The Secret of Grey Walls (by Malcolm Saville)

I enjoyed Malcolm Saville's books from the time I was about ten. They genre is adventure, which isn't my favourite - but his skill is in characterisation. The lengthy 'Lone Pine' series mostly follow the same formula, but the people mature and develop, and their relationships with each other are very special.

I read them all in my teens, and again about twenty-three years ago. I used to read them one after another, and found by the end that I was so caught up in the Lone Pine world that I felt almost bereaved at the end. So this time I'm re-reading them gradually - no more than one a month, interspersed with various other novels I'm reading or re-reading.

'The Secret of Grey Walls' is the fourth in the Lone Pine series, and features not just the Shropshire Lone Piners, but Jon and Penny from Sussex, who were first introduced in the third in the series, 'The Gay Dolphin Adventure'. Jon and Penny travel up to Sussex to meet the rest of the club, staying at a guest house in the little village of Clun which is new to them all.

The plot involves sheep-stealing, and an old building called 'Grey Walls'. A few new characters appear, who return in later books: the suspicious Mr Cantor, who is treated to dose of the Morton twins, and the friendly sheep-farmer, Alan Denton. There are lots of minor excitements as the children try to discover what is happening to the sheep, as well as getting to know the local area - and what makes it interesting is the interactions between the various people.

My copy of the book is a second edition hardback, which seems a bit more dated than the somewhat abridged Armada paperback version. Not surprising, since it's set in the late 1940s, in a much more innocent age, made all the more innocent by the fictional idealism meaning that children were quite safe being out and about, except when they came across 'baddies' who were extremely bad, but never actually did them any harm, and were always caught in the end.

The line drawings in the book are also typical of the era, distinctly old-fashioned and a bit surprising in places. The story is set in the winter, with frequent references to how very cold the weather is, yet the twins always seem to appear in shorts and light sweaters.

The plot follows the same general Lone Pine adventure formula, but I enjoyed reading it anyway, in the past couple of days. It's not necessary to have read any of the earlier books in the series, but I think that doing so makes for better continuity and interest. Good light reading for older children, teens or adults.

Not currently in print, but new facsimile editions of these books are gradually being brought out, and it's often available second-hand.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 11th October 2008

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