Title: The Vanishing at the Small Castle (The Butter O’Bryan Mysteries #2)
Author: Jackie French
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Published: 7th April 2021
Synopsis: It’s 1932, the height of the Depression, and Butter O’Bryan and his friends have another mystery to solve.
The Very Small Castle is home to Butter O’Bryan, his father, three aunts, friends Gil, Olive and Tish, and their dog, Woofer.
But now there’s also a monster at the castle!
When glamorous film actress Delilah Divine vanishes in the middle of filming on Howlers Beach, the police suspect her co-star who plays the movie’s villainous monster …
But soon more strange disappearances begin to occur, leaving the police baffled.
It’s up to Butter to solve the mystery of the vanishing film star, but can he crack the case before it’s too late?
As the Great Depression continues in Sydney, Butter O’Bryan and his friends, Gil, Olive and Tish are safe in Butter’s family home with his three aunts and father. But whilst Gil and his father are away in the Blue Mountains, two local film makers, Miss Rose, and Miss Marigold, have come to film their new talkie at the Very Small Castle, with a young bride running away from a monster. But in the middle of filming, the star, Delilah Devine, disappears. Even the police are baffled, and as more strange disappearances occur, everyone starts to get confused…but can Butter and his friends solve the mystery and prove what happened and why?
Again, Jackie French has masterfully pulled off a historical mystery set in the Depression, aimed at younger readers. She captures the feeling and horror of the Depression whilst making it accessible and understandable for younger readers. She allows the characters to speak through their experiences of loss, war and illness, and brings their fears, their worries and their true feelings to light across the book, dropping hints about what a character like Tish feels throughout the novel. She marries this with the main arc of the novel, the mystery about Delilah Devine disappearing whilst filming the talkie, which in the context of the novel, is a new invention, and therefore of great fascination to all the kids.
Butter and his family, his aunts – live in the Very Small Castle, and have not had to deal with susso camps, the dole or an eviction firsthand. They know people who have – Gil, Olive and Tish and Mr Manster, who plays the monster in the talkie. Like many men of the Great War, he has returned with scars – internal and external – and has tried to hide himself away from society – but can Butter and his friends and the filmmaker sisters help him see another way of living?
At its heart, this is a story about friendship, family, and reaching out to others less fortunate in hard times. One scene, where a family is about to be evicted, is delicately and realistically told, and the impact for readers, regardless of age, is immense. It is a sight we may not see these days, but the visceral feelings drive home how hard the Great Depression was for so many and shows a stark contrast in how people were dealt with, in this case, based on class and wealth. Racism is touched on through Gil, Olive and Tish – as they have Indigenous heritage – and I will go back to read book one to learn more about this too. Butter and his aunts show that class and race should not be barriers to helping people or working together, or a barrier to friendship, and this is a wonderful message to have. To show that the only thing that should matter is the type of person you are, and external factors should not be judged as harshly as they are by some people.
Jackie’s books often tell the untold stories or the harsh reality of war, poverty or discrimination, and often all together. The magic in her books is her ability to bring these issues to life, the extensive research she does and the voices she gives to people who are often not heard. In this series, the children are the voices we hear, and the adults listen, but at the same time, remind them of their responsibilities, getting a great balance that helps drive the story forwards and helps the characters evolve.
I think I have said it in multiple reviews that I adore Jackie French and have since 1999. Her books are always filled with history and heart, and bring so much to life about the known and unknown. They’re powerful and enjoyable stories with books aimed at all ages from the tiniest humans to the biggest adults.
Another wonderful Jackie French tale!