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The Secret SevenReview by Heather from Australia (July 5, 2005)
This first book in the series begins with the Secret Seven Society already formed. According to my research, the formation of the group happened in a short story called "The Secret of the Old Mill" that was written in 1948.
Peter and Janet call a meeting (as happens in the first chapter of almost every Secret Seven book), and decide to write notes to invite the members. This is when they choose the shed at the bottom of Peter and Janet's garden as their meeting place. To introduce the characters, the children think aloud while writing the notes...
"Let's see—we want one for Pam, one for Colin, one for Jack, one for Barbara—who's the seventh of us? I've forgotten."
"George, of course," said Janet.
I found this quite funny, seeing as they had originally formed the society with a group of their friends—and then forget the name of one of the members!
They decorate the shed in a fashion which sets the scene for the rest of the series—flower pots and boxes as chairs, cushions, and the large green letters "SS" on the door. There is also the obligatory plate of biscuits and a strange drink made of blackcurrant jam, water and sugar because Mummy hadn't any lemonade. Sounds quite disgusting really, but Peter proclaims it 'scrumplicious'—a mixture of 'scrumptious' and 'delicious'. As there is nothing to discuss at the meeting they decided to make snowmen, which leads them straight into adventure when Jack returns later to collect his Secret Seven badge. As his torch battery runs out right at the perfect time, he sees a car towing a strange van into an old house opposite, where the only tenant is a cross old deaf caretaker. A series of squeals and snorting sounds follow, which sends Jack racing home.
Of course, this is the reason for the Seven's second meeting, and they solemnly make their plans. They split up to find out the owners of the house, examine the snow for tyre prints, and come across strange marks like the footprints of somebody wearing very large slippers. They also interview the caretaker, who turns out to be even grumpier than they first thought.
From all of this they deduct that a prisoner must be hidden in the house somewhere, but decide to keep things secret until they can prove something—just in case they look silly if they're wrong. The four boys decide the best thing to do is to dress up as snowmen and stand among those they originally made—but of course they don't wait around very long in the cold. Peter and Jack decide to explore the house, just as the men arrive. They are taken prisoner (very a la Fatty in The Mystery of the Secret Room) and hear strange boiling noises and more screams. They are then locked in the basement with the 'prisoner' Kerry Blue (I won't elaborate on that point, as it's a bit of a spoiler). Peter and Jack now know everything—but are trapped inside!
Colin and George (very predictably) come to the rescue—and, as with all Blyton's mysteries, things are wrapped up very nicely indeed.
For a change from the Mystery series, all of the policemen in the Secret Seven books act very 'policeman-like'—no bumbling, and they really only appear in time to wrap things up. For some reason they are always described as 'fine, strong men'—it seems they are the only type employed in Peterswood (which is, incidentally, the name of their village).
The Secret SevenReview by Keith Robinson (July 29, 2006)
It's been oh-so-long since I read this series. I always remembered the books as being "juvenile" even when I read them at ten or eleven years old, so I wasn't overly bothered about reading them again. But I was pleasantly surprised. It's true that the books make for very light reading, at only a third of the length of, say, the Five Find-Outer Mystery books. You might call these books "bite-sized," great for a quick nibble between meals.
As Heather said above, the Seven fall into Enid Blyton's normal routine of introducing the characters in a verbal manner, even though in real life there would be no need for this. The example Heather gave could just as easily be something like...
"Let's see—I'll do notes for Pam, Colin, and Jack," said Peter, "and you do notes for Barbara and George."
There. Done. All seven members introduced, and without resorting to silly verbal exposition. That said, this is a small niggle, and to be expected in what is essentially a series aimed at seven-year-olds. It doesn't stop it being fun, and these books are a lot of fun.
There's not a whole lot of characterization, but just enough to see the characters as different people. Well, most of them anyway. Peter is the leader, proud of his Society and a little pompous and arrogant about it. Janet is his sister, and quite a decent sort of sister too; not like Jack's annoying sister Susie, who is not a member and never will be. Jack, in my opinion, is a nicer guy than Peter, and second-in-command (that might be my assumption in this first book, but later in the series he is "left in charge" while Peter is at the cinema).
Pam and Barbara, in this first book, might as well not be in the Secret Seven, for all their input. Barbara actually comes across as a little impatient as Janet makes a rough sketch of the tyre print, and this makes her worse than useless, not a very good member of the SS at all. Meanwhile, it's just as difficult to distinguish Colin from George, but at least both boys get a role. While girls are not allowed to join in with the "dangerous adventures," the boys do so as a group.
It states in the inside flap of the dust jacket that "SS" stands for "Secret Seven" (as we all know). However, in the opening chapters of the first book, and even throughout the first few books of the series, "SS" seems also to stand for "Secret Society" and "Seven Society." There's also mention of "Secret Seven Society" but thankfully we're spared any mention of "SSS" badges.
I find it amusing how Peter is so bossy and demanding with his rules, and yet I completely agree with him. If you're going to belong to a secret society then you'd better make sure you remember the password and badge when you show up at the meeting place. All this adds to the secrecy and general excitement of being in a club, but the formalities probably increase the level of attention and focus as well. Still, it's always funny that Peter sits still and quiet until the member has spoken the password, even when two members arrive together and speak the password one after the other. This is only the first book, but already I'm wondering if Peter will ever refuse entry to a member who forgets the password. More to the point, what will happen if that annoying Susie ever gets hold of it and speaks it aloud outside the shed door. Will she be granted access?
As a first book in a series, this story is quite light and simple, but a lot of fun. It neatly paves the way for a series of similar but more involved stories to come.
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