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This is the cover of the actual copy I read as a boy in the late Sixties. It’s a remarkably well-preserved book. I may have been an over-fastidious child.

But its significance is not just personal, it was the first paperback of the title to be issued. What does the charming period cover show? A thief who leaves big footprints (Buster is sniffing them out) has stolen valuables from Fatty’s shed. Who can have dared carry out such a deed? Does he know what he’s letting himself in for?

More of that sacriligeous crime-scene later, but I want to take this investigation slowly... When I open the book at the front end pages, I am faced with the following notes that I made in 2005 when researching
Looking For Enid:

‘In 1960 Gordon Landsborough, a publisher, approached Enid’s agent George Greenfield about his idea for mass market paperbacks for children. Enid was consulted and she saw the sense in the idea, and so a batch of books was released to Armada. In 1962 there were six Armada Blyton titles (two Naughtiest Girls, two Adventurous Fours and two Circus titles). In 1963 eight Mysteries were added, including ‘Invisible Thief’. The publishing exercise was a great success and Armada was bought out by Collins, who sensibly kept the Armada name for the imprint.’

Armada did for sales of Enid Blyton what Penguin had done for the likes of Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene, twenty years earlier. Can you claim to have sailed with the Armada? I feel I can.

OK, let’s get started on the 8th title in the series. It’s summer. Fatty and co. have been lying in Pip and Bets garden lapping up the sunshine. Buster is one hot dog, radiating heat. They all want a mystery though. They think they might come across one by going to the gymkhana at Petter’s Field where Inspector Jenks will be accompanying his god-daughter who is riding in the competition.

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Sure enough, when they’re at Petter’s Field the Inspector is told of a robbery that’s taken place at Norton House. Alas, he wants to conduct the initial investigation with policemen rather than Find-Outers! Fortunately (for us), it turns out that Hilary, the god daughter, lives at Norton House and is now in tears about the burglary, so Fatty and Bets offer to accompany her home.

The Find-Outers - plus Hilary and horse - walk until they come to the lane where Larry and Daisy depart for home. A little later Pip leaves them to go down the lane to his home. Leaving Fatty and Bets to walk up the hill with Hilary. Luckily, when Enid writes this, she’s being consistent with the mental map she has of Bourne End. So I’ve been able to annotate the aerial photograph below. The blue tacks are the homes of the Find-Outers (from left to right: Hilton, Trotteville, Daykin). The red tacks represent the rough whereabouts of Petter’s Field (to the south) and Norton House (to the north). At first glance you may feel that this aerial view doesn’t add much to an understanding of Invisible Thief, but bear with me. Enid was well into the flow of Bourne End/Peterswood geography by this stage in the series, and I’m going to try and hold onto her coat-tails for the course of the book, to see where that takes us.

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Fatty has a good look round at Norton House. The thief has left massive footprints and glove prints. He went up a ladder to steal valuables from the first floor, but it’s not clear how he got down again, as the house-keeper was watching the ladder. As well as footprints, curious criss-cross marks within a circle are found in the garden too.

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At this point I’m going to say who the thief is. (I’m assuming everyone reading this analysis has read the book, so don’t think, ‘spoiler alert’, think of a lightbulb being switched on in a darkened room!) The invisible thief is, was, and always will be Twit the baker, a petite man who conducted the robbery at Norton House, while wearing extra large shoes and gloves that he kept out of sight in his bread basket, the setting down of which on dusty ground being what made the curious criss-cross markings.

One clue found on the scene by the police, is a piece of paper that has ‘2 Frinton’ and ‘1 Rods’ on it. Before that can be followed up, a second robbery takes place. This happens in the house next door to Larry and Daisy. Poor Mrs Williams is rather shaken up. In the illustration below, she seems to be seeing two Fattys. Two Fattys and an invisible thief? Dear me, this mystery is getting out of hand.

