Monday, September 10, 2007

Mystery at Witchend - Malcolm Saville

Written and set in 1943, this is the first of Saville's twenty "Lone Pine" books. I adored these as a child and kept looking out for them as an adult but they seemed to be irrecoverably out of print. Not so, it seems, as the books are gradually being republished by an outfit called Girls Gone By. I was apprehensive at the prospect of re-reading this after more than forty years but delighted to find that the magic is still there. The writing is workmanlike rather than inspired but the depiction of the children is wonderfully true to life and the sense of location (the iconic Long Mynd in Shropshire) spot on. This latter point can't be over-emphasised: the picture of this landscape that I built up from reading these books as kid was so faithful that, when I finally visited the area for the first time last year, the place was just as I'd imagined it and felt completely familiar.

In this first book we meet the first five of the Lone Piners (four more are introduced in later books) and are introduced to the area which is the setting for many of the stories. The plot involves a group of German spies, highly topical at the time, and it's one of the strengths of the book that the children don't perform unrealistic feats and don't even prevent the baddies from achieving their objective. The children do, however, demonstrate courage and friendship and begin to form the bonds of respect and affection that will strengthen and deepen as the series progresses. I found it an engrossing and satisfying read and will be reading as many of the other titles as I can!


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