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Enid BLYTON: The Mystery That Never Was (1961)

Review by Michael Edwards

      The Mystery That Never Was is one of Enid Blyton's last adventure stories, and seems to be little known. It is a minor work, I feel, and a relatively tame affair compared to many of her other adventure stories.
      Nicky Fraser is home for the Easter holidays, and he and his best friend called Ken, who lives next door, plan to teach Nicky's terrier dog Punch some new tricks, such as fetching people's slippers or shoes for them. Little do they guess that this will prove unexpectedly useful in the adventure they will soon find themselves involved in.
      Nicky comes down to breakfast on the first day of the holidays and finds that his mother has received a letter from her brother, Nicky's Uncle Bob. He has not been well recently and is coming to stay with the family for a little while so that he can have a rest from his work as a private detective. Noticing Uncle Bob's tendency to sit moping at times, Nicky tries to think what he can do to help, to give him something interesting to do. He and Ken come up with a plan to create a mystery to get Uncle Bob interested in, and figure if they can create strange happenings, such as leaving mysterious coded messages for him to find, or signalling at night from the tower of the burned-out house on Skylark Hill, he might think it's a crime to investigate, and forget his moping. (To be sure, he would eventually find out it was a hoax, but the boys felt sure he would take it well, and just laugh at the joke.)
      Ken writes a short note in a simple code which tells its recipient to meet in the cellars of the house on Skylark Hill, says the "stuff" is hidden on Skylark Hill, and says to watch for the signal from the tower (which Nicky and Ken plan to provide themselves). While out with Uncle Bob for a walk on Skylark Hill, they leave the note where he can find it; when he does find it, he decodes it fairly easily, and is inclined to think it's a hoax of some sort, but says he will think about it. They enter the ruined house and look around, noticing a few signs of someone else having been there, such as an old cigarette packet and used matches; they also go down into the labyrinthine cellars and Punch seems to get lost down there, but they are forced to go back upstairs when their only torch gives out. Strangely, Punch seems to find another way out, and comes back to them from outside the house.
      Uncle Bob seems to think the whole "mystery" is nothing more than a schoolboy joke of some kind, and of course the boys know it is only that: so it is very surprising when, that night, Penny, Ken's sister, and her friend Winnie who is staying with her, knock on Ken's door to tell him that there is a light flashing from the tower on Skylark Hill - and when Ken finds out that Nicky is home, not up in the tower signalling, he realizes there is a real mystery going on. The pretend mystery the boys made up to interest Uncle Bob is strangely turning into a real one, and one detail after another made up by the boys becomes real, such as that one of the gang is named Harry, that there is stuff hidden away, and so on.
      Ken visits Nicky late at night to find out if he is there or out signalling, and the two boys, trying to find a window with a view of the tower, slip into Uncle Bob's room to have a look - but unfortunately they wake him up in so doing. They tell him about the signalling, and ask him to take a look himself, but Uncle Bob is tired of the mystery (which he now suspects the boys of having made up), and irritated at being woken up, and when he looks at the tower the signalling has stopped, and he thinks the boys are now taking the joke too far. However, they want to investigate the now-real mystery themselves, but have to do it without Uncle Bob's help.
      So the next day Nicky and Ken head off to the old house, while Penny and Winnie go to the museum to look at plans of the old house and its cellars which are kept there. The house had been occupied by an Eastern prince, but some time back there had been a fire there and everyone had fled, the prince and his family had gone back to their own country, and the house had been left a deserted ruin since then. There were rumours of a golden statue with magic powers somewhere in the house which would grant you wishes if you kiss its feet seven times.
      The girls make a tracing of the map and head for Skylark Hill, while the boys are exploring further down in the cellars. The boys come across a sleeping man, a foreigner, down in the caves in the hill, and another man arrives and the boys are discovered and captured - but not before Punch bites one of the men on the foot after he treats the boys roughly, forcing him to take the shoe off to see to his foot. The boys run, with the men in hot pursuit - but unfortunately head into a cave with a narrow entrance and no other exit, and the men immediately roll a huge stone in the passage-way, imprisoning the boys helplessly. Punch can wriggle out of the cave, past the stone blocking the way, and goes out and comes back with the man's discarded shoe - but the boys have no hope of getting past the stone. There seems no escape, and the boys are facing a long wait underground. However, exploring round their small prison, they make a surprising discovery in a hole in the back of their cave - but have to wait before they can do anything about it. It appears that the men are staying in the caves, looking for treasures left by the prince and his family, which they want to steal.
      The girls are looking for the lower entrance to the caves which their map suggests can be found on the hillside, when some men suddenly appear and ask them where they can find a doctor, as one had been bitten by a dog. The men head off, and by exploring where they saw the men emerge, they are able to find the lower entrance. Going in, they eventually find the boys still in their cave, but are unable to move the stone, and have to head back home and get Uncle Bob to come and rescue the boys. They have a difficult time convincing him the mystery has become real, but in the end he comes with them to rescue the boys. The police are brought in at the end, and the shoe Punch stole from them actually helps to identify one of them as being involved in the whole affair.

