The Mystery of Castle Croome by Hilda Boden
Published by Van Rees Press in 1966
Children’s Fiction; Grades 6 – 8, also known as “middle grades”
I first read this book when I was about 10 or 11 years old, and I had such a strong memory of it that from time to time I’d do a quick search of the Internet hoping to find a copy. Of course it would have helped if I had the right title. For some reason I kept thinking that the book was called “The Mystery of Castle Keep”. It wasn’t until recently that I learned of the correct title, and was able to buy an old library copy from Amazon.
For more on that quest, here is a link to my post: The Mystery of the Lost Book.
When the book arrived I was very excited to see that it still had the library card pocket, with the first stamp dated Sept 29, 1969, and the last stamp dated Nov 10, 2003. Some time after that it left the school library where it had been sitting on a shelf, and made its way to Amazon. I’m very happy to have this little bit of my childhood on my shelf now, but I was wavering on whether or not to read it. I didn’t want to be disappointed. When going back to a book that is remembered so fondly, I think many of us have that little nagging voice in our head that asks, “what if I don’t like it now”, or “what if I remembered it differently”? I was too curious – I had to read it.
How did it hold up? I was not disappointed!
The story begins with three college friends traveling from Oxford, England to Croome Castle in Scotland. Two of the girls, Pat and Penny, are sisters; twins in fact. The other girl, Molly, has inherited Croome Castle from her great uncle. Molly’s parents have died, and became estranged from the uncle when her father, a British citizen, married an American and later became an American citizen himself. Molly, an American studying in the U.K., is not so sure what she’s going to do with a castle, but she needs to see it for herself.
From the moment the three girls arrive at the castle, the caretaker, Jamie Campbell, goes out of his way to make them uncomfortable. He’s angry because he believed that he would inherit the castle. He’d been taking care of the place and her uncle for a number of years and felt that he should be the rightful owner. When it becomes clear that he would not inherit, he offers to buy the castle from Molly. But Molly is standing firm, she’s not ready to make a decision until she’s inspected the place and has seen for herself what it might be like to live in the castle.
To say that Molly is disappointed in the condition of the castle is an understatement. The place is filthy and empty of most of its furnishings, and there are obvious empty spaces on the walls where paintings and artwork once hung. Jamie is defensive, and tells Molly that with no money coming in, her uncle had no choice but to sell anything of value. To top it all off, Jamie then explains that the generator that delivers electricity to the house is no longer working, so they will be living with candles, oil lanterns, and no hot water. The girls are a little deflated, but still enthusiastic, and begin to clean the place up and try to make themselves comfortable.
From there a mystery starts to unfold, and the girls find themselves in an adventure. There are creepy noises at night, a dangerous muddy bog, and what might be a ghost. But, the girls do make some friends when they meet a group of sea scouts – a group of young men, similar to the Boy Scouts, that come to their aid and help them figure out how to get food and other provisions to the castle.
It’s a cute story with just enough adventure and mystery to have kept me entertained as a 10 or 11 year old, and even today I was interested in seeing how the story ended, as I obviously couldn’t remember much of the plot. There are some things about the book that will seem a bit outdated for kids today, but remember it was written in 1966. For example, the language is a bit formal. I don’t think you’d see kids today speaking like Molly and her two friends; they use “perhaps” and “shall” a lot.
What I loved about the book, and it’s more than likely what appealed to me as a young girl, was how these three young women took charge and didn’t let anything dissuade them from getting things done. But it was the 60’s after all, and when the girls had been rescued by the scouts, I read the line: “this isn’t a matter for girls to cope with on their own”, I only cringed a little. You’ve come a long way, baby!
Overall, I’m so glad I found this book, and really did enjoy reading it again. I do recommend it, even though it may be hard to find, and I think younger kids today might find it fun.
As always, feel free to comment. I’d love to hear about books that you fondly remember from your childhood.
FYI – Just a little cultural history lesson, in case you don’t remember where the slogan “You’ve come a long way baby” came from.