Rereading: THE MISSING BROTHER by Keith Robertson

Keith Robertson has been a favorite author since my own childhood. This is an early book, his third or fourth, and it’s subtitled “A Mystery Story for Older Boys,” perhaps because the hero Ted Fowler faces some life-threatening events in this taut, suspenseful tale.

Ted and his family live in Bradyville, Iowa, a small town where nothing exciting happens amid the corn fields and flat horizons. Even the nearest river is a long hike away. Ted likes to camp, and after a practical joke on his agriculture teacher goes a bit too far, Ted is tasked with finding and bringing back samples of red clay from a nearby farm, rare for the area. Ted soon finds out the owner of that farm, Eric Gillaby, does not allow trespassers. Gillaby makes his point with a shotgun on the edge of the small hill and gravel pit where the clay is, but a sudden landslide puts both Ted and Gillaby in a heap at the bottom, and Gillaby is injured. Ted helps him get back to his house, and before long, the boy becomes friends with the farmer. He learns from his neighbor, Judge McDaniel, the reason for Eric’s solitary ways. He had a brother, Frank, and the two of them often quarreled. One day Frank disappeared, and everyone in town thinks Eric killed him, except his friend and lawyer Judge Daniel. With this mystery to solve, Tom is soon drawn into more serious confrontations with criminals and con-men that put him on the run, even though he uncovers clues to the mystery of the missing brother.

This is a great read, and perhaps closer to Robertson’s adult mysteries than many of his other books for young readers. I found myself missing the humorous and appealing narration of the lead character in other Robertson books, and also think Tom could have used help from a friend instead of going it alone so much. Those are story elements that the author developed later. Still, highly recommended.

The Missing Brother by Keith Robertson

Rereading: DON RODRIGUEZ, CHRONICLES OF SHADOW VALLEY by Lord Dunsany

This 1922 novel shows Dunsany trying new things, and exploring new territory, in this case Spain in what he calls the “Golden Age,” which I’m guessing is probably the 1500s. There’s just this one illustration by Sime, but it’s a fine one, though the protagonist looks rather more sinister than he seems in the book.

Don Rodriguez is raised in a well-off family in southern Spain, but when he reaches manhood, his father sends him out with the family sword in hand to find his fortune, as his younger brother is chosen to inherit the family castle. Rodriguez’s first night at an inn ends in the death of the innkeeper, who was himself in the habit of murdering guests to enrich himself, and he makes a lifelong friend in the inn’s servant Morano. The two of them flee before La Garda can arrive to investigate, and head north. An odd episode in the mountain home of a magician takes them on a spirit journey to the surface of the sun, fantasy edging toward science fiction, but the rest of the book is more traditional heroic adventure.

Rodriguez comes across officers of La Garda preparing to hang a man, and decides to free him. The man turns out to be a powerful leader of a band of outlaws living in Shadow Valley, and he gives Rodriguez a golden pass to that vast forest kingdom that proves valuable. Later, Rodriguez meets a woman, Serafina, and falls in love, but is driven away by swordplay with a rival. As he enters Shadow Valley, he and Morano receive a surprising welcome and many gifts because of their golden token. They ride on across the mountains into France to find their fortunes in war, but things are not so easy as that.

Well written, if in a somewhat slow and old-fashioned style, appealing characters, an exciting story. Recommended.

Don Rodriguez by Lord Dunsany

Rereading: FREDDY THE MAGICIAN by Walter R. Brooks

In the fourteenth book of the Freddy the Pig series about the talking animals of the Bean Farm, Freddy meets perhaps his most difficult enemy so far. Freddy attends a show by stage magician Senior Zingo, a new hire of the Boomschmidt Circus, and is inspired to learn magic himself. He gets help from Zingo’s former white rabbit assistant Presto, but that help turns out to be intended to spoil his reputation. When Freddy puts on his own magic show in Centerboro, Zingo shows up to ruin it with help from Presto, and Zingo is also causing trouble for the Bean farm, Mr. Boomschmidt (whose money he’s stolen}, and the hotel owner where he’s staying. Freddy and his animal and insect friends have quite a time trying to outsmart the clever magician. Can they ever get rid of him and get back what he’s stolen? You can be sure the attempts will include adventure, thrills, and humor.

Recommended.

Freddy the Magician by Walter R Brooks

Rereading: BIG JOHN’S SECRET by Eleanore M. Jewett

Thirteenth century England is torn by strife under the rule of King John, and one teenage boy, also named John and large for his age, knows he is somehow connected to that strife, though his guardian, a healer named Old Marm, won’t tell him who his father was. Young John works as a serf on the lands of Sir Eustace, but when he helps another visiting knight, the Earl of Warenne, he’s chosen to be a page in Warenne’s company. John is thrilled, and brings the sword Old Marm has saved for him, and the ruby necklace that she tells him will confirm his parentage if he ever finds his father.

Life in the Warenne castle is sometimes difficult, but John perseveres, and is chosen to go on a Crusade to the Holy Land with Warenne and other knights and their companies. There he gets word his father may be a prisoner of the Saracens, and he’s determined to find him, no matter the cost. A new friend, Francis of Assisi, may be able to help.

I enjoyed rereading this, though it’s not as good as my favorite Jewett book, “The Hidden Treasure of Glaston.” The illustrations by Chapman are excellent. Recommended.

Big Johns Secret by Eleanore M Jewett

Rereading: FREDDY THE PIED PIPER by Walter R. Brooks

The thirteenth book in the Freddy the Pig series of humorous novels about the talking animals of the Bean Farm in upper New York State has a wintery theme. Jerry the rhinoceros from the Boomschmidt Circus has turned up at the Bean farm in winter with a story of hard times for their friend Mr. Boomschmidt, who has had to disband the circus, and send his animals out to forage for themselves, due to lack of funds to feed them, because his money has been stolen. Meanwhile, in nearby Centerboro, townsfolk and businesses are being troubled by hundreds of mice who’ve come in from the cold and are making a mess by chewing up everything.

Freddy hears of a lion seen and being hunted in the town of Tallmanville, south of them, and thinks it might be their friend Leo, from the circus. He and Jinx head there to try to help him, and discover Leo is being held prisoner in a pet shop. They also meet a gang of hungry cats looking for homes and food. Freddy sees some ways to get everyone what they want, but he and Jinx also become involved in finding other Boomschmidt animals and reuniting them, as well as helping Mr. Boomschmidt recover his money. Eventually, after an exciting animal race at a racetrack, and an invasion of the thief’s home, things get sorted out.

Recommended, as always, these are great fun.

Freddy the Pied Piper by Walter R Brooks