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Five Get Into TroubleReview by Nigel Rowe (August 3, 2005)
It's Easter again, and for the eigth book in the series we join the Five at Kirrin Cottage. Guess what! Uncle Quentin has forgotten that the children will all be at home for Easter. He has to go off to a conference in a couple of day's time—and Aunt Fanny must go with him. (Why?) Illness has once again reared its ugly head at Kirrin; this time it's Joanna, the cook, who is ill. Quentin does say, however, that Fanny needn't go with him, but George has other ideas. After all, she's not seen her mother and father for a whole term, so why does she need to be with her mother now? Back to the plot. The Five have wanted to do something for some time, but thought they'd have to wait till summer. Bikes plus tents equal exploring the countryside! Although Fanny is a bit doubtful, as the last time they went camping they were accompanied by a teacher, Mr Luffy. We all know what happened then! Quentin, however, is all for it. So, it's settled then. Cue maps, tents, kit-bags, sleeping-bags, pyjamas and food. Tomorrow, they're off!
The really nice thing about this book, my second favourite after Five Go To Smuggler's Top, is the lovely feel to it. We are treated to lovely spring weather and heaps of countryside. Enid is at her best when describing nature. Her descriptions of leafy lanes, picturesque villages, the village shops which always sell ginger-beer and ice-cream portray a part of England that is, in the main, gone. For this reason, it is imperative that the time-zone of Enid's books should be left firmly alone. Our first stop is at Manlington-Tovey. It has just the one general store which, fortunately, sells all of the required goods. Soon, the children are sitting drinking ginger-beer and lime-juice mixed (yuk!), and eating delicious ices. After this welcome interlude, we're off once more—pedalling through England's green and finest. We stop for lunch and are entertained by chaffinches and rabbits and thrushes. Naturally, after yet another huge meal, they all feel the need to sleep. On Guard, Timmy!
We are into Chapter Three now, and still touring the countryside. Julian has found a lake. "It's called the Green Pool." That's funny; they found a "Green Pool" in Five Go Off To Camp, their last adventure. Blue Pool in Dorset must have made quite an impression on Enid. This is to be their camping site for the first night. The next morning opens with the mandatory bathe. To their astonishment they see a bicycle standing beside a tree and hear splashing coming from the pool. They see a boy in the pool. "His golden head was shining wet and smooth in the morning sun. He was swimming powerfully across the pool. He saw George and Julian, and swam over to them." Who could it be?
He is, in fact, probably my favourite "supporting character" in all of the FF books, one Richard Kent. His father, Thurlow Kent is "one of the richest men in the country", and the owner of the Green Pool. He is soon introduced to the others, and they all get on like a house on fire. He tells them a little of his father, who has had many bodyguards, one of whom "had the thickest lips you ever saw, and such a big nose...you thought he'd put a false one on". Julian and Dick aren't too sure whether or not to believe him; the tales do sound exaggerated, but they listen with amusement anyway. Anne and George hang on to every word; silly girls! However, Julian decides it is time to move on, gets out the map and decides to make for their next port of call, Middlecombe Woods. On hearing this, Richard tells them he has an aunt living near there, and if his mother agrees, can he ride with them along the way? They arrange to meet at Croker's Corner, a little farther on.
Upon reaching Croker's Corner, the Five find Richard already there, waiting. He says his mother was fine about it, but he's brought no night-clothes with him. We are treated to one of Julian's superior moments next. Richard is riding three a-breast and Julian warns him that this is not allowed. "I don't care!" sings Richard. "Who is there to stop us, anyway?" "I shall stop you," says Julian, sounding very stern, and Richard ceases grinning at once. It's obvious that Richard is very spoilt and likes his own way, but he's not going to get it with old Julian around!
After a stop for lunch, we cycle on, hoping to arrive at Great Giddings, Richard's aunt's village, just at tea-time. He asks if he can stay with the Five, but Julian won't have any of that! "We drop you at your aunt's as arranged, see?" says Ju. At Great Giddings, there is a little shop that sells home-made cakes and jams, so the five children and Tim eat their fill. Afterwards, Richard spots his aunt's house, shouts a hasty "Good-bye" and disappears up the drive. How odd! The four doubt that he had asked for his mother's permission to visit his aunt after all. After debating whether or not to check with his aunt, they decide to ride on. They don't want to hang about as there are no more villages between Great Giddings and Middlecombe Woods. They will therefore have to find a farmhouse in order to buy food for supper and breakfast. Heaven forbid that they should go hungry! On arrival at the woods, Dick gets a puncture. Anne stays with him while Julian and George go in search of a farmhouse. Things are about to hot up!
