First published in 1948 this is the fourth book in the series.
This book is set in and around some of the many small islands off the north-west coast of Scotland. No precise details are given, and I think it’s safe to assume these exact islands are fictitious – though there will be real islands like them out there. They visit a couple of islands before choosing one to settle on for longer. The island they choose has a large puffin colony on it. It also has a hill in the middle, a pleasant cove and a rocky inlet just right for their boat.
This time the children are pitted against a nasty group of men who are using the nearby islands to smuggle guns into the country.
We also meet Horace Tipperlong who the children immediately christen Trippalong, he’s a rather weedy fellow and he has a rather bad time at the children’s hands – though you feel he deserves it for being so silly.
Bill needs to lay low for a while, and as the children have been ill he decides to take them on a holiday to some Scottish islands. They plan to sail around, stopping to explore islands as they like. They find a great island, full of puffins, to camp on and the children have a lovely time, unconcerned about the one or two aeroplanes they’ve seen in the area.
The holiday takes a sinister turn, however, when Bill disappears and the boat’s wireless and engine are destroyed. The next night a terrible storm strikes the island, the wind whipping away the tents and smashing up the boat. A couple of days after Bill disappears the children see another aeroplane which drops a small packet hanging from a parachute. Two nasty sounding men turn up on the island, looking for anyone who might have been there with Bill – but they can’t find the children who are hiding underground in the puffin colony.
A man called Horace Tipperlong then arrives on the island, and the children assume he is a crook pretending to be a dippy ornithologist. They are – in Horace’s words – vicious and blood thirsty in their treatment of him, and leave the island in his boat to track down Bill. First they discover a beautiful lagoon, one full of mysterious packages – obviously dropped by the aeroplanes. Horace also ends up in the hands of the enemy and nearly sabotages the whole rescue mission.
Philip is training young rats called Squeaker, Woffles and Nosey. This is useful when Philip is able to scare off Miss Lawson, a potential governess, by producing them from his shirt.
He then befriends two of the puffins on the island, and names them Huffin and Puffin. They’re very useful pets as they bring fresh fish for breakfast in the mornings.
I think my favourite part of this book has to be the chapter with Horace Tipperlong. Jack comes up with such a brilliant idea, and they execute it beautifully. The end of the book is particularly thrilling – a rescue which goes wrong, and an escape which goes worse!
Mrs Mannering described her relationship to the Trent children to Miss Lawson by saying Jack and Lucy-Ann are not my own children. [They] are great friends of my own children, and they live with us. Jack and Lucy-Ann call Mrs Mannering Aunt Allie but in her thoughts Lucy-Ann says Aunt Allie was a lovely mother. She also wishes that Bill was her father.
We break slightly from tradition here – Bill’s around for more of this story than in previous books, and it’s the kids racing to his rescue instead of the other way around. Given the setting, it’s perhaps not surprising some of the happenings remind me of the Adventurous Four books (both of which published earlier). Trapped on an island with no boat, secret lagoons, island rescues, these things have been done before. Hiding under the seaweed in familiar too – though it’s usually boats hidden that way, not children. Saying that these elements are blended into a completely different story and their vague familiarity is forgotten in the excitement. In fact sometimes familiar plots are nice – part of what makes Blyton’s books Blyton-y is the use and reuse of familiar ideas like secret passages, caves, islands, smugglers etc.
The book demonstrates exactly what Mrs Mannering always says – that Bill and the children manage to fall head-long into adventures wherever they go. Bill is trying to stay away from trouble and accidentally picks the exact location enemies of his are working. He even recognises the men who kidnap him!