Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The Mystery Of The Invisible Dog

The boys are hired by Fenton Prentice, who seems to be experiencing a haunting in his apartment and whilst there, they get involved in a robbery. When it later comes to light that what was stolen, a crystal statue of The Carpathian Hound (the invisible dog of the title), belonged to Prentice, the boys have a bigger case to crack. Probably my favourite of the entire series, Carey perfectly captures the mood and atmosphere of the post-Christmas period and her sense of location here is superb - the park, the church and Paseo Place are all vividly described. The story zips along, from the superb opening sequence right through to the climax, with plenty of well-drawn characters and some excellent set pieces (including an encounter in the church). This also gains credit by having two supernatural events (an out-of-body wanderer and the cover-star phantom priest, the latter of which inspires the great last line) that are presented ‘just so’, with no attempt to explain them away. Rich, well paced and with a good mystery at its heart, this is an excellent book and very highly recommended.

The 1979 edition (left) is the one I read and features my favourite cover. I got the 1981 edition (right) as that's the one most of my collection is in, though the cover isn't nearly as evocative for me.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The Secret Of Shark Reef

The boys accompany Mr Andrews up to Santa Barbara, where he is working on a story involving the crime writer John Crowe, who is organising a protest against an oil drilling rig near to Santa Cruz island. Crowe also has his own mystery, which the boys help him with - his fuel is being depleted, as if someone is smuggling and using his boat to accomplish it. With some vivid set-pieces (the storm and the submarine, especially), a great sense of location, some nice background work with environmentalism and a cracking pace, this works well as a mystery even if it is a bit too convoluted for its own good. Although not the best Arden book, this is probably a fitting end (to my mind anyway) to the ‘proper run’ of books (Hitchcock died shortly after this was published) and, as such, is well worth a read.

Monday, 29 November 2010

The Mystery Of The Sinister Scarecrow

The boys are on their way across the Santa Monica mountains when the truck has a blow-out. Making their way to a nearby barn to use the phone, Jupe is mistaken for a scarecrow, which is plaguing a local socialite, who has a big phobia of bugs and spiders. The mystery deepens when an entomologist, who is studying army ants, has samples stolen and everything seems to tie in with the nearby Mosby museum. Filled with vivid, exaggerated characters, this suffers somewhat in that everyone accepts the scarecrow is wandering around, which doesn’t help the suspense at all. Laetitia, the socialite, is very irritating and it’s hard to feel sympathy for her and, whilst all the characters seem to have a motive, Jupe is uncharacteristically dismissive of them. Worse, when the book reveals the true mystery - a double-attempt at art theft - you’re left wondering why the criminals decided that dressing up like a scarecrow would work. As polished as ever, this seems very slight in comparison to its immediate predecessors and a lot of the detection is left to chance (including one rescue of the boys, which is almost an ‘with one bound he was free’ moment). This isn’t bad and the quick pace helps to paper over some of the cracks, but this certainly isn’t a strong entry in the series.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The Mystery Of The Deadly Double

When Jupiter is kidnapped by mistake, in an attempt by political extremists to unseat the liberal Prime Minister of Nanda, an African nation, the boys are thrust into a tale of international intrigue. Aiding two agents from the Nandan trade mission, it appears that the Prime Minister’s son Ian has gone missing - he and Jupiter are exact doubles (apart from one cleverly revealed thing) - and the kidnappers need him to force his father to stand down. This rockets along, with some thrilling set pieces (the escape, by Jupiter, from his kidnappers being one), great characters and a nice nod to the anti-apartheid movement and has Bob and Pete coming out on top in the detection stakes. Well written, gripping stuff - highly recommended.

