PAM AT STORNE CASTLE (1951)
1951 Evans Brothers.
Pam, with a can of sewing-machine oil and a feather, had worked wonders with the lock at the bottom of the turret staircase. She spoke to the great dogs in the guardroom at the foot of the steps, then she and Carol stepped out into the night. The key of the turret door was much too heavy to be carried conveniently, so Pam hid it by hanging it on a nail she had discovered hidden behind a bush by the gatehouse. Even if anybody found it, it could only give entrance to the turret, and, with the dogs there to guard the door, she felt that no intruder would stand much chance of breaking in and stealing anything.
The moon was up but the moor was very eerie. The movement of the high bracken as the night wind stirred it made it look as though an army was in hiding there and was restless through being kept waiting.
Pam Stewart's first encounter with Spanish children Pablo and Flores occurs on the deck of an ocean liner returning from Paris. Young Flores is separated from her father and brother, and Pam and best friend Carol Adams help the girl reunite with her family. To Pam's surprise and joy, she discovers that Senor de Garcia y Rolandes is a business friend of her father's and is searching for someone to supervise his children while he is away on business. Pam and Carol arrive at Storne Castle, situated on the North Devon coast near Exmoor, and are thrilled at the summertime promise of exercise and adventure. The formidable castle and its dogs are at the girls' disposal, as are the family's horses, the rocky bay and the cave nearby. Pablo finds a curiously large footprint in one of the cave's chambers, and soon the party discovers that it is not alone: young Pablo goes missing, and Pam soon uncovers evidence confirming her worst fear: the boy has been kidnapped.
Pam and Carol render Flores into the safe hands of the nuns at a nearby convent, then get down to work locating the villains' lair. They find this in the form of an abandoned farmhouse across the moor, but it is clear that the men—who also seem to be tied to smuggling efforts through the use of the cave—are too dangerous for two girls to tackle alone. So Pam summons her energetic acquaintances to come and help, and they do not disappoint. Gillian and Hilary soon arrive, with Olive and little Glenda Welland close behind. Their numbers and spirits bolstered, Pam sets about organizing the group and planning a strategic attack. She also presses into service a kindly retired tax inspector, the manager of the town swimming pool, and the resources of the Inland Revenue service to confuse, corral, and ultimately conquer the criminals and return Pablo safely to the confines of Storne Castle.
Pam at Storne Castle might be Gladys Mitchell's best entry in her series of adventure stories for girls. There's still not enough to recommend it heartily to an adult reader or fan of Mitchell's Mrs. Bradley books, but it seems to be the author's most successful use of her formula following plucky young ladies who work together to bring shadowy criminals to justice. There's a couple reasons for this distinction: first, the premise is relatable. While some of her young readers may not summer in coastal castles, practically every girl can understand the responsibility of caring for younger charges (i.e., babysitting). The premise gives Pam and her allies a reason for fighting the kidnappers, not just the taking of unnecessary risks to stay active. Second, the bad guys—though again unnamed and lacking individual characterization, often a Mitchell villain hallmark—have an equally valid reason to target the girls, and suspense grows with this us-or-them scenario. Third, most of Pam's actions stay logical. True, there's a subplot where, in the height of the battle, Pam takes a job as a paid performance swimmer at the town pool to keep the smugglers' gaze away from the castle. But more often the strategems employed are smart and sane, and there's a genuine sense of danger every once in a while that helps bolster a reader's interest.
And Storne Castle, a stone's throw from the rocky North Devon coastline, also makes a lovely locale for Pam, Carol and company to have their adventure. The author's usual attention to setting and landscape are on display here, and the countryside is neatly redrawn as a battlefield for the two sides; often the action most resembles an offensive siege. And for those following such things, this book offers a reunion of characters: Gillian and Hilary had their own adventure in Holiday River, Olive helped out in the previous year's The Malory Secret, and Pam, Carol and Glenda worked together to solve The Seven Stones Mystery. Quite resourceful, these girls…