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The Mystery of the Vanished PrinceReview by Keith Robinson (January 30, 2005)
Gosh, this one kicks into high gear towards the end! It starts out with a lot of fun and games when Fatty, Larry and Daisy return from holidays abroad. Everyone is tanned—including Pip and Bets, who have been lying around in the garden a lot. After hearing about the Prince Bongawah from Tetarua State, who is staying at a camp on the hills between Peterswood and Marlow, Fatty decides it would be fun for his friends to put their tans to good use by dressing up in colourful clothes (which he brought back from Morocco) and pretending to be relatives of the Prince. Ern Goon, nephew of Old Clear-Orf, chooses that moment to turn up with his two younger brothers, Sid and Perce, and Fatty immediately introduces his "distinguished visitors" as Princess Bongawee (Bets), Pua-Tua (Daisy), Kim-Pippy-Tok (Pip) and Kim-Larriana-Tik (Larry).
Is Ern taken in by this simple deception? You bet he is. There follows a lot of parading around the village with Ern holding up the State Umbrella (a golfing umbrella) for who he believes is the younger sister of Prince Bongawah. ("They're as alike as peas in a pod," Ern assures Fatty.) The visitors talk of lot of nonsense, made-up gibberish with a little broken English thrown in, and Ern is naturally amazed at Fatty's ability to translate. Then Mr Goon comes across the parade and, like his nephew, is completely taken in—to the point that when Prince Bongawah unfortunately goes missing from the camp two days later, Goon telephones the recently-promoted Chief Inspector Jenks and assures him that he'll track down Princess Bongawee and speak with her. Jenks is naturally astounded and thinks Goon has gone mad.
I found all this fun but highly unlikely. Disguises are one thing, but are we to believe a few colourful robes and tanned faces are enough to convince Ern and the village policeman that the visitors can't possibly be Bets, Daisy, Larry and Pip dressed up? We can maybe forgive Ern his gullibility, but did it not strike Mr Goon odd that the Princess Bongawee, from Tetarua State, is staying with the Trottevilles? Didn't he notice that the little procession happened to be four small people exactly the same size as Fatty's friends, who were strangely absent? Is Old Clear-Orf a complete moron?
But despite how unlikely all this is, it does set things up nicely. Goon's report to his superior of four additional royal visitors, which he subsequently discovers to be make-believe, gets him so hot and bothered that he completely fails to listen to Fatty when offered genuine information about the Prince's disappearance. Not until the end does he realise that Fatty might be telling the truth about a few things.
Before I get to the riveting last chapters, there are a couple of coincidental incidents that irritated me. First, and most minor, is the way Larry and Daisy returned from their holiday abroad at the exact same time as Fatty. Before that Pip receives a postcard from Larry and Daisy saying they'll be back "in two days," while at the same time Bets receives a postcard from Fatty saying he'll be back "in two days" as well. What a nice coincidence! But a worse coincidence is when they're all sitting in a café wondering how they're going to find a certain set of twin babies (important to the investigation). Daisy says, "What about baby shows? We might see twin babies there, and find out where they live." And then Bets spots a notice on the wall which says BABY SHOW—being held the very next day. I think Enid Blyton realised this was a bit much to swallow and she has Fatty say, "Funny coincidence." But acknowledging it doesn't make it all right. She could have worked that in better, I think. Finally, at the baby show itself, they're looking for twins called Marge and Bert. Out of three sets of twins at the show they find one set with the full names Margery and Robert written on a card. They MUST be the right babies, surely! But no, actually they're not; their mother calls them Madge and Robbie, so the Find-Outers have found the wrong twins. Gosh, what are the chances of that?
But aside from these minor niggles, the book is good and really heats up towards the end, so much so that I could hardly believe I had a mere twenty pages left to read. How could that be? There's so much to do! I thought it would seem rushed, but it wasn't—it was very nicely paced and extremely riveting stuff. And for once all the Find-Outers are together when the brown stuff hits the fan; they're all locked in a room by the baddies! But, without really giving anything away, Fatty is as resourceful as ever and manages to rescue Prince Bongawah as well as ensure the capture of all the kidnappers.
All in all, a strange mystery—as Bets said, not much happening at first and then everything seemed to boil up and explode—but satisfying in the end.
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