I love the hardback cover art for this, which makes the Jones house - for me - reminiscent of Norman Bates' and they obviously realised they couldn't compete with it for the paperback and so went in a completely different direction (see left)

The Mystery Of The Magic Circle

The boys are working part-time at Amigos Press, run by the smart but clumsy Beefy Tremayne. He’s just taken receipt of the potentially explosive memoirs of Madeline Bainbridge, an actress from Hollywood’s Golden era, who might or might not have been a witch. When the Amigos offices are burned down, the memoirs stolen and Bainbridge’s films snatched from a TV studio next door, it’s up to the boys to get to the bottom of things. Starting with a bang, this has a terrific pace and is a real page-turner, with some great supporting characters and a nostalgic appreciation for old Hollywood. The boys interplay was excellent, the plot was watertight and some of the set pieces were inspired. This is great fun and a terrific read, very highly recommended.

The format B version, which is the one I have.  The same story, a completely different selling point.  I like both, to be honest, but my trust

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Mystery Of The Headless Horse

The boys help out a school-friend, Diego Alvaro and stumble across a centuries old mystery, involving a missing, jewel encrusted sword, encountering bush-fire, sinister cowboys and savage dogs along the way. Briskly told and very well constructed, as with all Arden stories, this suffered for me in that the location - which was key - had to be explained at length and it felt dry and uninvolving. It also hinges on the fact that the mystery is solved, essentially, by the weather, with mudslides showing the way. There was a lot to like - especially that the boys are helped out by Prof Marcus Moriarty, a nice link back to the Sherlock Holmes connections of the earlier Arthur-written books - and the atmosphere is good (especially the rain and chill in the air), but I found myself distracted and unable to picture the scene properly for a lot of the outdoor stuff. Recommended, nonetheless, but not prime Arden.

The Mystery Of The Dancing Devil

One of my all-time favourites, this has one of the best opening sequences in the series (excepting, perhaps, “Green Ghost”), as the boys discover a series of thefts on Pete’s block. After a nicely done stake-out - very atmospheric, with the fog that enshrouds everything - they’re on the trail of the dancing devil, a fabulous statue that seems to be guarded by a spirit! A cracking (and not a little frightening) central image, some very nicely done set pieces and a good pace, the only issue I had was that a section in the middle reminded me of “Phantom Lake” (a curio shop and getting trapped on a boat). Having said that, this is terrific fun and well worth a read.

The Mystery Of Death Trap Mine

Teaming up again with Allie (from “Singing Serpent”), the boys travel to her Uncle’s Christmas Tree farm in New Mexico, which is close to an abandoned mine (the Death Trap of the title). Local-boy-made-good Thurgood has re-opened the mine, then Allie and the boys find a dead body in there and clues start to pop up that indicate the corpse might have been involved in an armoured car robbery. This is really good fun, with a smart mystery at the centre of it, a good pace and excellent use of some wonderfully realised locations. The characters are strong and work well together and Allie, as always, fits in nicely. Really enjoyable and very highly recommended.

(out of sequence because I’m saving “The Invisible Dog” to read during Christmas week 2010)

The Mystery Of The Dead Man’s Riddle

Dingo Towne, a local character, has died and instead of a regular will, he’s set a series of riddles, with the winner taking his fortune. Hired by Dingo’s daughter-in-law to try and solve the riddles, the boys have to compete with nasty English relatives, Skinny Norris and treasure hunters. A very sturdy mystery, well constructed with clever clues, this is a cracking adventure, with good action, nifty set pieces (the river boat and climax especially) and a lot of different locations in and around Rocky Beach. It also has a very winning character in Billy Towne, Dingo’s 8 year old nephew, who is well written and good fun. One of the series highlights, very much recommended.

The Secret Of The Haunted Mirror

Quite by chance, the Three Investigators encounter Mrs Darnley and her house filled with mirrors, including the goblin glass which appears to be cursed by an embittered sorcerer. Filled with some genuinely spooky moments, a cracking mystery and great (and often larger-than-life) characters, this is a storming entry into the series and has everything you want from a Three Investigator book. All of the lads get a chance to shine, the writing is top-notch and the ending highlights Jupe’s deductive powers to a tee. Well worth a read, this is one of the best of the series.

