The Enid Blyton Society
The Rubadub Mystery
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Book Details...

First edition: 1952
Publisher: William Collins
Illustrator: Gilbert Dunlop
Category: Barney Mystery Series
Genre: Mystery/Adventure
Type: Novels/Novelettes

On This Page...

Reprint Covers
Review by Anita Bensoussane
Further Illustrations


Wraparound dustwrapper from the 1st edition, illustrated by Gilbert Dunlop

1st German edition published by Blüchert Verlag in 1962,
illustrated by Nikolaus Plump with the title Riddle of the Secret Harbour
Foreign Titles
German: Rätsel um den Geheimen Hafen
French: Le Mystère de la Roche Percée
Dutch: Robbert Jan en het geheim aan de kust
Spanish: Misterio en Tantan
Portuguese: O Mistério de Rubadub
Latvian: Rabedabas noslepums
Slovakian: Skrivnost Tajnega Pristanisca
Indonesian: Komplotan Tukang Sabot

Brief Summary by Robert Houghton: On a summer holiday in the seaside town of Rubadub, Roger Diana, Snubby and Barney witness sinister goings on – explosions at the secret submarine base, suspicious characters at the old inn, lights flashing at night. Suddenly they are plunged right into the middle of another mystery and of course are determined to solve it! Barney finds work in a Pierot show to be near his friends, and begins to realize that this theatrical setting gives him an excellent opportunity to find his long lost actor father – but who is the saboteur at the submarine base, and who can be trusted? It seems that almost everyone at the inn has something to hide!

Full Review (This may contain spoilers):

Anita Bensoussane's Review
The Rubadub Mystery is a thrilling and surprisingly emotional mystery/adventure story, slow to start but riveting once it takes off. Blyton draws us into a world of shifting shadows and brief glimmers of light, where things are not always what they appear to be on the surface. The many twists and turns of the plot are masterfully handled, building up to an impressive climax.

Miss Pepper takes Roger, Diana and Snubby to the seaside town of Rubadub for the summer. Like Ring O' Bells, it is a place she visited as a child and, once again, we have nursery-rhyme references. Not only is the town called Rubadub (because of a rock shaped like a scrubbing-board near a mysterious whirlpool), but the name of the inn at which the children stay is Three Men in a Tub.

As so often happens in this series, the old-fashioned inn with its oak beams and diamond-paned windows makes the children feel as if they have "gone back hundreds of years," to a time of smugglers. Enid Blyton may well have been recalling Old Thatch, where she lived from 1929 to 1938. It was once an inn and Dick Turpin, the highwayman, is reputed to have slept there. Blyton may also have been thinking of the old Ship Inn (no longer in existence) at Swanage in Dorset, where she is known to have stayed.

We are by now familiar with the children's fondness for "queer old tales" and, in this book, their imagination is fired by the story of a man long ago who was thrown into the whirlpool by smugglers but managed to escape through a rocky passage. Water is sucked along this passage at high tide and spouts out through a blow-hole. David Cook has suggested (Journal 6, Summer 1998) that the whirlpool and blow-hole were inspired by Old Harry Rocks near Swanage. An additional source of inspiration could have been the waterspouts in The Coral Island by R. M. Ballantyne, which was one of Enid Blyton's favourite childhood books.

Despite the references to long-ago events, Rubadub is unlike Ring O' Bells in that it is not a place which clings to the past. Indeed, the book as a whole has a very "modern" feel to it — modern for 1952, I mean. The seaside town has undergone quite considerable development since Miss Pepper stayed there as a girl and now boasts a pier, a promenade and a small fair with fruit-machines, Dodgem cars and a juke-box. Amusingly, we see Snubby exhibiting typical adolescent behaviour — chewing gum (a habit of which Blyton expresses disapproval), taking an interest in pop songs (not ones with aggressive or sexual lyrics!) and developing a crush on Iris Nightingale.

A seemingly pleasant seaside town at first glance, if somewhat brash, Rubadub nevertheless has a darker side. The fair attracts shady characters, the atmosphere at the inn is one of gloom and the nearby Submarine Base is a place of secrets.

It is not long before Barney arrives on the scene. Having been ill, he is at a low ebb and has sought out Roger and the others because they are the closest thing he has to a "family." The story of his illness, during which he slept in a barn and was nursed by Miranda, arouses our sympathy for him as Blyton begins to prepare us for the emotional finale.

Several of the guests at the inn are pierrots who perform in a show on the pier — Iris Nightingale the singer, Mr. Marvel the conjurer and the Funny Man. Other guests include old Professor James and the rather silly Miss Twitt, who gushes over the children. Then there is Dummy the hotel-porter, friendly but slow-witted. He used to be a circus-performer and even knew Barney once upon a time, but suffered brain-damage after falling from a tight-rope.