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The description of the house is consistent with the houses on New Road as described in
Strange Bundle. There is a front door and a kitchen door. Fatty walks down the path from the kitchen door, which goes past the sitting-room window where Mrs Williams had been asleep, and comes across the large footprints. Fatty wonders if there would also be any mark like the big roundish one that he came across at Norton House:

He hunted about for one; and he found it! It was very faint, certainly, and the criss-cross marks could hardly be seen. The roundish print was by the kitchen door, on the dusty path there. Something had been stood there - what was it?

Next day the Find-Outers are in Fatty’s shed trying to get a handle on the case. Larry is to interview the postman, who delivered parcels to both burgled houses. And Pip is to interview the baker who delivered bread. Daisy and Bets are to talk to the girl who delivers groceries from Harris’s. Fatty? He’s going to follow up the ‘2 Frinton’ clue by staking out the house, Frinton Lea, by the river.

So they split up. Pip goes to his house to catch the noon delivery of bread. Larry goes with him on the assumption that it’s as good a place to hang about for the postman as anywhere. Bets and Daisy have to go to another side of town, which is where the Harris delivery van goes in the morning. But they get their interview done quickly and join Larry and Pip at the Hilton’s place. The four Find-Outers are swinging on the gate when the baker arrives:

He was a cocky little bantam of a man.
“Hallo, kids,’ he said as he came up to the gate, ‘Having a swing-swong, eh?’


Saucy Twit turns down Pip’s offer of saving him the walk to the house itself. He doesn’t want boys messing about with his nice, clean basket. Actually, he doesn’t want anyone discovering that there is a big pair of boots and gloves under a white cloth placed under the bread itself. Twit the baker! One wonders what other names Enid considered calling her villain: Tit? Turd? Mr Kipling? Yes, all of them and more, I expect.

Fatty has told the others that he’’ll be in disguise down at Frinton Lea. But Goon, who knows about the ‘2 Frinton’ clue, is there in disguise too. Goon, more in fancy dress than disguise, is fishing from a boat. Cue the brilliant cover of the first German edition of
Mystery of the Invisible Thief. Great use of white, and what I’d call vintage green. Hang on a minute - is that a string vest Goon’s wearing? He looks like Biffa Bacon’s father, the guy who wreaks havoc in the Viz cartoon strip. Watch out Find-Outers or you’ll get your heads kicked in!

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The Find-Outers think this outlandish figure is Fatty! After lunch, they go back down to Frinton Lea and have a rethink: his feet and hands are too big and hairy, it’s not Fatty but it may be the thief! Larry and Daisy try and identify Fatty who is supposed to be nearby. Meanwhile, Pip and Bets see Twit the baker park his van a fair way from the house (the road doesn’t go any further) and approach Frinton Lea on foot. The cocky baker cheeks Pip, then mocks the fisherman in the boat (Goon). Alas Goon misses the chance to knock the living daylights out of Twit. Larry and Daisy eventually locate the true Fatty, who, on hearing their theory, advises them to phone Goon. When Goon, back at base, gets the call, he thinks Larry is mocking him and bangs down the receiver. Meanwhile, Fatty has found out that the only man living at Frinton Lea has been very ill and could not possibly be the thief.

So that’s it for Frinton Lea. A lovely detour cum dead-end. Time for another map on which I’ve added a third red tack, Frinton Lea, the middle one. The basket symbol, which I’ve also added, shows how pervasive the baker’s presence has become by this stage in the book. Unobtrusively, Enid threads him through the weave of the story. He has burgled Norton House and the house next door to Larry and Daisy. He has cheeked Pip at his own house and at Frinton Lea. As we’ve seen from the Armada cover that heads this page he will strike right at the heart of Peterswood, God help us. But not yet.

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First, the Find-Outers try to rest the initiative from the mysterious thief. Pip reckons that they should go to the cobbler’s and ask who in Peterswood wears size 12 shoes. They are in the tea-shop called Oliver’s when he gets this brain-wave. The tea-shop in present day Bourne End is called Lee’s. It’s almost opposite the police station, just as it should be. And a few shops along from the tea shop is a shoe repairs business. Here is a view of it, courtesy of the Google van’s camera. It’s also a trophy engraving business, just the place that Hilary would have gone to after another gymkhana triumph. Pity about the cars. If it wasn’t for them we’d still be in touch with a more cultured time and more leisurely lives.