The Mystery Of Monster Mountain

Hans & Konrad travel up to Sky Village, to stay with their cousin Anna and the boys tag along for a camping trip. However, it’s soon obvious that everything isn’t as it should be. Never one of my favourites, with this re-read, I’ve revised that opinion slightly - it’s well written, fast paced and has some nice interplay between the boys. However, the main mystery (not the title one) has such a preposterous explanation that it does feel very contrived, whilst the monster - obviously the big draw (title and artwork)- has only the most minor part to play. Not as bad as I remembered it, this is far from the worst TTI book and is worth a read.

The Secret Of Phantom Lake

Well, I started my reading year with a cracker here. The boys are on a buying trip with Aunt Mathilda when they run into Java Jim, who desperately wants an old chest belonging to Angus Gunn. He had a house on Phantom Lake and it was rumoured he’d buried treasure on the property, but no-one has ever found it. Taking in a ghost town, a trip to (real locations, I discovered, in) Santa Barbara and several cases of mistaken identity, this is a cracking adventure, told with flair and originality from start to finish. There’s good interplay between the boys (including a couple of comedy moments), it’s a good mystery, there’s a great atmosphere (the use of Christmas lights, plus the weather) and there’s a nicely spooky sequence amongst the cypress trees on Cabrillo Island. Very much recommended.

The Mystery Of The Shrinking House

The boys are in the right place at the right time when, accompanying Uncle Titus on a buying trip, they chase an intruder seen racing away from a house in a canyon. The house was occupied by an artist and, following his death, three people suddenly appear in Rocky Beach who are very keen on him and his paintings which might - or might not - lead to a long-lost masterpiece. As tightly plotted and well-written as all Arden’s books are, this is quite dry but still entertaining, with all three lads having a clear role to play. The supporting characters are well-rounded and all serve a purpose and there’s some nice interaction with Uncle Titus. The Hitchcock intro is odd though, with the master director suddenly having an attitude similar to the one he had on “Terror Castle”.

The cover art for the hardback clearly represents the title, which is misleading in itself (there isn't actually a house that shrinks at all) and so, for the paperbacks, other aspects were played up - as seen here, in the 1983 edition.

The Mystery Of The Singing Serpent

This is great fun and a cleverly plotted mystery . Allie Jameson is a neighbour of the Jones’, her parents are in Europe and her aunt is in charge, but she’s a member of a cult that includes new house-guest Ariel. The boys are drawn in when they witness one of the ritual meetings, where the cult invokes the power of Belial, which appears in smoke as a snake and makes a sound that is “singing, but not”. Filled with some great set-pieces - infiltrating the cult’s mansion, breaking and entering the butlers flat and the bombing of a deli - and nice observations - the reasons why people are in the cult and what they want out of it - this is sharply written, with great characterisation and a pace that never flags. Highly recommended.

The Mystery Of The Nervous Lion

The boys are despatched by Alfred Hitchcock to Jungle Land, where the owner - Hitchcock’s friend Jim Hall - is having trouble with a nervous lion and not just that - escaped jungle animals, mysterious intruders and a film crew who keep getting in the way, also make an appearance. I’ve always considered this a weak story (certainly the weak link in the series) and, whilst this read disproves that, I can see why it was long-held viewpoint- the central MaGuffin doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny and is quickly and easily explained away and the tale feels padded whilst on the plus side, the characterisations are good and we get plenty of Uncle Titus and Aunt Mathilda. Nowhere near the best of the series, this is still pretty good fun all the same.

The Mystery Of The Flaming Footprints

During my last read-a-thon (1993-1995), this book fared worst of all but reading it again 14+ years later, I think I was a little harsh back then. Certainly, the plot (and it’s been so long since I read it, I’d completely forgotten what happens) is thin (the flaming footprints aren’t really explained until much later and there’s a lot of coincidence), but that’s more than made up for in the characterisation, the repartee between the investigators (though Pete gets short-changed) and the general atmosphere that Carey conjures up, especially the way she expands Rocky Beach for the reader. Essentially, the boys are hired to try to find The Potter, who’s run away just as his never-seen daughter and grandson appear, a happenstance that coincides with new people in town, all of whom have an interest in The Potter’s house. I thought this was well-written, it had some nice little set-pieces and it kept my attention, so well worth the re-appraisal, in my opinion.

