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 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,