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I much prefer the following sketch of the inside of the cobbler’s. It’s one of the original illustrations by Treyer Evans, and I remember it from the Armada paperback of my childhood, in which it was reprinted. Yes, I’ve had this image in my mind for more than forty years. The customer is Fatty, in disguise as a tramp, wearing down-at-heel size 11 boots. His chat-up line to the cobbler is: ‘
I bet you haven’t got anyone in this here neighbourhood that’s got bigger feet than mine!’ From the reply, he learns that there are two men in Peterswood with size 12 feet. PC Goon and Colonel Cross.

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Goon then comes into the shop, in disguise, asking the same kind of question. And after getting curt replies from the cobbler - who’s patience for answering questions about huge feet and rubber heels has come to an end - Goon joins Fatty on the bench outside the shop. There follows that classic scene whereby the other Find-Outers come by, recognise Goon (but not Fatty), and approach the bench in turn to ask Goon a daft question. Goon gets madder and madder, while Fatty can hardly control his mirth. See
Looking for Enid for all the fun of that particular farce.

Goon slinks off to the police house. Fatty reveals his identity to Daisy, who tells him that following on from the ‘1 Rod’ clue, they’ve found a family called Rodneys who live up the hill and of Rodericks who live near Fatty. Fatty tells her that the Rodericks live near him and that none of them have size 12 shoes. He asks Daisy to go and fetch him lunch as he plans to follow Goon that afternoon.

Fatty shuffles his way from the bench near the cobbler’s to the bus-stop bench near Goon’s house. As the following Google image shows, there are two benches outside the boarded up police house, which, as I mention in my analysis of
Secret Room, is due for demolition by Tesco. Perhaps it is appropriate that there is a weeping willow by the bench instead of a bus stop. The tarnished jewel at the centre of Peterswood will soon be there no longer. I sense Goon turning in his grave. Or is it Enid? Of course, there will be advantages for the people of Bourne End when the police house has been replaced by a Tesco Express. In days to come they’ll be able to get home deliveries of freshly baked bread. ‘TESCO is the new TWIT’, will surely be emblazoned on the side of the company’s white vans, if it’s marketing operation is fit for purpose.

I wonder if the old police house in Bourne End is anything like the TARDIS on
Doctor Who. That is, a lot bigger and more significant on the inside than it seems to be at first glance from the outside. A lot more significant in terms of Time and Relative Dimensions in Space. As is my collection of Mysteries. Just 15 old books on a shelf from the outside. But then you open them up - I mean really get stuck into them - and there seems no end to their positive qualities.

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Back to the book. Earlier Goon had gone into the back door of his house and stripped off his disguise. Daisy sits down with Fatty again and hands him his lunch. She tells him that Larry has looked up names of houses in the directory and has come up with Rodways, down by Pip’s house. Fatty directs operations from the bench: Daisy and Bets are to go to the Rodneys to ask for jumble for the sale. And Rodways? Well, that’s only a little cottage and it seems it can wait. Fatty enjoys his lunch, full of anticipation of the chase to come.

When Goon makes his way into the front room to go through some papers, he notices the tramp from the cobbler’s sitting on the bench outside:

‘Turned up again like a bad penny!’ said Goon to himself.

He has his lunch and comes up with the same list of Rods that the Find-Outers did. He works out his plan of campaign and clomps through to the hall. Again he notices the old tramp on the bench:

‘Lazy old thing!’ thought Mr Goon. He wheeled his bicycle quickly to the front, got on it and sailed away before Fatty could even have time to sit up!

Thinking about it, there’s no real reason for Enid to have included this long and detailed scene. I can see why she did though. ‘Location, location, location!’ Or do I mean, ‘Anticipation, anticipation, anticipation’? The juxtaposition of bench and police station, tramp and policeman, Fatty and Goon, what’s-happened-so-far and what’s-still-to-happen, is compelling.

