Old Favorite: We Dare Not Go A-Hunting

Time for a bit of local flavor!  This week’s Old Favorite is We Dare Not Go A-Hunting, by Charlotte MacLeod. Although the setting is fictional, it’s said to be based on Martha’s Vineyard, a place well known in this area!  If you want to read a mystery full of clues and characters, set on the historically accurate version of a local landmark, this book is for you!

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Molly Bassett lives on Netaquid Island, somewhere off the coast New England.   It’s 1932, and the island has been in conflict since the previous summer, when the daughter of one of the summer visitors vanished.   Molly was one of the islanders who spent more than a week searching for Annette Sotherby, everyone growing more and more worried about the six year old’s fate.  When a ransom note was discovered, and the clues in it followed until the little girl was found, everyone on the island thought that the Sotherby family would be grateful, and that life would return to normal.  They didn’t count on Mr. Sotherby’s resentment of the islanders, his determination to make everyone suffer for what happened to his daughter, and the mistrust between the islanders and the summer folk.

Times are hard, and even though the islanders are fairly self-sufficient, the fact that the summer folk are bringing in all their own people, even for the most minimal jobs, has led to financial problems for almost everyone. Molly’s family could use some extra income; so when she hears that one of the summer folk, Mr. Truell, is looking for anyone, even an islander, to look after his son Sammy, she takes the job.  Sammy is a handful, but Molly has spent years minding her little brother Mike, so she knows just exactly how to deal with a rambunctious child. On her first day, Molly meets Barbara, who has come to the island with the newly returned Sotherby family as a babysitter for Annette.

Molly’s not quite as sure what to think about Annette, who manipulates everyone in her household–from the servants to her parents to the doctor they brought along to care for her flights of fancy–into doing exactly what she wants.  When Annette throws a temper tantrum, everyone panics and rushes to do her bidding.  Annette talks constantly about visiting the fairies the prior summer, and doesn’t seem to be “quite right in the head”, according to Mr. Truell. (Told to Molly completely in confidence, of course.) Since the Truells and the Sotherbys are friends though, Molly spends a lot of time with Barbara and Annette while she watches Sammy.

The servants of the summer folk are suspicious of all the islanders, even a teenage girl.  Molly starts defending her fellow Netaquidders to the summer folk, thinking that no one on the island would be capable of kidnapping a child for a week.  But with a little more knowledge about what happened,  she realizes that only someone familiar with the island and all its hiding spots oulc have done it. And once that thought is in her head, all Molly can do is think about the possible suspects.

Was it one of her fellow islanders?  It doesn’t seem possible that it was one of the summer folk; they don’t know the island well enough.  But how could someone in the close-knit island community keep such a secret?  Where could Annette have been kept in secret for a week?  Where did the ransom go? Molly pours over the possibilities, even as she keeps track of Sammy and befriends Tom Nevers, a friend of her brothers.

But when Molly is the horrified witness to another kidnapping, this time of both Annette and Sammy, she knows that in order to solve the current kidnapping, she has to get to the bottom of what happened the summer before.  Molly is determined to find both children, even if it means putting herself in danger.  She has to, in order to  clear her name, and solve the mystery of Netaquid Island.

* * *

Although We Dare Not Go A-Hunting is not as well-known as some of the other books we’ve featured as Old Favorites, it is a fun book to read.  (In fact, unlike most of the other books, there’s only one cover!  I think that’s a first.)  Charlotte MacLeod is probably more well-known for her adult mysteries, many of them set in Boston.  She lived all over the Boston area though, and was actually a library trustee in Sudbury.  We Dare Not Go A-Hunting was the last juvenile mystery she wrote though, and was published in 1980.

My favorite part of We Dare Not Go A-Hunting is the flavor of Massachusetts that runs throughout the whole book.  There are also many details of life during The Great Depression, the way people spoke out on the islands, and how people managed to pull things together from very little. The sense of community is also very strong, and the feeling of two very separate life-styles on a very small island.

If you like mysteries and are going to visit Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket, try reading We Dare Not Go A-Hunting first. Compare it to what you find there, and think about what life would have been like on the island without air conditioning, electricity and immediate transportation.  I’d recommend this book to kids in grades 4 to 7 who like mysteries and Massachusetts.



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