While Dick mends his puncture, he and Anne hear sounds. "Julian! Dick!" It's Richard! He is very frightened. He goes crashing off in search of Julian, disappearing into the undergrowth. Anne climbs a tree to see if she can spot him. While she's up there, someone else appears. A thug-like creature hauls Dick off as he shouts, "I'm not Richard, I'm Dick!" Silly boy! The thug tells him, "Once you're at Owl's Dene we'll deal properly with you!" Poor Anne witnesses all of this, but is too frightened to move. Meanwhile George and Julian find the farmhouse staffed by a most unpleasant character. He tells them to clear off, but does agree to sell them some hard-boiled eggs and a bit of ham. Haute Cuisine, eh? On the way back to camp they come across Richard, who pours out his extraordinary tale. He tells them that he didn't ask his mother's permission, and whilst waiting at Croker's Corner, was recognised by one of his father's former bodyguards, Rooky. As Richard was responsible for Rooky's sacking, he has scores to settle with the boy. Worrying about Dick and Anne's safety, they make a hasty repair to the camp. As we know, they find a frightened Anne, still up the tree.
Anne remembers that the thug was to take Richard to Owl's Dene, so a look at the map shows them a hill called Owl's Hill with a house marked nearby. They decide to investigate. On the way, they hear a car. It pulls up outside an old shack, where a man is changing his clothes. Once changed he gets into the car, a black Bentley, KMF 102, and it purrs away into the night. Curiouser and curiouser. "Now for Owl's Hill again," says Julian, "and let's hope we don't come across any more queer happenings tonight. We've had quite enough!"
They find a large house with tall chimneys. As they approach, tall iron gates slide silently open. A car comes out, a black Bentley, KMF 102! Walking through the gates, they are shocked to find them shutting behind them! They are trapped, a high wall is all around them, only broken by a set of tall, locked gates. They are prisoners. Hearing screech owls above them, they are convinced that this is in fact Owl's Dene. Looking through a window they see a queer, dwarf-like fellow with a hunched back, accompanied by a thin, drab woman looking the picture of misery. Julian sees a lighted window upstairs and throws up a stone. A face appears, but he can't make out if it's Dick's or not. Making their way further round the house, they see an open window. Is it a trap? They all climb through. Just as Timmy is to follow, a light comes on, and they are confronted by the owner of the house, a Mr. Perton. A real smooth criminal, if ever I saw one! He is truly one of Enid's most suave villains. A real change from the usual, foreign, ill-mannered baddie...
This is a truly excellent story. We have lovely scenes of the journey before the adventure kicks in. Enid portrays some great characters in this, the eighth book of the series. We journey through delightful countryside, visiting quaint English villages and end up in a marvellous English, Elizabethan mansion. We get to meet Richard's parents at the end of the book. Richard is so proud, that although he behaved badly at the start, his heroics made for a very satisfactory end. He even gets the ultimate accolade, a pat on the back from Julian. Hurrah!
We also see some of Julian's superiority in dealing with the less intelligent baddies in this novel. As we saw briefly with his conversations with Pa Stick in Five Run Away Together, these people are no match for his clever (though never cocky) replies. Here, Enid expands the rhetoric. Whilst in the kitchen, Hunchy has quite a run in with Ju, constantly trying to put him down. Ignoring Hunchy's calls to "shut-up", he gets up from the table and shouts at Julian, "Did you hear what I said?" Julian rises too and says, sounding like a grown-up, "Hold your tongue! I don't take orders from you, whoever you are. You hold your tongue—or else be civil." Aggie then begs Julian not to speak to Hunchy like that, as he has an awful temper and may take a stick to him. Julian replies, "I'd take a stick to him—except that I don't hit fellows smaller than myself."
And as for Owl's Dene... It fascinated me as a child, and in fact it has became a wish of mine to one day own a detached property and call it Owl's Dene! I wonder! I was enthralled by the mechanical gates, and I still look at fitted book-shelves wondering if there is a secret room hidden behind. Even the registration of the black Bentley, KMF 102, has remained etched in my mind for ever.
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