© Robert Graves estate.
This slim hardcover looks like the sort of book that would explain to a child what a mediaeval castle was and how it worked, and there’s a little of that, but mostly it’s a clever historical and detective story. I have many books by Graves who wrote historical novels over a wide range from ancient Greece through nineteenth century England, most famously his books about Roman emperor Claudius. He also wrote highly-regarded works of research into mythology, autobiographies, lots of poetry, and more. This seems to be an early attempt at a book for younger readers that was not published until 1981, about fifty years after it was written. In just 60 pages he spins a fascinating story of Sergeant Harrington, in charge of the ancient ruined castle at Lambuck, his son Giles, and some men that plot to do them great harm: Sir Anderson Wigg and his chauffer and accomplice. Together these men entrap Sergeant Harrington, making him look like a drunkard and derelict in his duties. Meanwhile, young Giles and his friend and neighbor Bronwen have discovered a secret room in the castle ruins that could contain ancient relics, or almost anything, once they manage to get inside it. Graves plays it all out masterfully, in highly skilled yet simple prose.
The illustrations by his niece Elizabeth are, sadly, quite awful when she tries to draw people. The drawings of the castle alone, like the one on the cover, are okay, but others are embarrassingly poor, and clearly she was not hired for her figure-drawing ability. This doesn’t really distract much from the book, since the writing is so good. Recommended, if you can find it. (One of the books I got at a used book sale recently.)