The Secret Five and the Stunt Nun Legacy by John Lawrence

Title: The Secret Five and the Stunt Nun Legacy
Author: John Lawrence
ISBN: 978-1848764590
Publisher: Matador
First Published: October 2010
No. of Pages: 272

Rating: 1/5

Synopsis (Amazon):
A comic novel, a surreal parody of children’s adventure stories aimed at adult readers in which, unnervingly, the time-travelling characters are aware of their place in the narrative, and the author treats them with curmudgeonly disdain. The plot, creaky and with more holes than a Swiss cheese, is the vehicle for the quirky and unusual humour which is packed onto every page. Our young-adult heroes, Betty, Daniel, Ricky, Amy and their dog Whatshisname, think that they live life on the edge, dominated by secret passwords and meetings. They have a tetchy relationship with Whatshisname, who might just be cleverer than they think; they also have a tetchy relationship with the author, who definitely isn’t. The characters sometimes become uncontrollable. Ricky walks out of the book at one stage and, at another critical point, Daniel demands that his character should wear spectacles. A feeble attempt by the author to kill off his characters fails miserably. This book for adults is crammed with humour, occasionally a little cheeky, never offensive, but always unashamedly silly.

I am an easily amused person. It doesn’t take much for me to crack a smile; a moderately humourous book will have me tittering; a cleverly written parody with witty quips and funny scenarios is likely to cause sudden outbursts of hysterical laughter and coffee to erupt from my nose.

This is not one of those books.

“With hints of Jasper Fforde…” claims the back cover. Except there’s one major difference. Jasper Fforde is funny.

This should have been a dream come true for someone like me. I adore Fforde’s sense of the bizarre, and as a child I whiled away many a happy hour with Enid Blyton, so this should have been a combination conceived in heaven. It was not.

It simply tries too hard.

The self-aware characters are too one-dimensional and it takes far too long for absolutely nothing to happen. And then when something does happen, it’s too trivial and incredibly dull.

I’m afraid I was unable to finish it. I gave it a good chance – I read more than half of it, but the entire time I was wishing it was modelled on the Choose Your Own Adventure series instead.

If you want Ricky to open the door, turn to page 73

If you want every last one of these incredibly annoying characters to spontaneously combust, thus ending this pathetic attempt at parody, turn to page 8

I’ll give you one guess which page I would have chosen.

Enid Blyton must be turning in her grave.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “The Secret Five and the Stunt Nun Legacy by John Lawrence

  1. Tom Burton

    I must admit to normally being a reader of book reviews rather than a contributor, but I suddenly felt the urge to offer my view of this book. I also admit to almost not buying it in the book shop some weeks ago when I saw ‘hints of Jasper Fforde’ in the blurb (I once tried to plough through one of his well-padded books, and couldn’t even raise a smile) but I’m so glad I did. Why? Because I read The Secret Five and the Stunt Nun Legacy (after heeding the ‘mischievous read’ warning) and loved it, chuckling from start to finish. Now my uncle has borrowed it and, according to my aunty, ‘almost wet himself with laughter’ reading the first chapter. Fortunately, that wasn’t the extent of my experience, I must have a stronger bladder, but it does illustrate the fact that everyone’s sense of humour is so different, and what is funny to one isn’t funny to another. Kell has his personal view, and I respect that, but I failed to agree with most of his points.
    I found that the book has just enough Blyton basics – in truth, I sometimes hankered for more – the structure and pace were good, and the characters were a hoot, especially the dog. I loved the Victorian banquet scene (although it may have benefitted from a slight trim edit) and the finale with the Sweeney-type characters was tremendous.
    I was glad that the author avoided a re-take of the Comic Strip parody ‘Five go Mad in Dorset’. That must have been difficult to dodge at times.
    I did wonder after I had read the book if would be polarising, a Marmite thing, love it or hate it. The reader will either ‘get it’ or not. And I think Kell has proved that.
    Personally, I think the publisher’s reference to Jasper Fforde in the blurb is a bit misleading, if not a big mistake – John Lawrence’s book is more zany, off the wall, more Goons and Monty Python, a different sort of read altogether.
    But it made me laugh a lot, and that can’t be a bad thing.

    • I’m certainly glad someone liked it. 🙂

      I’m well aware that not everyone’s tastes are the same (it would be a boring world if they were), and the reviews here are the opinions of people, which are very subjective, so I’m glad someone has left a positive comment to balance things out. 🙂

      I’m not a guy, by the way. 😉

      • Tom Burton

        Kell, apologies for the gender mistake. I know a chap commonly called Kell and I was on auto-pilot. Tom.

      • That’s OK, Tom, I’m used to it – get it all the time online. 😉

  2. Melissa Franks

    Like Tom I do not usually offer reviews on books however, I too think this book has its merits. I loved The Famous Five and read all of them as a child, re-reading them to my own children and grand children (I’m 72 now). Nostalgia nugded me into buying the book and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. Easily identifiable characters and the (almost for me) breathtaking pace made it highly readable and I too loved the dog. I have passed on the book to my grandson (15) who says he’s enjoying it too.

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