Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Mystery of the Missing Book by Trevor Burgess

published 1950

Mystery of the Missing Book

The boys filed out, slamming their desk-lids with the sweet abandon of felons released from their bonds… The form was in a light-hearted mood on this summer’s evening, as the echoes of the last bell died among the rambling roofs of Monks Court.

Except for Reginald Aloysius Martin. As he followed the rest of the chaps out of the room, he glanced strangely at Mr Jackersby's desk, as though his eyes were trying to pierce the woodwork and read again the title of the book, The Case of the Screaming Shadow.

For Reginald Martin had seen this book before; and his excitement was ill-concealed. No one had been watching himn when Mr Jackersby first read the six words of the title. Had any seen Martin’s expression they would have seen a catch of the breath and a start of surprise.

“You having tiffin in the study, Martin?” asked Andy Brown, hurrying along the corridor beside him.

“M’mmm?” muttered Martin absently. “Er – no, thanks.”

Mystery of the Missing Book 2

commentary: My reading this book and writing this post is a case of my missing the point in a large-scale way.

I was visiting the splendid Pretty Sinister Books blog back in January, and saw the picture above. I was instantly entranced by it, and thought ‘well that’s a book I must get hold of and read. Right away.’

But then I actually read the blogpost, and it turned out that the picture was just making a point about the rarity of the book John Norris was actually blogging on. That book – and I am moderately interested, by the way – was Danger Next Door by Q Patrick. (The whole Quentin/Patrick pot-pourri is beyond explanation: I touched on it in this entry, but you really need to look it up on Wikipedia to get the full lowdown on these authors.) You can read John’s blogpost about it here.

When I commented, John said this:
I only used that D[ust] J[acket] photo as an illustration for the post. I don't own that book and had never heard of "Trevor Burgess" until yesterday. Turns out that name is one of the many pseudonyms used by British novelist Elleston Trevor who wrote (among hundreds of titles) The Flight of the Phoenix and the Quiller spy novels as "Adam Hall." You ought to track down a copy of The Mystery of the Missing Book and review it yourself, Moira. It'll be easier for you to find than for me since it's one of Elleston's three juvenile mysteries written as "Trevor Burgess" that were published only in the UK.
So I did what he said, and have now read it.

And, I have just started reading Mike Ripley's Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang: it's a look at popular thrillers in the 1950s-70s, and Elleston Trevor is featuring because he wrote quite a few of them... Though also, Ripley talks in some detail of schoolboys and masters sharing books and being equally interested in the latest thrillers. He's talking about real life and his own youth, but it does  chime with the action of The Mystery of the Missing Book

It is a boys’ boarding-school story, and starts with a Fourth Former caught in class reading a thriller under the desk. The book is confiscated, and then goes missing, and it becomes apparent that there are forces of darkness after it. The main schoolboys are a predictable set of heroes, trying to find out what’s going on, breaking bounds and sneaking out after dark in a very dashing way. They ‘borrow’ a car at one point and drive it some distance. Strangely, one of the four heroes is called Dresley Burgess, thus sharing part of his name with the author’s pseudonym.

They talk in a very tiresome manner, and not one that seems convincing - “Well I’m blithered” and “Tell us all, unutterable ass, or suffer the consequences.”

It is reminiscent of the Frank Richards school stories about Greyfriars. Those featured Billy Bunter, and here again there is a fat boy who is the butt of many jokes: Podger Pepys. It is, I suppose, pointless at this distance (and given that the world of this book does not resemble any reality) to worry about the fact that he is fairly ruthlessly bullied both physically and mentally. But his treatment (at one point he is accused of having “fat blood”) does not shine an attractive light on his tormentors, who are undoubtedly meant to be the heroes.

I was more taken with the mysterious Reginald, above, whose role is not so clearcut. He disappears at one point, and when his father is informed he comes to the school and says
“I have had a great deal of trouble in this direction before. If you remember, Reginald was a week late for the Summer Term only last year, because he took himself off to Switzerland during the holidays, on the spur of the moment.”
The mind boggles somewhat – the boys are meant to be 14 or at most 15 - I think we can perhaps guess that the author was missing the freedom of his books about spies and secret agents, who can wander all over Europe at will. Apparently he wrote three books about crimes at Monks Court School: this was the second. (Perhaps Reginald's spectacular truancy was explained in one of the books?)

As a crime story it was entertaining, with some tense moments. But curiosity value only, really. And if John at Pretty Sinister wants to read it himself, I would be delighted to pass my copy on to him.

The photo of the cheering schoolboys is from the State Library of Queensland, and I pinched the book jacket pic from John – though my copy does have the same one.


  1. does sound entertaining, Moira, and a look at one sort of life. But if I'm being honest, it does sound more like a 'curiosity piece' than a book with an absorbing, interesting story and good characters. Don't think this one's for me, but your review was! :-)

    1. thanks Margot - I think what you say is about right. I read this one so the rest of you don't have to!

