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Five Have Plenty of FunReview by Keith Robinson (August 22, 2005)
Groan. Another girl-trying-to-be-like-a-boy story! First George, then Jo in Five Fall Into Adventure, then Henry in Five Go To Mystery Moor... The joke is in danger of not being funny anymore! But luckily Berta is quite different to George, Jo, and Henry in that she doesn't want to become a boy; she is reluctant to have her golden locks cut off, but must in an effort to disguise herself in case kidnappers spirit her away.
The fourteenth book, dismally entitled Five Have Plenty of Fun, is actually pretty good despite a repetition of several themes that have been done already. The Five are once more staying at Kirrin Cottage and enjoying the sunshine and swimming in the bay. Uncle Quentin, meanwhile, has been working with two other men on a Very Important Project that could mean heat and power for the country at a very low cost. This is pretty major stuff, so when Uncle Quentin invites his two colleagues to Kirrin Cottage for an afternoon, the Five dutifully meet and greet and then hastily bow out and head back to the beach. But one of the two strangers, an American, is quite taken by the kids; "I never saw such a fine lot in my life," he booms. "They're wunnerful!" He particularly thinks George is "a fine boy" (which pleases George no end). He goes on to say that he wished his Berta had a tan like that.
The visit is short, brief, and uneventful. The American roars away in his powerful car a short time later. Dick regrets not having had a chance to look over the car, "one of the new American models," but one day the American makes a phone call to the house and tells Julian he'll be visiting Uncle Quentin later that night. Dick decides to stay up late so he can have a good look at the car. He reads into the night... Twelve o'clock, half past twelve, one o'clock... Gosh, is the American ever going to show up? But just then he hears a noise. Yes, here's the American now—but on a bike! Why all the secrecy?
They find out the next day. Uncle Quentin is rather cross and irritable about something, and Aunt Fanny mysteriously sets up a small bed in George and Anne's room. Then it's announced that a girl will be coming to stay—Berta, the American's daughter. Elbur, as the American scientist is named, has been warned by police that his daughter may be kidnapped and held to ransom for the secrets to the project the three scientists are working on. Elbur has quite clearly made his position known: If his daughter is ever kidnapped he'll immediately hand over any important secrets in order to get her back. "Traitor to us all!" snaps Uncle Quentin in disgust. He can't imagine how someone can hand over important secrets for some silly girl!
At this point I did wonder why on earth three leading scientists with the secrets to something Very Important Indeed couldn't have some sort of professional protection offered by Government secret services or the police. After all, it was the police themselves who warned Elbur about kidnapping, so it's not like they won't take the threat seriously. But no, Elbur—worried sick about his daughter—has made up his mind that she will come to stay with the Kirrins. And so things are set in motion, and Berta is delivered to the cottage in the dead of night.
George acts very childishly from the start, especially when she learns that Berta has brought a small poodle called Sally. But Julian puts everyone in their place, and soon the children (and dogs) get along famously. Poor Berta turns out to be quite a plucky little thing, despite her puny, pale frame and girly golden hair. She certainly swims better than any of them, thanks to lots of practice in the swimming pool in her garden back home in America. But then there's a shock: Uncle Quentin gets a letter from Elbur stating that Berta must have her hair cut short! Berta is to be disguised as a boy at once, and her name changed!
Cue more tedious jealousy from George as "little girly Berta" actually looks quite striking as a boy, especially with her straight hair which, as we learned from Henry in Five Go To Mystery Moor, is an essential ingredient in being a boy. And so Berta becomes—well, I have to admit I was rolling my eyes and thinking, "Hmm, let's see, how about Bert or Albert?" It's that convenient unisex name thing again; think of Georgina/George, Jo/Joe, Henrietta/Henry, and now Berta/Bert. But, to my pleasant surprise, Dick announces that anything like Albert would be too obvious, so they choose Berta's second name instead—Lesley! By a staggering coincidence, Lesley can be spelled Leslie, the boy's version. So Berta trumps George, Jo and Henry in having not one but TWO names that could be easily shortened/altered into boys names. (By the way—Berta Lesley? Yeesh.)
Despite everything, I still couldn't help being drawn along by the story at this point, even though I saw bad men on the horizon (literally—they were over on Kirrin Island spying on the children through field glasses). When the children get the distinct feeling they're being watched they decide to play cards at the table with all the blinds closed in case anyone's looking in. This makes the room unbearably hot so they open the blinds again—and George spots a face at the window! She sends Timmy out, but he fails to catch anyone. That night, the dogs are switched about so that Berta—sorry, Lesley—is under the watchful eye of big fierce Timmy, while George takes Sally the poodle into her room. But Sally won't settle, so George takes her out to the kennel—and is promptly kidnapped! It's staggering how much of this reminds me of Five Fall Into Adventure, where Anne sees a face at the window but Timmy fails to catch anyone, then George is kidnapped while taking Timmy out for a walk, then they're all sitting around playing cards one evening so the kidnappers can see them around the table... It's quite alarming how similar all this feels. And sure enough, the first thought about George's whereabouts the next morning is that she must have gone out for an early swim. I almost expected the cousins to spend the day assuming she was out on her boat, but luckily Julian sees George's boat tied up on the beach and realizes something must be up.
There follows a bit of slow-motion panic. The police seem to be bumbling around and Julian is amazed they don't seem to realize the importance of letting Elbur know (quietly) that it isn't his daughter that's been kidnapped. As long as George can hold out without telling her kidnappers who she is (or isn't) then Elbur won't feel a need to give up Important Secrets. But do the police understand this? It's not entirely clear; they just keep telling the children to stop meddling and leave it to the experts. (Mr Goon springs to mind.) They're particularly unhelpful because the children have already arranged to spirit Berta—sorry, Lesley—away in case the kidnappers realize they've got the wrong boy—sorry, girl—and come after her again. It's decided that Berta can become a girl once more, named Jane, and Joanna the cook takes her to stay with her sister...where Jo is now living! This is Jo's third appearance in the series; she's been staying with Joanna's sister ever since Five Fall Into Adventure. Jo, of course, doesn't think much of that spoilt American girl, Berta—sorry, Lesley—no, sorry, Jane—and can't believe she's "cowardly" enough to let the kidnappers keep on thinking they've got the right girl. But Julian explains the situation, and now Jo is determined to help.
Once again another parallel with Five Fall Into Adventure, as Jo helps Julian, Dick and Anne find the kidnapped George. And, if I might stretch this parallel further still, in both books George is temporarily kept in a caravan before being moved on, and in both she leaves a cryptic clue as to her whereabouts; in Five Fall Into Adventure it was "Red Tower" scribbled on the wall of the caravan where she had been kept, and this time it's "Gringo" scribbled on a note thrown from a car window.
Incidentally, it appears that Gringo—the boss of a nearby fair, a shady character—owns a large American car. Gosh, two in one book! There follows a great deal of luck as Julian telephones a man he knows at a garage (why he knows him is anyone's guess) and asks him if he's seen any American cars driving about. The man at the garage, Jim, telephones around and finds out that a cousin of his, a hotel porter, happened to see a large American car pull up at the kerb while the driver got out to get some cigarettes. The driver then asked the hidden person or persons in the back which way to go now, and—well, you guessed it, the man in the back gave clear directions, and the hotel porter heard it all. Soooooo lucky! So now the children have a pretty good of where George is being held.
What follows reminds me of The Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage when Fatty sneaks into a house through the coal cellar. After that there's a very silly section involving locked doors. When the children find George, they're afraid to slide open the "old bolts" to her door in case they squeak and wake people up along the hall...so they go into the bedrooms where the baddies are sleeping, remove the door keys, quietly close the doors, place the keys back in the locks, and lock the doors—as if all that is somehow likely to be quieter than unbolting George's door.
But despite all the silliness, and the distinct feeling of deja vu, it's a fun read. Not the best book in the series by a long chalk, but not the worst either.
Five Have Plenty of FunReview by Nigel Rowe (August 22, 2005)
More skulduggery with Quentin's scientific plans lay the ground for this, the fourteenth book in the series. We are, once again, introduced to American characters; happily nice ones this time. I felt that Berta was given just the right treatment; very girly and pretty, yet had a fire burning as well. She wasn't one to be intimidated in spite of her obvious naivety. I found the (by now usual) sulkiness and moods from George very tedious. She really can be quite an unpleasant girl at times. I know she is an only child, but come on....we're into book 14 now, surely she should have grown up a bit by now. Perhaps if jealousy, selfishness and mood swings are in your make-up, there isn't too much you can do to eliminate these traits. It is just a matter of trying to control yourself and your emotions. Her saving grace is her courage and loyalty, admirably shown in times of need.
We have a slight twist in the girl/boy theme in this book. In the last one, Five go to Mystery Moor, George had competition with Henry/Henrietta. Henry, like George, wanted to look, dress and act like a boy. In Five Have Plenty of Fun we have Berta needing to dress and look like a boy for quite different reasons. However, George gets into a real strop as Berta/Lesley really does look like a boy with her hair cut short. When George says, "Well, I think you'd look horrible..." to Berta, when discussing her wearing boys' clothes, Dick slyly retorts, "Aha! Our George wants to be the only one!" He really hits the nail on the head there. George has to be the only one. She can't cope with anyone else getting into the limelight with the boy/girl/my-dog's-better-than-yours scene.
In spite of Berta/Lesley's disguise, it is only when the children spot the reflection of field-glasses' lens that Julian makes the rather obvious comment that if any kidnappers were watching them, they'd spot Sally, Berta's poodle, and put two and two together. As the dog and Berta are inseparable, they should have been kept apart. In spite of Dick agreeing with Julian, nothing is done about it. They even "carry the war into the enemy's camp" by all visiting Kirrin Island along with Sally!
I also felt it was rather strange that, with all the kidnapping fears around, Fanny should accompany Quentin back to Berta's father's for a few days. Surely the children shouldn't have been left with just a cook to look after them? It seems it is just another premise to have the children adult-free to get on with the adventure.
The next part of the book is very "Five Find-Outers and Dog". Tracings of car tyres, visits to car garages, trips to fairs, clues being dropped out of a car belong more to Peterswood than Kirrin! However, it all works very well if a little contrived. How can a slip of paper be found after being on the ground for a while? Surely it would have blown away. Happily it didn't, as it contained the major clue of the story.
It was good to meet Ragamuffin Jo again. Also, several new characters, Spiky (very much like Nobby of Five Go Off in a Caravan fame). Also the old fair-woman (again very Find-Outish!) The rescue of George and the house in which she was imprisoned was very Owl's Dene. This time though, the gates weren't mechanical! The discovery of the coal-hole and entry to the house via the coal cellar was straight out of a (I think) Secret Seven story—the one with the horse thieves.
It has been a very long time since I read Five Have Plenty of Fun—surely a better title could have been found—but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Unusually, I could not remember any of the ending, so it was as if I was reading it for the first time. Provided that you suspend realism for a while—would the police really leave everything up to a bunch of kids (in spite of a few token warnings), and would a father leave his only daughter with strangers?—this is a very fine story, up amongst the best of the series.
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