These are the first two of several mystery/thrillers for young readers by Mantle featuring Julia and toddler Adam Wescott and Mirabel, Norman and Clare Lester, who are next-door neighbors in a town outside London. Older teenager Ian Wescott is also featured in the first book. He’s taken a job helping at his uncle’s antique shop in London for the summer. Both families have fathers that are away, traveling on business. Julia gets to know the Wescotts when she climbs the tree between their properties, and she becomes friends with Norman and his cat Oby first. When Julia’s mother is called away to help her father after an auto accident, she and Adam are cared for by their hired day-help Mrs. Cuttle, who works for both families. One evening Ian appears in Julia’s tree unexpectedly, asking for help. He’s run away from London after being threatened by a Mr. Butts at his uncle’s shop. The uncle is also away on business, and Ian has found a rare stolen silver spoon worth lots of money that Mr. Butts had been trying to get Ian’s uncle to sell. He recognizes it from a newspaper story on the theft that resulted in a murder, and hides the spoon, but realizes Mr. Butts will be after him for it. Ian has a plan to escape to a secret hiding place in the Lake District he had discovered on a previous family holiday there. Julia, Mirabel and Norman help Ian get the camping things he needs and see him off, but Mr. Butts soon shows up demanding to know where Ian is. He threatens the children, but a good scratching from Oby helps shoo him off.
Ian’s mother, Mrs. Wescott, learns that Ian has disappeared in London, and she goes there to look for him leaving the children with only Mrs. Cuttle to watch them. She is home sick, so they’re on their own. They decide to follow Ian and join him in his secret hiding place, but things get complicated when Norman insists on bringing Oby and Adam along. The children get help from a nosy woman, Mrs. Mackenzie, who travels north with them, and won’t go away. Is she in league with Mr. Butts? Will he soon be after them too?
In the second book, the children go on holiday together to Tinker’s Castle Lodge. Norman is disappointed to find out that there isn’t a real castle there, but the huge mansion and large grounds next door make nearly as good a place to explore. Norman has once again smuggled Oby along. The children meet Philip Ridley, the nominal owner of the estate, and his pet capuchin monkey Simeon, but Philip’s guardian, Captain Ridley, dislikes them as much as he does Philip, and he threatens to kill Simeon. The children help Philip hide Simeon from Captain Ridley, who has taken an interest in Mirabel, driving her off to the local town on dates. The others all hate him, and with good reason. It’s clear after an incident at the mansion that Captain Ridley would not mind if Philip was put out of his way for good so he could take over the estate. A tense game of cat and mouse ensues with the children barely one step ahead of Captain Ridley until things all come to a head when Philip hides a family treasure, an ancient Roman goblet worth lots of money that Captain Ridley wants to sell.
These are excellent reads if you can find them. Recommended.