Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Mystery of Smugglers Cove by Paul Moxham

Title: The Mystery of Smugglers Cove
Author: Paul Moxham
Publisher: Amazon
Rating: WARTY!

Not to be confused with the 'Hardy Boys' story of the same name or with the Disney Press story Annette and the Mystery at Smugglers' Cove, or with the Syvanus Cobb story The Smuggler of King's Cove, this rather uninventively (and arguably ungrammatically) titled novel is set in the fifties, aimed at young children, and number one in a series of highly improbable 'adventures' which always seem to happen to the same few children. If they had been written better, they might have been a worthy read, but as it is I cannot recommend this any more than I could the first in this series, and after reading two of these in a row, I certainly have no intention of reading any more.

I had too many issues with this to rate it 'worthy'. One of these was in the quality of the writing. There were some spelling gaffs and some grammatical issues, such as using the term "...going a bit faster than her and Sarah..." when it ought to be "...going a bit faster than she and Sarah...". This may not bother some people, particularly young readers, but it jumped out at me. There were other weird sentences such as "...storm clouds moved inland towards the coast..." - no, 'the coast' comes before 'inland'. If the clouds are moving inland, they're moving away from the coast! If they're moving towards the coast then they might be threatening to move inland later - or they may be moving out to sea! It was just poor writing.

Another instance of thoughtless writing was when the boys were following a smuggler's tunnel dug from the beach up into a house on the headland. I've seen such tunnels in Cornwell, and they are tiny - even a child - which was what they used to run these tunnels, would have had to to crawl. Even if such a smuggling route had begun as a natural cave, there would have to have been some tunneling at some point to get them up to the house, yet here these kids are walking along the ridiculously roomy tunnel, and they come to a blank wall. That the wall was not natural ought to have clued them in that there was something else here, but instead of looking up (why does no one ever look up?!) we read: "Only a madman would build a tunnel that ended in a blank wall...". That they didn't get this right away - that either it had been deliberately blocked off, or there was a hatch above them just made the kids look stupid and short-sighted, and it robbed them of any credibility as mystery solvers. Perhaps younger readers won't mind that, but I hate stories that talk down to kids. They deserve better.

That the kids are not too smart is evidenced elsewhere in the book, too. At one point, we read, "The afternoon wore on, but Will never arrived. Wondering what could have happened to delay their friend, they headed back home disappointed." Never once do any of them think of going to Will's house to see if he's there or if he got sick or delayed or something. It doesn't imbue me with much faith in kids who are clearly unimaginative, especially in their ability to get things done, which is what this novel is supposed to be all about! If they cannot step-up with such a simple thing as finding out what happened to Will, and they all give-up and go home at the drop of a hat, where is my rational for believing that they can come through in resolving a smuggling case later? It's simply not authentic. The earlier actions betray the later premise. Again. this may not bother younger readers, but it bothers me that poor writing is being foisted on kids who can handle and who certainly deserve better.

There were some genderist issues such as the author writing, "Like many twelve year old boys, Joe was always on the lookout for an adventure", as though only boys have this desire for adventure, no girls need apply. The sentence could just as easily have read: "Like many twelve year old boys and girls, Joe was always on the lookout for an adventure". I know this novel is set in the fifties, which is a cool idea, but this doesn't mean we have to write to the mind set of the fifties, but this book definitely was, with the boys taking strong leadership roles and the girls just along for the ride. Yes, the girls were younger, but this doesn't mean they have to take a complete back seat all the time in all things and always be the ones who are scared and squealing. I resented this intensely.

In short I cannot recommend this novel as a worthy read.

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