Encyclopaedia Brown Tracks Them Down by Donald J. Sobol; ill. Leonard Shortall (Thomas Nelson, 1971) By this, the eighth book in the series, Sobol was clearly phoning it in. There are ten so-called mysteries to solve and none of them worth the investment, being in some combination muddled in the setup, purely for edification or monumentally facile.
Exiles of ColSec by Douglas Hill (Victor Gollancz, 1984) At bit clumsy at the outset and rushed in its conclusion, but otherwise an exciting piece of middle-grade SF. Hill moves from a plausible near-future dystopia into a story of castaway survival on a new planet. Distinctive characters, decent representation, accomplished world-building.
The Trouble With Elephants by Chris Riddell (Walker, 1988) A whimsical picture book featuring rotund, fun-loving anthropomorphised elephants—imaginative manifestations of the narrator’s stitched elephant doll—engaging in everyday suburban life. Though guilty of perpetuating some commonly held misconceptions, Riddell’s text and illustrations nevertheless capture the joyousness of elephants at play.
Sweet Danger by Margery Allingham (Heinemann, 1933); audiobook read by Francis Matthews (AudioGO, 1991) The mystery is piecemeal, the villain ruthless but fleetingly glimpsed, and Campion himself little more than the flitting object of a drinking game. (Take a tipple for every reference to the Hereditary Paladin of Averna or his idiotic, vacant or foolish-looking expression.)
Young Legionary by Douglas Hill (Victor Gollancz, 1982) Serving as a prequel to Hill’s Last Legionary quartet, this fix-up novel follows a young Keill Randor (aged 12, 14, 16 & 18) through four challenges on his way to becoming a Legionary of Moros. Easy SF action escapism for middle-grade readers.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown dir. Bill Melendez (CBS, 1966) For the most part a stilted rehash of the comic strips, watchable only for the original and moodily evocative Flying Ace turned Downed Pilot animation. Commonly hailed as a masterstroke, the use of authentic child voices results in a jarring school-play amateurism.
Tintin in Tibet by Hergé; trans. Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Methuen, 1962) A straightforward travel adventure with a touch of mysticism and, unusually for Tintin, no antagonist (and no guns!). Although Hergé plays with reader expectations and includes plenty of slapstick, this volume carries a bleakness that appears reflective of his own inner turmoil.
One Hundred and One Black Cats by Stephen Mooser; ill. Quentin Blake (Scholastic, 1975) It’s hard to believe Mooser was paid for this early middle-grade reworking of the Sherlock Holmes story ‘The Adventure of the Six Napoleons’. It’s fun enough but overly simplified, blandly written and drained of mystery. Wholly unoriginal, save for Quentin Blake’s illustrations.
The Ring O’Bells Mystery by Enid Blyton; ill. Gilbert Dunlop (William Collins, 1951) This third ‘Barney’ mystery might easily have been written during a languorous English summer. The rustic idyll shines warmly from its pages and the adventure unfolds slowly, picking up pace only in the concluding chapters. A pleasant read enlivened by chaotic animals.
Sapphire & Steel, Assignment 5 by Don Houghton & Anthony Read (ITV, 1981) Different writers but the usual mix of otherworldliness and off-kilter intrigue as Sapphire & Steel investigate a 50-year timeslip with built-in murder mystery. The interdimensional operatives again prove remarkably ineffectual in employing their special powers, thereby stretching the story to six episodes.