I’d never heard of this book.
Isn’t that awful? I’d never heard of it. And so, when I came across it at a book fair, I bought it and reader, I read it.
It’s not the best of Brent-Dyer’s efforts. I feel that’s something we need to make clear almost immediately. It’s part of the Chudleigh Hold series (apparently? Gosh, I am immensely blank on this book…) and features some individuals who posses some of the best names in all of Brent-Dyer. Seriously. Anstace Roseveare. Humphrey Anthony. Tom Vinton. Mr Jago Halcrow. Kennetha Mackenzie. Kevin Mackenzie. Jabez Vinton. It’s rare that Brent-Dyer goes full Angela Brazil with her names, but when she does, she goes there with gusto.
So, our improbably named crew of Anstace and Humphrey are aboard the Susannah (and that’s the name of the boat – God, this book is killing me) and one night, Kevin and Kennetha (shortened to Kennie) climb aboard. They are orphans, escaping from the dubious care of Mr Jago Halcrow. Humphrey and Anstace try to help them out – but then adventures ensue. And there’s some dude with a barge, some military chaps, and some random other Evil Bloke pops up. I’m exhausted.
Okay. What else? Well, this is set during wartime, so there’s a lot of subtle references to The Enemy and The Bad Things They Will Do If They Find Out This Secret Which Handily Is Now Known By All The Kids. It’s really a book painted in quite broad brush strokes which surprises me considering that it comes out in 1953, alongside Bride Leads the Chalet School and Changes for the Chalet School. Whilst Brent-Dyer certainly wasn’t at the heights of her powers, she certainly wasn’t at the depths of Althea Joins The Chalet School.
I suspect some of this is due to her being somewhat at sea with the subject (no pun intended). She very rarely touched the out and out thriller and her strengths were, as ever and always, to be found in how she wrote people and girls and the life they lived together. Those moments where she writes people are perfect. Those moments when she tries something like, oh, Redheads, are moments to be forgiven. And even though I think that The Susannah Adventure is not her best effort (really, it’s not her best, let me emphasise that a little bit more), there are moments in this book which do still sing. Anstace cooking fat spitting sausages and mash on the beach. Humphrey doing The Right Thing. The shy and nervy Highlanders. The Susannah Adventure has enough of those moments for me to forgive it so much else.