      This is one of two stories by Enid Blyton based on the theme of a group of children faking a mystery to fool someone else, which then becomes real. The other is the "Find-Outers" book The Mystery of the Hidden House, where the Find-Outers concoct a mystery to fool their simple but amiable friend Ern, the melodramatic (and completely unsuccessful) poet - and he is truly taken in by strange noises and coloured lights on a hillside at night. This mystery also suddenly turns real in a strange way, and boils up into something very exciting, and in fact I feel it is a superior story to The Mystery That Never Was, which remains rather tame, low-key, and quite undistinguished. (The characters in the "Find-Outers" stories are much more distinctive, too - but then the characters in Blyton's series generally are more distinctive and vivid than in her singleton novels.)
      The whole crime that The Mystery That Never Was is centred around remains vague and unfocused, and you never really find out exactly what has being going on. You are left to assume that the men are trying to steal treasures left behind when the prince abandoned the burnt house, but you are never really sure. Or were the things stolen while the fire was going on, and hidden below? Or might the fire even have been started deliberately, so that the perpetrator could run off with valuables in the ensuing confusion? Or, given that one of the three men the children encounter looks Eastern and has the name Hassan, it seems possible he is connected with the prince's household. It might be quite natural then for him to come back to salvage some of the goods left behind, and if that were so, it would not even be certain that a crime was being committed at all, although the story is written as if there was a crime being done, and the men certainly behave very much like criminals trying to keep their deeds secret.
      So what exactly is going on? You never find out any more than sketchily. Perhaps at least this vagueness is characteristic of real life, where things are not often tied up in neat ends, but it is uncharacteristic of Blyton's writing, and of adventure stories generally - and the unresolved plot details give the impression more of careless or sketchy writing rather than of genuinely unresolved matters. So while it is a diverting piece of entertainment to pass a couple of odd hours, and certainly readable enough, I don't really feel it is one of Enid Blyton's better pieces of writing.
      The characterization is so-so - not exactly poor, but not as distinctive as that in several of Blyton's series. The book manages to give the impression of Nicky being a very exuberant boy, and Punch is quite well depicted as a mad little dog not quite yet out of puppyhood.

      This is one of the half-dozen or so books that were later adapted by Enid Blyton's daughter, Gillian Baverstock, into a single series with common characters. I haven't seen any of them yet, and don't know what characters they have; but it might be interesting to compare the characters in that series with the characters in the original versions of the novels, which are each different from the others, of course.
      I would also be interested to see whether the new version of this novel makes the obligatory nod to political correctness and changes Hassan into Joe or Bill or someone, because it is not considered acceptable to portray foreigners in a negative way (or even to use the word "foreign" itself, which in Blyton has no undesirable connotation at all, even if she does sometimes then go on to depict them in a negative way). But considering the premise of valuables being stolen from a house abandoned by a foreign prince, it would be difficult to see how political correctness could have its way here without changing the plot in many other ways, too.

Michael Edwards,
Victoria, Australia.

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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

Further links

      Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk customer reviews - this title is not listed on either Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
      But see Amazon.co.uk for The Riddle That Never Was. This is the adaptation for the Riddles series mentioned above: I have not read it, and cannot guarantee that all the plot details and other comments given above will apply properly to it, although as far as I can make out, it is much the same story, with the characters renamed and given new relationships to each other (for example Nicky becomes Nick and has a sister instead of being an only child, and so on).

      Search at AddALL.com for a used copy of The Mystery That Never Was.

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This page created on Sunday, 3 December, 2000;
last modified on Sunday, 3 December, 2000.