Goon cycles to the Rodneys, where Daisy and Bets have already got a bagful of boots for the jumble sale, but no extra large ones. Then he cycles to the Rodways, the cottage near Pip’s down the lane that leads to the river. Larry and Pip have already found a large oilskin inside, but the old woman who lives in the house assures them that her son has small feet and hands.

Someone came up the path and called in. ‘Granma! Baker-boy here.’
‘Gosh it’s that awful little peacock of a baker again!’ said Pip in disgust, ‘We can’t seem to get rid of him.’


After the baker makes a jaunty exit, Goon arrives for a skirmish with the boys. Goon then wakes up the old lady who gives him short shrift.

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Meanwhile, Fatty has gone to Colonel Cross’s place which, like Frinton Lea, is close to the river. He finds out that the colonel has just got back from India, so he couldn’t have committed the robberies. However, the size of his shoes and the pattern of the heels is spot on. Fatty establishes that Colonel Cross gave a pair to the village jumble sale the previous year. More than that, he gets given a pair of the colonel’s old boots. Goon turns up and wants those boots, but Fatty-the-tramp is off:

Fatty turned a corner and hurled himself through a hedge into a field. Across the field, over the stile, across another field, down a lane, round a corner - and here was the front gate of his own house!

I suppose you want an annotated map of that. Well, I can’t be bothered to make one! Or, rather, something else has come up...

In chapter 16, page 116, of the original Methuen edition, when the Find-Outers have come across Fatty doing a little jig around his shed - so pleased is he to have the size 12 shoes in his possession - everyone makes their reports. Larry tells Fatty that he and Pip also got mixed up with Goon when he arrived at
Rodneys. Now this is an error as it was the girls who were checking out the Rodneys. Larry and Pip were at Rodways. Perhaps this put me on the alert for mistakes, because I then came across an error in each of the following two chapters.

In chapter 17, page 127 of my same working copy, when Bets and Fatty have gone to call on Miss Kay, who runs the annual jumble sale from her house, there is a typo. It comes when Fatty is having a verbal joust with Twit the baker who lives next door to Miss Kay, his cousin. The text says about the baker: ‘He strutted up to his own gate and stood there, going up and down on his jeels in rather an insolent manner, leering at Bets and Fatty.’ Now obviously it should be ‘heels’ not ‘jeels’. Fatty goes on to say: ‘That’s enough, Twit,’ in a stern grown up voice, so maybe going up and down on your jeels is something Fatty recognises and thoroughly disapproves of. But, no, I jest. It’s another typographical error, which I’ll come back to.

That chapter ends with the disappointing news that the previous year’s pair of Colonel Cross cast-offs were stolen before the jumble sale rather than bought by an identifiable individual. Fatty is depressed not to have that vital bit of info. He is further depressed in the next chapter to discover that his shed has been broken into. Several precious things have been stolen: his silver knife, a silver box and a cigarette case. Naturally, there are big footprints in the ground around the shed. Larry reckons that the thief may have got to the shed via the back gate which leads into the lane. This sounds like the lane mentioned repeatedly in
Mystery of the Missing Man. It’s reassuring, from the mental map point of view, to see it touched on in passing here.

Chapter 18 ends with a third error. Fatty reckons they should enquire at his own house to see if anyone saw anything at the shed. ‘Good idea,’ said Larry. ‘Come on - et’s go and find out.’ Obviously there’s a missing ‘l’ from the beginning of ‘let’s’.

Three mistakes in as many chapters. I’ve checked with the other editions of
Invisible Thief that I’ve got, to see if and when they were put right. First, I have what was Gillian Baverstock’s own copy of Invisible Thief. This is not a book that was ever at Green Hedges, because, although it has a lovely dust-jacket, it is an example of the eighth impression, printed in 1966. The ‘let’s’ error has been corrected, but neither ‘jeels’ nor ‘Rodneys’ has been put right. Funny, because, on the cover, Goon would seem to be rocking up and down on his heels to please Buster!