Things really begin to hot up when a new submarine is blown up one night at the Submarine Base. Sabotage is suspected, and the policemen who arrive to investigate stay at the inn. The book begins to resemble a classic "whodunnit," as the guests are interviewed and the children speculate whether any of them could have had anything to do with the explosion at the Submarine Base. Why has Dummy disappeared, and is there a logical explanation for the suspicious behaviour of Mr. Marvel and Professor James?

One night, Roger and Snubby see someone signalling from the hotel skylight to the Submarine Base and decide to investigate. Snubby hides near the staircase which leads to the skylight, hoping to spot the signaller when he — or she — comes down. However, to Snubby's astonishment the inn suddenly becomes "a perfect hot-bed of extraordinary happenings." Not only is someone else hiding not far from Snubby, but a fight breaks out between the signaller and yet another person. Confused and terrified, having been pursued himself, Snubby fails to identify any of the night-prowlers and, once they have all dispersed, he is left as much "in the dark" as the reader. This is a well-written scene containing elements of farce — it reminds me of the episode in Fifth Formers of St Clare's (1945) where Mam'zelle patrols the school one night and is astounded to be confronted by one burglar after another (or so it seems!) Yet the scene in The Rubadub Mystery is not comic but alarming.

Meanwhile, Barney has secured a job as assistant to Mr. Marvel. He reveals to the others that Mr. Marvel is in the Secret Service and that he suspects Professor James and Dummy of having played a part in the sabotage. Best of all, the conjurer has apparently managed to trace Barney's father, a Mr. Hugo Johnson who works at the Submarine Base!

The suspense is almost unbearable as Barney rows Mr. Marvel out to the whirlpool one night to collect some important papers from Hugo Johnson. The boy is overwhelmed at the thought of meeting his father at last — but his dreams are to be brutally shattered. After the documents have been handed to Mr. Marvel, Barney addresses Hugo Johnson as "father" but the man gives "a harsh, mocking laugh" and Barney recoils in horror at the sight of his "mean, traitorous face." Mr. Marvel has deceived Barney. The conjurer is in league with the saboteurs and he has just collected the plans of a new secret submarine!

Unexpectedly, it is Dummy — who has a perfectly innocent explanation for his earlier disappearance — who saves the day, retrieving the documents from Mr. Marvel's boat and making a daring escape through the blow-hole with Barney.

Back at the inn, Barney and Dummy relate their story to Professor James, who is in fact a police officer disguised as a professor (rather like Mr. King in The Rockingdown Mystery, who turned out to be a detective posing as a tutor.) It was Professor James who was hiding near Snubby the other night and it was Dummy, who had been raiding the larder for food, who fought Mr. Marvel after the conjurer had finished signalling.

Mr. Marvel and the traitors at the Submarine Base are rounded up and all ends well — except for Barney's bitter disappointment at not having found his father after all. He declares: "I've finished with looking for my father ... I've made up my mind I don't want one." This comes on page 153 of my Armada paperback edition and there are only 158 pages in total. No chance of Barney finding his father in this book, thinks the reader.

But that's where we're wrong! An unusually sensitive Snubby questions Dummy about what he remembers of Barney's mother, Tessie, softly mimicking the sound of a banjo to help Dummy recall the days when he played a real banjo and knew Barney's mother — a lovely touch on Blyton's part. Dummy remembers Tessie speaking of her husband, Barnabas Frederick Martin, who lived in Cherrydale. Armed with this information, Miss Pepper traces Barney's father and, a few days later, a man with "corn-coloured hair" and "brilliantly blue" eyes appears on the promenade — "a grown-up Barney!" In a moving moment, he and Barney exchange a few emotional words before walking off together along the beach. Roger asks what more anyone could want and, typically, it is Snubby who prevents things becoming too sentimental: " 'An ice-cream,' said Snubby promptly. 'Who's coming to buy one?' "

As usual, a couple of irritating mistakes have crept in. Talking of Miss Hannah, Diana refers to her as Miss Pepper's sister when she is actually her cousin. And is the conjurer called Mr. Marvel or Mr. Marvels?

There is some confusion concerning Dummy too. He is introduced as "A grown-up not as tall as Roger, the head rather big for the body, and the face an odd mixture of child and grown-up." These physical characteristics suggest that Dummy has been disabled since birth, yet we later find out that he sustained brain-damage following a fall from a tight-rope.

Dummy's name is troubling because of all that "dumb" implies, and Miss Pepper appears to consider him not quite human: "What a queer little man he was — more like a gnome or brownie than a human being!" What disturbs me most of all is that Barney, Roger and Diana seem quite ready to believe the worst of Dummy when Mr. Marvel claims that the hotel-porter is a traitor. When Snubby defends Dummy, Barney replies rather condescendingly (and ironically, as it happens): "You don't know how dishonest and deceitful people can be, even when they seem quite the opposite. You haven't knocked about the world as I have." Snubby refuses to budge, stating perceptively: "The point is not that I don't recognise bad people when I see them — I grant you I may quite well be taken in by them — the point is that I know a good person when I see one." Snubby is proven right when Dummy shows himself to be brave, loyal and honest, having kept watch on Mr. Marvel for fear that the conjurer might harm Barney.

