Friday, January 11, 2019

FFB Review: THE MYSTERY OF THE INVISIBLE THIEF (1950) by Enid Blyton Reviewed by Barry Ergang

Make sure you check out the full list of reading suggestions on Patti Abbott’s blog.


Reviewed by Barry Ergang

I first learned of this title and the series of which it’s a part from a post on TomCat’s excellent “Beneath the Stains of Time” blog. Between the ages of 7 and 10 or 11, I had read my share of books from the Hardy Boys’ series before graduating to adult authors including Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Erle Stanley Gardner, but had yet to encounter an impossible crime mystery, let alone one fairly-clued and aimed at juvenile readers. TomCat’s post rendered it an imperative that I check out this one, and I was fortunate to find an epub version to download. (More about that later.)

This entry in the phenomenally prolific British author Enid Blyton’s series starring the so-called “Five Find-Outers” opens when the children so named are depicted as yearning for a mystery to solve during their summer vacation from school, having solved several in their English village of Peterswood during previous school holidays with, I inferred from references to their prior cases and a Wikipedia entry, the approval of the district’s Inspector Jenks as well as the disapproval of local constable Mr. Goon, the latter being one whom the children frequently embarrass by outwitting. (<--I’d like to think Henry James and William Faulkner would approve of that sentence.)

Inspector Jenks is in the neighborhood because his goddaughter Hilary is participating in in gymkhana at local Petters Field. When it turns out that Hilary’s home has been robbed, the Five are frustrated because they aren’t immediately invited by Jenks to investigate. They eventually do so uninvited, of course, and learn that although the housekeeper was present during the theft and in a position to see whence the thief departed, she saw nothing of the sort.

Two more thefts ensue before the Five, whose names I’m not going to list here—see the Wikipedia entry if you’re curious about them—will solve the case and its seeming impossibilities to the satisfaction of local authorities.

I have little doubt experienced mystery readers will solve the whodunit and howdunit elements as easily as I did. Ms. Blyton did not engage in the kind of brilliant misdirection you find in John Dickson Carr, Agatha Christie, and other Golden Age giants. I thought the book got off to a slow start, but once the children began their investigations, it moved along nicely and proved to be a pleasant, if not exactly dazzling (for an adult), entertainment.

The downside to the epub version is that whoever converted the book to the digital format decided that original publication information is unnecessary: no title or copyright pages, only a cover and then the story itself. The same person also decided that except for periods, commas, and question marks, other punctuation is unnecessary: e.g., there are no quotation marks around dialogues, and no apostrophes in contractions. I saw an Amazon review complaining about the same problems in the Kindle edition, so it’s a reasonable to assume that the digital version was created by the same person in multiple formats. This was all very annoying, as you can imagine, but I had relatively little difficulty getting through the book in spite of it. But if you prefer actual books and are a mystery-reading kid at heart, search out the hardback or paperback edition.

© 2019 Barry Ergang

As regular readers of this blog know, some of Derringer-winner Barry Ergang’s work is available at Amazon and Smashwords. His free e-book Criminalities includes the essay “Impossible Pleasures,” about impossible crime fiction.


TomCat said...

Amazing! I got Barry “Hardboiled” Ergang to read Enid Blyton! Glad you enjoyed the book in spite of the formatting issues with your edition, but what did you think of the clueing? You're correct the plot hardly poses a challenge to older, seasoned mystery readers, but I thought the clueing here was impeccable. Something that would have certainly surprised more than one kid when they reached the end.

Barry Ergang said...

You forget that I've read and loved my share of more traditional mysteries, particularly those involving seemingly impossible situations, by the likes of John Dickson Carr, Agatha Christie, Paul Halter, Hake Talbot, Edmund Crispin, Clayton Rawson and others, so I'm not as rigorously "hardboiled" as you might suppose. :-)

As for the clueing, I agree that it was clever and, especially for the ages of the readers the book is aimed at, subtle.

I also want to let you know I learned of this title from your blog post of 12/24/18, which prompted me to find a copy. Only a moment before writing this and the preceding paragraph, I read your actual review from 9/17/18. Having read that, I might try to find some of the other juvenile locked-room/impossible crime novels you recommend.