HOLIDAY RIVER (1948)
1948 Evans Brothers. Cover scan provided by Ash Rare Books.
After the storm, the weather seemed singularly peaceful. Most of the river craft had already chosen moorings for the night as the Buccaneer, once she had left the staithe, slipped down-river in the cool of the late afternoon on her way to her rendezvous with danger.
For that they were running into danger the three girls instinctively knew. There was a sense of excitement and expectation in the air, and all the magic of the eventide river could not lessen the tightening at Gillian's heart nor keep the glint out of Hilary's green eyes.
Best friends Gillian and Hilary come very close to having their hopes dashed when their fortnight's holiday among the Norfolk Broads is called off. The clever girls find a responsible parental surrogate in the shape of the slightly older Pam, who agrees to accompany them on the houseboat Buccaneer. As added support, Hilary's brother David and friend Roger will follow the girls' progress in a separate yacht, The Saucy Sandboy. And a wizard time is expected by all.
On the train to the Broads, however, the five adventurers encounter an uncouth gang of hooligans, only to spot them again passing in a motorboat once they're on the water. Curiosity grows when Pam notices the boat, its engine cut, maneuvering around the moored Buccaneer in the middle of the night. The group agrees that the spivs are up to no good (turkey smuggling?), but their surveillance does not go smoothly: first Hilary is kidnapped and locked in a shed, and later the unattended Buccaneer goes missing! The teens are not daunted, and between the quick-to-action boys and the resourceful Pam, the party and the boat are soon reunited. But what of the hooligans' night-time activities? The holidaymakers won't rest until they get to the bottom of the mystery.
Upon reviewing my first Mitchell children's story Caravan Creek, I wrote that I did not plan to review (or collect) the other children's books. Shortly thereafter I managed to obtain inexpensive reading copies of three more titles (totaling six to date) and decided to have a go at another of Mitchell's "adventure stories for girls." Like Creek, Holiday River is an agreeably slight tale of teen friends investigating light crime against a scenic backdrop of summertime English countryside. Though hardly groundbreaking, if (like me) the reader enjoys the propulsive plotting and steady prose of GM's adult mystery entries, then her teen literature might make enjoyable reading.
Personally, I'm rather fond of the nostalgic innocence on display from such go-get-'em teen protagonists -- they're all frightfully eager to help each other out, and when they recover from their current fix (as they invariably do), they're quick to celebrate with thick bread and treacle and lashings of ginger beer. Mitchell provides her youthful heroes with healthy appetites, and nearly every chapter of Holiday River details the culinary leanings of the boys and girls. Trailing spivs, it appears, makes one hungry.
Gladys Mitchell's fondness for -- and familiarity with -- the Norfolk Broads is apparent throughout, and she does a commendable job conjuring up enough detail (of the watercraft, of the riverways) to paint a narrative picture without slowing down the sleek, simple pacing of the story. Each of the three girls is given her own distinct personality, though the criminal delinquents remain, in typical later-career Mitchell fashion, vague, off-stage, and indistinct. Holiday River is dedicated to a bonafide Gillian and Hilary duo (sharing the last name of Sheath), so it is understandable why the girls stay in the story's spotlight: schoolteacher Mitchell drew from real-life inspiration.