As discussed in perhaps tedious detail, I didn’t have all the Barney Mysteries when I was younger. The Rilloby Fair Mystery was one I know I didn’t have, but I’m not sure which of the others I definitely even read as a kid.
Anyway, as always let me start with my favourite and work my way down the list.
THE WINNER IS…
My absolute favourite Barney book is The Ring O Bell’s Mystery. It has all the requisite elements of a good mystery – a shifty character, a rude and difficult custodian, a secret passage, strange noises in the night and a few mysterious tales from long-ago times.
I love the way the old tales are woven into modern times, and while believing that a local woman is a fairy-tale witch might sound silly, it works in the dreamy environment of Ring O Bells.
The drowning of the boy is actually a bit dark for Blyton, I always think, but it adds a really creepy element to the story and extra fear and danger to the journey through the secret passage at the end of the book.
I am putting the first book into second place – the first in any series will come near the top for most people I would imagine.
The Rockingdown Mystery also has a creepy and mysterious tale from long-ago, and again it’s a little dark with the deaths of two small children. It also features an underground passage and noises in the night but these are cleverly supplemented with a suspicious tutor and a bit of kidnapping to form an exciting mystery story. It’s a pity Mr King couldn’t have cropped up in other books, I think he could have made a good Bill-like character and been perhaps a better role model for the boys than Mr Lynton!
A HARDER CHOICE
I went back and forth a bit here, trying to choose between The Rubadub Mystery and The Rilloby Fair Mystery. Both are pretty strong (though rather different) books. In the end I have gone for The Rubadub Mystery for third place.
Over-all Rubadub is probably the stronger book, but I find it hard to love it as I find it quite hard to read through the callous treatment of Barney at the hands of Mr Marvel. It’s just awful when he realises he has been double-crossed and isn’t going to meet his father after all. (Of course they do make up for that in the end.)
Apart from that unpleasantness, though, there is plenty of humour in this book (perhaps more than the others) what with the guests at the Rubadub Inn and the two dogs. Snubby is irritating as always but at least he’s irritating a number of even more irritating people!
AND OF COURSE
That means that The Rilloby Fair Mystery comes next. Rilloby Fair has a lot of strong points – the amusing stuffing-up of Great-Uncle Robert with the Green Hands Gang, the inclusion of a travelling fair with its stalls, animals and terrifying boss, a very solid ‘locked room’ mystery and some satisfying night-time adventures. The reason it comes lower down for me is that it’s a pretty homely and safe mystery on the whole. The children set out from their own home each day and are never really at the mercy of any of their enemies. It’s funny, as Kirrin adventures with the Famous Five can perhaps be ‘homelier’ and ‘safer’ than some of their others but I love them all the same – the location is special in its own right in a way that the Lyntons’ house in a regular old village can’t compete with.
KNOCKED DOWN TO FIFTH
Is the Rat-A-Tat Mystery. I couldn’t resist the pun, sorry. The Rat-A-Tat Mystery could have been great. The setting is perfect – the four children snowed into an old house with just the housekeeper/cook between them and smugglers… yet it falls a bit flat. The whole walking snowman part is silly and spoils what could have been quite a scary time in the book. The criminals seem particularly dumb throughout, in fact so it’s less of a feat for the children to have beat them.
LAST PLACE FOR THE LAST BOOK
I think most people agree that The Ragamuffin Mystery is a bit of a disappointing end to the series. There are actually some elements I very much like – for example, Snubby dressed as a ragamuffin fisherboy accidentally receiving a coded message isn’t too dissimilar to the Two Trees message ending up in Dick’s hands in Five on a Hike Together. It is perhaps a trifle more contrived but for me it works.
Unfortunately the rest of the book doesn’t live up to the start. Mr Llewellyn is a poor criminal even with the backing of his two friends from London. I think you should either make your baddies entirely evil and despicable or truly deserving of the reades’ sympathy and understanding in a book like this. It’s fine to have more ambiguous baddies (for example Severus Snape in the Harry Potter books) when you have time to develop a character and flesh out their motives and history, but in The Ragamuffin Mystery we just get a weak baddie who we neither despise or feel sorry for.
The end is also pretty luke-warm, despite involving a secret passage. It’s just not utilised to its full potential.
So there you have it – my ranking of the Barney Mysteries! What would your order look like?