The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters, by Enid Blyton

May 3, 2012 at 01:39 (Book Reviews, Children's Books, Fiction, Mystery, Poorly Rated Books) (, , , )


The Five Find-Outers series is a light-hearted and frequently outrageously funny and slapstick mystery romp. How disturbing, then, to find elements of real tragedy within the pages. In several volumes, the villain will typically mention some misfortune or woe that mitigates his or her crimes, but in Blyton’s world of upper-middle class postwar England, things are generally very simple. Greed and cruelty are the gateway drugs to lawbreaking and gaol; and honest hardworking folk live honest and superficially trouble-free lives.

“‘There’s something wrong I once did that I’m ashamed of now, see?'”

-The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters

The Spiteful Letters of the title are startling for their sheer venom, but more so for the sudden intrusion into the lives of relative innocents. Gladys, for instance, whose crime the eponymous letters trumpet is the crime of having a difficult upbringing. The focus on bigotry and blackmail, on shame and ostracism, marks a surprisingly adult turn in these mostly carefree books.

This is not to say that children’s books ought not have tragic adult themes in them. But it is the sudden change in direction–without either warning or explanation–that makes this book less fun to read than several of the others in the series. The plot is heavily recycled in the much later Five Find-Outers book, The Mystery of the Strange Messages, which takes the poison-pen theme in a much lighter and funnier direction. Some sentences are lifted verbatim from one book to the other, so that it is impossible not to wonder whether Blyton herself wished to revisit and rewrite this darker early mystery.

The Spiteful Letters is difficult to enjoy, although Blyton’s description of idyllic village life is warm and charming as usual. As the fourth book in the series, the group’s dynamic has settled down a little (with the election of Fatty as leader in the previous book) and many of the series’ teething problems have petered out. A transitional effort, then, with the formula of the series more or less settled, but with the tone still an uncertain quantity.

Related reviews:
The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage
The Mystery of Holly Lane

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: