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.”
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.