Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book Review: The Big Six by Arthur Ransome (1940)

In the eight books of the Swallows and Amazons series published prior to The Big Six, Arthur Ransome’s wonderful characters have imagined themselves in a whole host of situations. Sometimes they are sailors; at other times, they’re miners, at still other times, they’re explorers. This time around, the Death and Glories (Joe, Bill, and Pete) and Tom Dudgeon as well as Dick and Dorothea, fancy themselves detectives, and they’re not too far off from becoming the real thing. Someone has been casting off boats, and almost everyone believes it is the Death and Glories. They have been in the vicinity of each boat set adrift, and Mr. Tedder, the local policeman is sure he will be able to prove it was them and disband the Coot Club. Dorothea, with her wild imagination, and Dick, with his new interest in photography team up to help their friends prove their innocence and catch the real culprit.

While I will always love the Swallows the most of all of Ransome’s characters, I really grew to love the Death and Glories in this book. In their first appearance, back in Coot Club, the three boys seemed very much like one entity, with very few obvious details to differentiate one from another. In this book, the three boys’ individual personalities are much more pronounced, and I enjoyed seeing the ways they related to one another. I also enjoyed seeing Dick and Dorothea in leadership roles in this story. In all the previous books they have been in, it seems like they have always taken their cues from someone else - namely Nancy, Tom, or Mrs. Barrable. To see them as heroes in this book was a nice change of pace. I also thought it was neat to introduce a mystery element into a sailing story, and I didn’t miss the technical sailing jargon that seems to permeate most of Ransome’s other writing.

I am now just three books away from completing this series, and The Big Six is definitely among my favorites of all the books. At some points, the repetition of the evidence and the lack of action is a bit tedious, but for the most part, the fresh dialogue keeps things moving, and the slow revelations about the different clues help to build suspense so that the reader doesn’t know the outcome of the mystery until the absolute last second. Though the reader can easily guess early on who the true criminal is, it is still entertaining to see the kids solve the mystery and prove their case even when none of the adults around them could manage. Just like all the other Swallows and Amazons books, this one celebrates what kids can do on their own and proves that they should be taken just as seriously as adults.

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