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THe Armada edition dates from three years earlier, but obviously they did their own proof-reading of the book, because they’ve picked up another of the errors. Both ‘let’s’ and ‘heels’ are corrected, though ‘Rodneys’ is not. One wouldn’t spot that Rodneys was an error unless one was paying fairly close attention. Therefore, I must give the 2003 Egmont edition its due, because in that book Rodneys has been changed to Rodways. Well done some anonymous eagle-eyed proof-reader! As you can see below, the book has a splendid cover as well, courtesy of Jason Ford, which manages to show Fatty leading Hilary home to Norton House from the beginning of the book, and Fatty, dressed as a tramp, getting his hands on Colonel Cross’s old boots towards the end. Time and Relative Dimensions in Space!

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The solution to the mystery comes when Pip plays a trick on Fatty and the other Find-Outers. He puts on the pair of size 12s obtained from Colonel Cross and makes fresh footprints in flower beds close to Fatty’s shed. When he sees the new footprints, Fatty is shocked. But after Pip has had his fun and admitted the trick, the penny finally drops.

Moving up to his parents’ house, Fatty phones Inspector Jenks and asks him to come along to the White House and to bring Goon with him. Fatty takes them into the study of his parents’ house. When the rest of the Find-Outers turn up, Bets asks: ‘Why this room? You never use it for visitors. Is it something to do with the mystery, Fatty?’ ‘Not really,’ is Fatty’s reply. But it is, effectively. Because sitting in the study they can hear the click of a gate and footsteps coming along the path that leads along the study wall to the kitchen. Fatty intercepts Twit and asks him to enter the study for the denouement.

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Twit has to be congratulated in a way. He really got to the heart of Peterswood and took on the challenge of Fatty and the Find-Outers with insolent panache. However, once his bubble is pricked, he collapses on a chair and begins to tremble. When Goon leads him off, Enid enjoys herself to the extent of writing a sentence that alludes to three kinds of bird:

He was no longer a little bantam of a man, peacocking about jauntily - he looked more like a small, woebegone sparrow.

Here is a picture of Enid from about 1950, when
The Mystery of the Invisible Thief was published. That’s the same year as the following titles appeared: Five Fall into Adventure, Hurrah for Little Noddy, Mister Meddle’s Muddles, Mr Pinkwhistle Interferes, The Pole Star Family, The Rilloby Fair Mystery, Rubbalong Tales, The Seaside Family, Secret Seven Adventure, The Ship of Adventure, The Wishing Chair Again and In the Fifth at Malory Towers.

I can hear a voice from the bushes, shouting: “Go on, Enid, take a day off!”

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As you can see, in the above photo Enid is leaving Green Hedges in Beaconsfield, taking the dog (which is called Laddie, not Green Hedges as you might think) for a walk. No doubt she’s got another bun in the oven, book-wise, but she is indeed having the day off from writing. What has she got in her basket? Oh, a pair of Kenneth’s neat little boots which she’s taking to the cobbler’s at Bourne End. It’s a three mile walk, but she misses no opportunity to have a look around her old haunts. While the cobbler works on the boots, Enid will walk the streets of the village she loves...

I like to think the following poem of Enid’s was in her mind that day she stepped out:

Now let me stand and gaze -
But ah, so lavishly is beauty spread
These April days,
There is no place to tread.
Then I must choose
To put away my shoes
And kneel instead.


Of course, when Enid kneels she has to lay the basket that contains her beloved’s boots on the ground. And so we end up with this. Or at least I do:

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Note: these basket symbols are not to be thought of as steel baskets like they have at new-fangled Tesco. They signify age-old, woven wooden baskets that leave sacred, criss-cross marks on both dusty and tear-damp ground.




Acknowledgements: Internal illustrations from the original Methuen edition of The Mystery of the Invisible Thief are taken from the Cave of Books on the Enid Blyton Society website, which is the work of Tony Summerfield. Thanks to Google for the use of their mapping facilities. Thanks to Tesco for the delicious walnut loaf that I ate with my soup on the sunny day that I wrote this in September, 2012.

Note: If any copyright holder wishes an image to be removed from this page then they should contact me and I will do as they ask.