The Mystery Of The Coughing Dragon

The boys are hired to find a missing dog, but then discover the dogs owner has spotted a coughing dragon coming up the beach in front of his house. Investigating that, the boys discover hidden caves and a long-abandoned underground railway, before coming face to face with the dragon itself. This is preposterous but such good fun that you can forgive the plot-holes (you’d use a dragon, for that purpose?) and the humorous interplay between the boys is superb (the dialogue here, in fact, is probably some of the best in the series). With a limited cast and well realised - and used -locations, this is real treat. Highly recommended.

The Secret Of The Crooked Cat

A superb entry in the series, this has a deceptively simple plot but works in some really good set pieces, detection and intrigue along the way. The lads are in the right place at the right time to witness a dispute at a local carnival and things quickly escalate from there - bad luck, a human fly, a robbery, this has it all. There’s an underlying pathos to it - similar to the freeways in “Talking Skull” - about the waning carnival life and people wanting something for nothing and, coupled with some great imagery - the human fly, the rotting fairground - elevates this into something quite special. This also marks the introduction of the tracking devices and features several characters saying “The Jones Salvage Yard has everything!”, which I thought was cool. Highly recommended.

In addition to being one of my favourites, this also has the distinction that each piece of artwork is completely different, focussing on a fresh set piece each time. The 1973 edition is on the left, the 1983 version on the right. I love the 1983 editions (did I already mention that?), so it gets my vote as the best.

The Mystery Of The Laughing Shadow

William Arden’s first credited book, this has a legendary lost hoard of gold, a hunchbacked shadow (that laughs, maniacally), suspicious Englishmen and it’s great fun, even if the mystery requires a healthy suspension of disbelief from the reader. Cleverly put together, with some nice set pieces and a real sense of urgency, this works well enough that you allow the odd things - vegetarian societies and the reason behind the laughter - to pass by. A nice use of location works in its favour too - well worth a read.

The Mystery Of The Talking Skull

The last Robert Arthur book, this has a good strong opening and maintains a cracking pace throughout. Staying close to Rocky Beach, the regular cast of characters all have parts to play and there’s a nice, nostalgic atmosphere to the whole thing. Jupiter buys a magician’s trunk at auction and discovers it contains a skull that talks and a letter which seems to lead towards a stash of stolen money. Incorporating mediums, gypsies, hoodlums and houses that move, this is great fun and a fitting swansong for the series creator. There’s also a nice touch, where Arthur bemoans the fact that old neighbourhoods are being torn down to make way for yet more freeways. Well worth a read.

The Mystery Of The Moaning Cave

An old cave, rumoured to be the resting place of a famed bandit called El Diablo, has suddenly begun to moan and no-one knows why. There by accident - Pete’s dad knows the ranch owners - the boys decide to investigate and came up against legends of the Old One, a scar-faced mystery man, two old prospectors and a gripping mystery. The first non-Arthur book (he gets the credit in every edition I've seen, William Arden (Dennis Lynds) actually wrote it), this is well-written, clever and full of atmosphere - well worth a read.

This is the cover in my beloved 1983 impression and it's interesting to see how the book is sold differently with the cover art.

The Mystery Of The Screaming Clock

I had it in my head that this and “Talking Skull” are the weakest Arthur books but, upon re-reading this as an adult, I don’t think that’s the case. Certainly, it’s not as sensational as the other stories and sticks resolutely close to home (coming off of the Varania trip), but it’s a solid mystery, showing the boys detecting skills perfectly, though the story itself relies quite heavily on chance. Characterisation is good - it’s nice to see Hugenay again after “Stuttering Parrot” (and it’s a shame he never appeared again) - it’s well written, there’s some nice interplay between the lads and there are a couple of decent action sequences. Worth a read.

