Out of all Enid Blyton's many mystery series, "The Famous Five" (made up of Julian, George, Dick, Anne and Timmy the dog) are certainly the most well-known, whereas "The Five Find-Outers" are virtually unknown. However, there are some interesting similarities and differences between the two groups, and though there are certainly some faults to "The Five Find-Outers" series, they should not be discounted completely. The name "The Five Find-Outers" is rather silly, but children themselves think it is too (Bets thought it up in the first book, and though they mocked the name, it stuck) and as always there is an element of sexism in the novels (if there is exciting night-time activities to be done, the girls are invariably left at home), but the mysteries themselves are interesting without being too simplistic or too difficult. A mystery is established, clues are carefully considered, suspects are drawn up and discarded through a process of elimination and quick-minded young readers will enjoy the logical process of uncovering the mystery - and perhaps get the thrill of figuring out the solution before the characters do. I well remember feeling exhilaration at guessing the location of the diamonds, or the identity of the criminal, or the whereabouts of the hideaway, or whatever the McGuffin of the particular book was before its completion.
"The Famous Five" all had separate personalities, all contributing something different to the group: Julian was the leader, George was the vivacious tomboy, Anne was the little housekeeper, and Dick was...well, perhaps Dick was a little bland. But on the whole, the children could be enjoyed as individuals and worked together as a team. The same cannot be said of "The Five Find-Outers", which perhaps was part of the reason this series were neither as distinctive nor as popular as "The Famous Five". Instead, the Find-Outers revolved around one core character, Frederick "Fatty" Trotteville, who was more intelligent, more interesting and more colourful than the other four children put together. Indeed the characters of Larry, Daisy, Pip and Bets are hardly relevant, they exist simply as sounding-boards to Fatty's genius and one could argue that the books could have easily been written with the other four children removed entirely from the picture.
Yet at the same time, the lack of character interest in the other children is practically made up for in the figure of Fatty. As robust as his nickname would suggest, Fatty is every child's dream. He can disguise himself into any individual he pleases, is fluent in French, gifted at ventriloquism and storytelling, can spout verses off the top of his head, always has plenty of money and impeccable manners, and has a mind worthy of a young Sherlock Holmes. As one friend says of him; he is accidentally good at most things. In short, he is a fantastic character, and one can only wish that we were like him in some way. The fact that he is not some chiselled boy-model makes him even more extraordinary. When faced with a new mystery (which conveniently pops up in every book), he takes charge of the other children much like a police officer organises his troops in order to solve the crime logically, intelligently and efficiently.
This is of particular note since one reoccurring conceit in all the books is the presence of the local policeman Mr Goon, an aptly-named bullish oaf who despises Fatty and is forever attempting to thwart his attempts at solving the various mysteries they come up against. Given the resources he has at hand Goon certainly has the upper hand, but a major appeal of the book is the fact that Fatty always comes up trumps, embarrassing Goon in the process. The rivalry between them is constantly amusing (though to an older reader, perhaps repetitive) as is Fatty's beloved Scottie-dog Buster's loathing of Goon. By the time Police-Inspector Jenks turns up at the end of every book, any young reader will be anticipating the denouncement of the mystery by a triumphant Fatty and a humiliated Goon.
A visit from Inspector Jenks brings some interesting news for both Mr Goon and Fatty: a missing convict is believed to be hiding out in Peterswood, and the Inspector has changed them both with keeping an eye out for him. There are several clues to go on: he is a master of disguise, with knobbly fingers and a scar across his face, and a lover of both insects and cats.
Fatty eagerly informs the Five, and they agree to go searching for him. A convention of beetle-lovers and the local fair seem to be a perfect hiding place for such a man, and it is decided that both should be staked out. There is one problem however, the presence of a family friend and his overbearing daughter Eunice who is staying with Fatty's family over the holidays. Eunice is a hopelessly sexist stereotype of a masculine female: (stout, bossy, loud - think of her as a younger, slightly more benevolent Agnes Trunchball from Roald Dahl's "Matilda" and you'll get the picture) and yet at the same time provides the book's humour as she clashes with the `wonder-boy' Fatty. There's also a little bit of pathos concerning her complete ignorance concerning how annoying she really is - she in fact thinks she's made a good impression on Fatty.
Between juggling the interfering Eunice and the pompous Goon (who provides the best gag of the book when he attempts to go incognito at the fair), the Five manage to gather a range of suspects. But the convict is trickier than even Fatty has suspected, and it seems that Goon's judicial power has finally gotten the best of him. Or will Fatty manage to pull a last-minute miracle out of his hat?
Of course, you already know the answer to that question, but the lead-up to the denouncement is played out rather well, and both Fatty and the convict are to be commended for their genius - as are any young readers that figure out the disguise.