I find it hard to believe now but I was bored by The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage when I first read it, aged about eight. Having read all the Dean&Son books, and most of the Famous Fives and Secret Sevens, Burnt Cottage (the first Find-Outers book I came across) seemed different. I remember telling a friend that the Find-Outers spent all their time "sitting around in people's kitchens, talking." Luckily, that same friend recommended Invisible Thief, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I quickly collected the rest of the series. Nowadays, it's all the "sitting around in people's kitchens, talking" that makes the books so fascinating to me! We get to know the community of Peterswood and some of its inhabitants quite intimately and that's part of the appeal of the books. Peterswood doesn't seem far
removed from the world of Blyton's short stories - a world of scones
and honey, neat hedgerows, games of Snap, silver sixpences, errand boys, policemen on bicycles and comic characters. The Find-Outers books and the Mr. Meddle books both contain characters named Jenks, Pippin and Miggle.
Fatty has, of course, not yet found his feet in The Mystery of the
Burnt Cottage and he comes across as a real pain. He is even
described as looking "stupid" and we are told that "His brains didn't
show in his face." This is at odds with the way he is depicted in
later books - for example when PC Pippin sizes him up in Pantomime
Cat: "Brains? Yes. Character? Plenty! Cheek? Too much. Pluck?
Any amount." I actually wonder whether Blyton originally intended
the other Find-Outers to keep Fatty in his place throughout the
series. Larry is older than Fatty and is head of the Find-Outers at
first, so every attempt is made to keep Fatty in check. However,
Fatty, like Snubby, is "irrepressible." His remarkable intelligence, huge personality and sense of fun win out despite his boastful ways and, by Book 3, the others concede that he is the real head of the Find-Outers. Not only does Blyton gradually forget that he is supposed to be a year younger than Larry (in Holly Lane, Fatty states that he is the eldest), but she even forgets that he is a relative newcomer to Peterswood. In Strange Messages we are informed that Mrs. Trotteville has lived in Peterswood for nineteen years, yet the Trottevilles only moved to the area after the children had solved The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage! It appears that for Blyton, as for the reader, it soon became impossible to imagine that there had ever been a time when Fatty had not been a part of Peterswood life.
Another surprise is that Daisy is said to be full of good ideas in Burnt Cottage - I don't think that is so in later books. Also, Mrs. Hilton is not yet such a formidable character and is simply referred to as "Pip's mother" at this stage.
Although I agree that Bets is rather babyish in Burnt Cottage, she doesn't remain so throughout the series. As time passes she becomes more shrewd and very observant, and starts to display a pleasant cheekiness. Fatty too matures, boasting less and honing his skills as a detective. The relationship between Fatty and Bets is quite touching - they develop a mutual admiration and respect, and a strong bond forms between them. At the beginning of Strange Bundle there are some cosy domestic scenes in which Fatty is ill and Bets fetches his dressing-gown and slippers, etc. They are like a married couple in these scenes - if any of Blyton's characters are destined to marry each other, it's these two!
Although Blyton is not yet into the swing of things as regards
characters, I think that Burnt Cottage is an excellent and
sophisticated mystery, in which the children follow up clues and
question suspects methodically. And it is full of memorable
characters with marvellous names which are either humorous or simply
a pleasure to pronounce, eg. Hick, Smellie, Minns and Miggle.
"Heyho for a starry night and a heathery bed!" - Jack, The Secret Island.
"There is no bond like the bond of having read and liked the same books."
- E. Nesbit, The Wonderful Garden.