  2. This post delighted me, Moira. You are the third person who has read a book based on seeing a photo on my blog. Interestingly, the other two -- Bev Hankins and "Elgin Bleecker" -- both saw the cover of THE MYSTERY OF THE STOLEN HATS by Bruce Graeme on one of my "Impressive Imprints" entries, tracked down a copy, read it and both wrote up reviews on their blogs. Apparently, it's a good mystery, too! I enjoy it a lot when posts on other blogs turn up like this one. It certainly shows how there is an unusual synchronicity of thinking and shared tastes in the book blogosphere.

    I'd be very interested in reading the book because I'm familiar with Trevor's adult mystery novels and thrillers. Also I have a genuine interest in comparing adult and children's mystery fiction written by the same person. I have a commissioned project I'm currently working on and my research revealed that a writer of a volume of supernatural fiction (soon to be reissued) was primarily known for his juvenile fiction. I sought out a few of his books and was fascinated by what I uncovered. You may not be surprised to learn that several adult themes were woven into one of his very odd children's books which has a dark fantastic element involving sorcery and time travel. It's strangely reminiscent of the Narnia books, too, though it was written many years prior to Lewis' The Lion, Witch and Wardrobe, the first in that much loved series. More anon, as they saying the Elizabethan funny papers.

    1. So glad you enjoyed the post, John, and thanks for the tipoff. As you say, one of the joys of blogging comes with these unexpected side investigations. And yes, delighted to send you the book.

      If I'd seen Mystery of the Stolen Hats I think I'd have tried to read that one too.

      Your current researches do sound fascinating - look forward to hearing more. And I agree, comparison between juvenile and adult fiction can be very intriguing. You probably don't read an English author called Noel Streatfield - she wrote one of the all-time children's classics, Ballet Shoes, about children at stage school. But she also wrote an adult version of the same story, but with all kinds of much more adult content - illegitimacy, adultery, semi-prostitution. It is most unlikely and quite discomforting!

      I look forward to reading more about Trevor from you. As I said above it was a nice coincidence that his name came up in the Ripley survey of thrillers.

    2. Thanks, J.F. (may I call you J?). I've read the blog entry you've mentioned, and I'm highly intrigued. And I'm always happy to find another blogger to follow. :-)

    3. Paula, John's blog is full of unexpected and forgotten treats, always something interesting to read...

    4. Yes, I've signed up for his blog. Never too many book blogs!

    5. You can get something from all of them...

  3. Moira: The photo of the school boys in ties and jackets took me back to my boarding school days in the late 1960's. The Benedictine fathers gave up on us wearing ties when too many of the boys wore the same tie, poorly knotted, no matter whether they were suitable for their clothes for months and months. We did not have uniforms.

    1. I'm sure you never did that Bill! I imagine you were always smart. But it was the same in England - schoolchildren can always make a uniform look not smart at all.

  4. Replies
    1. And there was me thinking it was a new School for Scumbags for you!

  5. I will pass on this one too. But I will say that I am very envious that you are reading Mike Ripley's Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang. I can't get a copy here for a while but it is on pre-order.

    1. You and Glen will LOVE it Tracy. I am enjoying it so much, even though what it shows me is how few thriller writers I know about, there were so many of them. I suppose I would be more knowledgeable if it were a book about straight crime writers, but it makes me wonder. An unknown name pop up, and Mike Ripley explains that they wrote 50 books, sold millions of copies etc etc and I just shake me head.

  6. The mix of crime busting and schoolwork was quite popular once upon a time. I've read about the character Nelson Lee, who was pretty much a clone and contemporary of Sexton Blake in the early years of the 20th century. Around 1917 he suddenly joined the staff of St Franks and became a schoolmaster, but somehow failed to lose his rogues gallery of villains, who beat a path to the boys school with rather bizarre regularity (it must have been a dangerous place to be taught at!)

    Sneaking a look at my sister's comic books when I was a kid, I remember a trio of schoolgirls who donned monk's cowls and set out to fight evil in between schoolwork. It seemed to be a weird riff on Edgar Wallace, but the title of the series escapes me.


    1. I'd heard of Nelson Lee too - but only in the context of someone saying all sleuths had that form of name after Sherlock Holmes - he gave the examples of Sexton Blake, yes fine, and Nelson Lee whom I'd never heard of, from then till now.

      However I can help you with the Silent Three of St Kit's! They appeared in School Friend (which later became June & School Friend) and, exactly, dressed up and solved crimes and righted wrongs. I am looking at an adventure right now, and they are gliding round the school in disguise trying to prove the innocence of a wrongly-accused maid. I think even as a young girl I could see this was an unlikely trope. I'm going to have to do a blog entry at some point, yes?
      And yet more - Posy Simmonds did a revered cartoon strip in the Guardian for years, usually now called Mrs Weber's Diary or some such, but when it started out it was called the Silent Three, and was meant to be a joke version of the schoolgirls grown up. I have an omnibus version of the strips, and flicking through them is a great joy - nothing brings back a certain kind of London person and London life and interests and crazes of the 1970s and 1980s like the adventures of Wendy and her many disparate children and her sociology lecturer husband. My children - not born then - really enjoyed reading them too.
      The Silent Three cast a long shadow!

    2. I think when Posy took them over she called them The Silent Three of St Botolph's.