The Mystery Of The Silver Spider

Following a near accident, the boys are invited to the principality of Varania, to help Prince Djaro discover the location of the fabled Silver Spider, which has been stolen. Bert Young, a secret service agent, also recruits them as it’s feared the Prince Regent is plotting to overthrow Djaro and make Varania a crooks paradise. Told at breakneck pace, this has high adventure, mystery, daring escapes, a couple of bumps on the head for Bob and a thrilling climax. Superb stuff.

One of the last books in the series I bought, I found this by chance on a stall at a car boot sale in Kettering. I got the 1979 edition and loved the cover (below left). Years later, when I was making the bulk of my collection the 1982/1983 edition printings, I got hold of that version of this (below right). I love that cover as well. So, which is best?

The Mystery Of The Fiery Eye

Alfred Hitchcock approaches the boys with their latest case, endeavouring to help an English boy (August August) to find his inheritance, a jewel called The Fiery Eye. The only clue is a cryptic letter but also on the trail of the jewel is a sinister Indian and a gang of thieves. This is fast paced, good fun and features Liz Logan, a talkative young girl who desperately wants to be an investigator herself (and who, I now know, is based on Robert Arthur’s daughter Elizabeth). Very enjoyable, with virtually all of the regular cast in attendance, this is well worth a look.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Secret Of Skeleton Island

The only hardback in my collection (‘liberated’ from Junior school), this mystery has always appealed to me - I liked the idea of going away, I liked the fairground and in the Roger Hall line drawing of Sally, I discovered one of the scariest things I’d ever seen (TJ & I used to dare one another to look at it then go upstairs on our own!). The story plays out well, though the ‘mystery’ itself is fairly clear, but it has a nice idea of atmosphere and the scuba sequences are very well handled. A cracking read.

This is the illustration by Roger Hall that caused my sister & I those worrying moments, showing Sally trying to finish her ride on the carousel.

The Mystery Of The Vanishing Treasure

Another of my all-time favourites, this is a rollercoaster of an adventure, that never really lets up. It’s been a while since I read it, so a lot of the story was fresh and I was surprised at how wide it casts it’s net - from the initial robbery, the detail of the gnomes and the pursuit in the cinema, right down to the ‘second’ ending and the deduction surprises that last to almost the final page. A clever, atmospheric mystery that’s well worth a read, I loved it.

The format B paperback makes good use of an action sequence, with this vertigo-inducing image.

The Mystery Of The Green Ghost

Starting with one of the better opening sequences of the series, this mystery maintains its initial pace and interest well. Splitting the team in a well-written fashion, all of the characters are given a chance to shine and show their strengths, right up to the climax. Well told and well put together, this is another sterling Robert Arthur effort (and nicely follows the timeline, with Bob having his brace removed just before the story begins).

The Mystery Of The Whispering Mummy

This has long been my favourite book and I can remember sitting in a chair in Glendeene and reading this in a handful of hours and it still holds up. The characters are well drawn, the mystery makes sense and there’s plenty of history to absorb. There isn’t really a downside, except that this does include a chapter not told from a TTI-lead POV and, as an adult reading it, that did grate slightly. But otherwise, this was very good, a sterling TTI adventure and more proof - if it were needed - that it’s a shame Robert Arthur didn’t write or plot more of the adventures.

I like the wrap-around covers, but this is the cover of my edition (which is now 31 years old) and so I thought I'd post it here too.

The Mystery Of The Stuttering Parrot

For some reason, I’ve never pressed to re-read this book and, having just done so, I can’t understand why. It’s quick, tightly-written, has some nice action sequences and well-drawn characters and is a lot of fun. I enjoyed the interplay and the deductions and the willingness of Arthur to look at the less-well-off, but the treasure was found a little easily for my liking and where, exactly, does Carlos go after this book? Very entertaining, a good, solid TTI mystery.

The Secret Of Terror Castle

A sterling, well-written story that sets the series off to a flying start. The characters are well-drawn, the locations ably described and the genuine sense of fear and spookiness, around Terror Castle, is well evoked. The story does feel a bit slight, but that’s only to be expected as the book needs space to set everything up. Well worth a read and the only thing that dates this (it’s 46 years old!) is the fact that a silent film-star plays a major part in it. A cracking book.