The fifth book in Lucy Boston's "Green Knowe" series finally brings together our two main protagonists: the house's blood relative Tolly and the Chinese refugee Ping, both of whom have featured in the previous books, but never together. Unfortunatly we do not see their meeting, but instead join the story half-way through the summer, by which time the two are already best friends.
As always, the mysterious Green Knowe is filled with ancient and semi-magical artefacts (all of which are actually real relics that belong in the author's home on which she based the books) and Grandmother Oldknow tells the children stories concerning the past inhabitants of the house. Now for the first time, she tells them a story that holds a more sinister edge to it. In the 17th century a young boy had a tutor that was said to dabble in alchemical practices, and have a number of magical books with which he created his spells. An author with astonishing vision for her time, Boston highlights the unfairness of such a man being thought of as noble and intelligent for following such a practice, whilst harmless women were often prosecuted for dabbling in herblore. Grandmother Oldknow tells the children that Doctor Vogel eventually burnt all his equipment with the help of the local minister (whose testimony was found in "The River of Green Knowe", but only now translated), but it is rumoured that one book of dark spells may have escaped the flames.
In typical Green Knowe fashion, in which the past regularly surges up to greet the present, it is not just a coincidence that directly after this storytelling a new neighbour comes to call: Melanie Powers, whose interest in the house and in the legend of Dr Vogel hints at her true intentions. She is after the missing book, and begins a systematic assault on Green Knowe as its first truly evil antagonist, whereas up until now the worst the children have faced is meddling adults. Like the Twelve Plagues of Eygpt, Ms Powers sends nasties crawling into the Green Knowe: maggots, snakes and bird-snatching cats.
But of course, Tolly and Ping have their own spells and allies, and with this comes wonderful reappearences from previous characters, including the spirit of the gorilla Hanno and the ghostly past-resident Susan. Even the starlings, who have been pests in previous books, prove their worth. It is stirring stuff to see the children fight passionatly for the home they love and attempt to reach the book before Powers does. I only wish Boston had taken the opportunity to include more characters: what about Ida and Oskar? Toby, Alexander and Linnet? Boggis and Feste the horse?
It is the first Green Knowe book to instigate a good against evil theme, and for that reason is sure to be a favourite among most readers since all the other books make more meandering and whimsical reading. In fact, one should be warned that this installment can get a little scary at times, and even gruesome, as in the case of Powers hanging dead birds on a clothesline or the sight of a horned ritual stick, which was described so evocatively that it sent shivers down my spine: "they recognized it at once as absolutely evil." I should also warn New-Agers and modern day "witches" that Ms Powers is a witch in the medieval description of the word - with black magic and links to Satan.
A great addition to the "Green Knowe" books, though often mistaken for the final installment. This is false, as there are six books in the series, and the last title is "The Stones of Green Knowe", an essential part of the collection. Boston claims that she wrote these books for her own amusement, and that has never been more apparent than in "An Enemy at Green Knowe" since many questions are left unanswered concerning the background of Mr Powers and the real intentions of Dr Vogel, yet despite that, this book is one of my favourites.
And as always, Peter Boston's illustrations are excellent, and I love Brett Helquist's new covers; let's face it, these books were in need of a face-lift.