories, whereas most of the
British titles (the ones chosen by Blyton herself) simply allude to mysteries
and adventures in general, or to being on the trail, and so on, or else merely
congratulate the Seven and say nothing about the actual story.
In this story, Jack's annoying sister Susie receives a toy aeroplane from a
cousin, and she wants the Secret Seven to show her how to operate it. Jack
winds it up and launches it - but it doesn't circle round and return as
expected; instead it flies right over a high wall and far into the grounds of
Bartlett Lodge, a grand mansion which seems to be unoccupied.
But is it really unoccupied? When two of the boys climb over the wall to
look for the plane, they are threatened by a surly gardener called Georgie Grim
("Grim by name and grim by nature") who does not on any account want them to
enter the property. In spite of this, they creep in unobserved a little later,
and climb up to a high balcony on the house, where the model plane has lodged.
And at that point the boys observe clues that seem to point to someone staying
in the room at the top of the house, behind the tightly-drawn curtains with just
a crack showing. There seems to be a gas-fire alight inside, and pot-plants
don't seem to be withered as they would be if the house were truly unoccupied.
Quite mystified, the Secret Seven investigate, determined to find out who
is living inside the house, and why. The surly gardener, Grim, seems to be
involved in the strange goings-on at Bartlett Lodge - and yet, for all his bad
temper, everyone who knows him attests to his complete honesty. Is it perhaps
burglars who are in the empty house, gradually moving out valuables at their
leisure? Is Grim somehow involved with them, in spite of his reputed honesty?
The suspense builds up quite well within the simple terms in which this
book is written, and the answer to the mystery, when it suddenly comes, is well
prepared for and dramatic. The actual resolution is totally unexpected: you
would never guess it ahead of time, and yet it makes perfect sense once you know
what it is, and in the end the story is rather touching in the ramifications
that flow from this, as the Seven pitch in to help someone who turns out to be
in a lot of trouble.
There's no doubt about it: the Secret Seven stories are rather simpler than
most of Enid Blyton's other mystery and adventure stories, and are probably
intended for a younger audience than most of the others. However, seen within
that context, they are quite effective mystery stories with a few elements of
dangerous adventure, although less so than some of the other adventure stories
for slightly older children. They are, in Enid Blyton's mystery/adventure
stories, at the opposite end of the complexity and sophistication spectrum from
the Adventure series, the 8-book series featuring Jack, Lucy-Ann, Philip, Dinah,
and Kiki the parrot, which are full-length novels of considerable complexity and
excitement, and sometimes incorporating within their international settings
quite complex political elements.
The main problem I have with the Secret Seven books is that the characters
do not seem to have much personality, and are not easy to distinguish from each
other. The boys are vaguely boyish, the girls girlish - but otherwise they are
rather alike, except perhaps that Peter can be distinguished for his occasional
bossiness as head of the Secret Seven and his pedantic insistence on the letter
of the rules being observed, which sometimes makes him appear a little
unpleasantly peevish and petty. But I honestly cannot tell Pam from Barbara,
Colin from George, and so on.
So the Secret Seven books do have relatively thin characterization compared
to most of Blyton's other adventure and mystery novels, which are never deep in
characterization, but at least give you a feel for the various characters.
However, this is probably the unavoidable result of the fact of these novels
being so much shorter than most of the other adventure/mystery novels Blyton
wrote: "Three Cheers Secret Seven", which is a quite typical Secret Seven book
in format, style, and length, is, in the original hardcover edition I read,
approximately 110 pages long, with large, well-spaced print and dozens of
illustrations - it cannot come to more than about 20,000 words, and is more
likely closer to 15,000 - hardly a novel at all, in reality.
At this length, there is not much room to develop character, and this would
be done only at the cost of simplifying the already simple plot even further,
and would probably not improve the book as a whole. So, within these limits,
the books are probably as effective mystery and adventure stories as you could
reasonably expect, with the emphasis more on plot and action than on character
E-mail me about this book.
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Original text copyright (C) 2000, by Michael Edwards.
More material on this web site related to Blyton
Book listing for Enid Blyton
More reviews by myself of Enid Blyton's books
Amazon.com customer reviews - under the title The Secret Seven and the Grim Secret
Amazon.co.uk customer reviews - under the title Three Cheers Secret Seven
Introduction - Front page, which leads to Contents
Web Site of Michael Edwards - Contents
Writings by Michael Edwards
8. Three Cheers Secret Seven (this page)
This page created on Friday, 12 May, 2000;
last modified on Monday, 12 June, 2000.