The Rubadub Mystery benefits from a sophisticated style, giving it a depth and subtlety which is rare in Blyton. I was struck by the number of times that words are repeated in different contexts, creating unexpected links between people and places. Look, for example, at how many characters are described as glum or gloomy. The inn is kept by a Mrs. Glump, her name suiting her "ponderous plumpness" perfectly, being a mixture of "glum" and "plump." Delighted by this, Snubby coins the word "glumpish" to describe anything depressing. The solemn Mr. Marvel, very much like Presto the conjurer in Come to the Circus! (1948), looks "the picture of gloom." Mrs. Glump's dog has "a most gloomy and lugubrious face," Professor James seems to be the archetypal grumpy old man and even the Funny Man says: "... it isn't always funny to be funny."

It is Snubby who dubs Miss Twitt "Miss Twitter," because of her habit of "twittering," yet he too irritates others with his constant chatter. He tells Diana, when she is babbling to hide the fact that she is trying not to laugh: "You sound like Miss Twitt. She babbles like that." However, in another part of the book Roger says exactly the same thing about Snubby: "You go on and on and on like a babbling brook." Miss Twitt says of Snubby: "Isn't he sweet?" and Snubby unconsciously echoes her words a couple of pages later when he remarks about Iris Nightingale: "I thought she looked sweet." That they are similar (which I'm sure both would be loath to admit!) is underlined by the following comment: "Miss Twitt was usually only silent when she was attacking her food, and the same thing applied to Snubby."

Another unlikely connection is that between Snubby and Dummy. Both enjoy imitating the "boom" of the explosions from the Submarine Base and both are capable of making a twanging sound like a banjo. When Snubby wins the talent contest at the pierrot show, for playing his imaginary banjo and zither, Miss Twitt calls him a "wonder" and a "marvel" — yet the real "wonder" of the book is Dummy, as Barney acknowledges when Dummy produces the documents that he has taken from Mr. Marvel: "Oh Dummy — you're a wonder!" Ironically, Barney earlier called the conjurer "a marvel," but Mr. Marvel was a marvel by name only — not by nature.

Words are repeated not just to link characters with one another, but to link them with the whirlpool — the deep, dark maelstrom which lies at the heart of the story. It symbolises the turbulence beneath the dazzle of Rubadub and demonstrates how people may find themselves sucked in by others — as Barney is by Mr. Marvel. Throughout the book, Blyton uses "watery" words and images that remind us constantly of the whirlpool. Snubby is "a babbler," Miss Twitt is "a gusher" and Dummy's laugh is "a ripple." The name "Glump" sounds "gluggy and gurgley" and the whirlpool itself is "glumpish." Snubby walks home in "a whirl of excitement" after winning the talent contest and experiences "a swirl of excitement" when he plans to go exploring on the roof. The whirlpool is personified in the figure of Mr. Marvel when, during his magic act, he begins "to swing his great cloak so that it flowed round him like black waves."

The Rubadub Mystery is full of contrasts between light and shadow and the original dust-jacket design by Gilbert Dunlop draws attention to this. It depicts the children running past the inn on a moonlit night, their shadows looming dramatically on the wall, and even the letters of the title cast shadows of their own. Superb!

Light and shadow are significant all through the book but it is on the night that Barney believes he is to meet his father that Blyton uses them to the greatest effect. Because the moon keeps disappearing behind the clouds, Barney only catches tantalising glimpses of what is happening, heightening the tension. He polishes the silver that day, symbolic of the fact that he has become ensnared by a world which looks bright and attractive on the surface. That night, he slips out "like a shadow" and rows out to sea in the "silvery light" of the moon, which illuminates everything: "The moonlight dripped from the oars with the sea-water, as Barney rowed." The whirlpool, by contrast, looks "bigger, darker, more mysterious" than ever.

The password with which Barney has to greet Hugo Johnson, "Moonlight Night," is suggestive of both light and darkness. When the man appears, wet from swimming, we are told that his body, naked except for bathing trunks, "glistened like silver in the moonlight." This is an appropriate entrance for a man who is purportedly Barney's father, standing gleaming like a silver statue on the rocks while Barney gazes at him in awe. However, the next passage reveals that he is not quite what we expected. Instead of being blond-haired like Barney, he has "a head of dark, curling hair." His face is in shadow and it is not until the moon sails out from behind a cloud, and Barney catches sight of the man's mocking expression, that the boy realises he has been deceived. Soon afterwards, when Blyton comments that "The moon now shone clear as day, and Barney could see everything," there is no doubt that this is meant figuratively as well as literally.

All the above factors make The Rubadub Mystery an extremely satisfying read and it is a pity that Blyton gave in to pressure from readers and went on to add two inferior titles to a series which should have ended with this remarkable book. These illustrations are hidden by default to ensure faster browsing. Loading the illustrations is recommended for high-speed internet users only.