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The Rockingdown Mystery
by Enid Blyton
Wiliam Collins, 1949

This is the first of Blyton's Barney Mysteries (a.k.a. the R Mysteries). This is one of Blyton's better mystery series, consisting of longer novels than The Famous Five and better written than the Adventure Series, but it is comparatively unknown in America. It is not necessary to read these stories in order, but it is preferable.

The story follows four children as they have a fairly typical Blyton adventure. Siblings Roger and Diana are disappointed when they learn that their parents are away on business during their school break, and they will be spending vacation with a friend of the family, Mrs. Pepper. Worse, their orphaned cousin, Snubby, and his dog Loony will be joining them. Snubby is younger than the others and is a serious prankster, and Loony is an absolute brat, but they're nice enough. But the worst news is yet to come: they are going to have a tutor over the holidays!

Thankfully, the tutor has to cancel, and while Mrs. Pepper looks for a replacement the kids get down to some serious exploring. They are near an old abandoned mansion, and of course there's miles of English countryside to explore; both are fully taken advantage of. During their explorations they find a monkey... and shortly, the monkey's owner, an orphan boy and travelling carny named Barney (the monkey's name is Miranda). Barney is polite, studious, rugged, capable, and, as it turns out, pretty good at breaking into abandoned mansions.

Naturally, they shortly discover that something mysterious is happening in the mansion, and it's up to the kids to find out what. There will naturally be hidden passages, mysterious noises in the night, criminals, and adults that don't understand the importance of snooping; this is not very much different from any other Blyton mystery.

The Barney mysteries in general, and The Rockingdown Mystery specifically, stand out because they are particularly good examples of 50s mystery stories for modern readers. The Famous Five are more action packed and have a wider range of adventures, but the outdated classism and sexism really stand out, and they are frankly not always very well written. The things that no doubt stood out in the Barney mysteries the 1950s -- and probably contributed to their comparatively limited popularity -- no longer shock us quite so much; Barney was born out of wedlock (gasp!), does not know who his father is (gasp!), and since his mother's death is travelling alone through the countryside taking odd jobs and following the clues to find his birth father. No doubt part of the reason Barney is the perfect young gentleman in every possible way (aside from breaking into narratively important structures) is to convince readers that he is not a lowly working-class carnival bastard... or if he is, that actually that's okay. But that subtext is not obvious to today's readers.

Overall, a fun adventure, and an okay mystery. This is one of the better introductions to Blyton for most readers; it's much longer than many of her more popular series (but still topping out at ~200 pages a novel), so younger readers might start with The Secret Seven or The Five Find-Outers. For my money, though, this is peak Blyton, and highly recommended.


The Barney Mysteries:

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