Sunday, September 13, 2015

I loved these books when I was a kid.

They were the brainchild of Robert Arthur, Jr., a mystery and science fiction author. He wanted to produce a line of juvenile mystery novels, and felt that having a famous person as a character in the novels would help sales. Arthur had already worked with horror film director Alfred Hitchcock as an editor on horror and mystery anthologies bearing Hitchcock's name. Hitchcock agreed to allow his name to be used in the juvenile crime novels and his image and name on the covers.

The first novel in the series, The Secret of Terror Castle was written by Arthur and published in 1964. The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot appeared later that year. Over the next five years, Arthur wrote another eight books: The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy (1965), The Mystery of the Green Ghost (1965), The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure (1966), The Secret of Skeleton Island (1966), The Mystery of the Fiery Eye (1967), The Mystery of the Silver Spider (1967), The Mystery of the Screaming Clock (1968), and The Mystery of the Talking Skull (1969). In each of these, a prologue (allegedly written by Hitchcock) outlined the mystery, and Hitchcock often referred clients to the boys. An epilogue (also by Hitchcock) reviewed the mystery and the key clues.

A cadre of other authors wrote the subsequent novels. William Arden (real name: Dennis Lynds) wrote the first one, The Mystery of the Moaning Cave, in 1968. There were 33 more novels in the series, written by Nick West (real name: Kin Platt), Mary Virginia Carey, and Marc Brandel (real name: Marcus Beresford). Arthur outlined the plots of some of the earliest of these. After about 1970, Hitchcock's name was removed from the series, and the fiction mystery writer "Hector Sebastian" wrote the prologues and epilogues.

The original series ended in 1987. Random House, which owned the rights to the series, then rebooted it in 1989 as The 3 Investigators — Crimebusters Series. Instead of being 13 and 14 years old, the boy investigators were now 17 years old and a great deal more physical action occurred. From 1989 to 1990, there were 11 new novels, written by William Arden, Megan and H. William Stine, G.H. Stone, William MacCay, Marc Brandel, and Peter Lerangis. Rights to the characters, however, were vested in the estate of Robert Arthur, Jr. Arthur's heirs sued Random House to cease publishing the novels in a dispute over the characters and revenues, and the series ceased to be published.

In 1998, Random House was purchased by the German publishing conglomerate Bertelsmann AG. Interestingly, the "Three Investigators" series was published in Germany by Kosmos. Due to a quirk in copyright law, German copyright in the novels was lodged with Kosmos. Because Kosmos held the German copyright, Bertlesman was able to publish two more novels (Brain Wash and High Strung) in Germany in 2011. Due to the ongoing legal squabbles, however, no more novels have been written.

* * * * * * * * *

The "Three Investigators" were Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw, and Bob Andrews. Jupiter lived with his aunt and uncle, Titus and Mathilda Jones. Titus ran a salvage business, and in the far reaches of the very back of the salvage yard, where no one ever went, was a mobile home. Perfectly serviceable inside, it was covered with scrap metal and junk of all kinds and long forgotten. The boys discovered the mobile home and fashioned a secret entrance by creating a tunnel through the junk. They hooked up electricity, natural gas, and even a telephone inside the place, which they made into their secret clubhouse. Rooms in the mobile home serve as a crime lab, darkroom, and office (complete with desk, typewriter, tape recorder, and reference books).

At the beginning of the first novel, Jupiter correctly guesses the number of jelly beans in a jar. The prize is a chauffeur-driven limousine for 30 days. Because Jupiter keeps track, down to the very second, of how long he uses the limousine, the boys are nowhere close to using up their 30 days -- even after several years of use.

The "Three Investigators" are:
  • Jupiter Jones -- His parents were professional dancers who died in an automobile accident when he was four. Up until this time, Jupiter had been a child actor named "Baby Fatso", but his career ended shortly after he went to live with his uncle Titus and aunt Mathilda. Jupiter has remained fat and jolly looking in his teens, though, and this has often led other people to underestimate him or not take him seriously. (Because of his weight, Jupiter hates it when people bring up his Baby Fatso career.) Jupiter retains his acting skills, however, and this allows him to appear much older than he really is, imitate other people's mannerisms and voices, and even get out of scrapes by acting much more stupid than he really is. Jupiter is also a prolific inventor, and likes to play pranks on his friends.
  • Pete Crenshaw -- Pete is one of Jupiter's best friends. He's handsome and athletic, and a member of his school's wrestling team. Even though Pete's a little shy and dislikes getting into danger, he is good with his fists and can be counted on for muscle when it's needed. Pete is also fond of animals, and has an excellent sense of direction. His father is a special effects technician in Hollywood, and divorced from his mother (who never appears). Pete often relies on his father for inside scoops on how supernatural things like ghosts, flying carpets, and vanishing acts might occur using special effects, and he knows quite a lot about stunts and pyrotechnics. Pete often accompanies Jupiter on stake-outs, and his quiet demeanor sometimes allows him to realize the importance of clues the others have missed. Pete is a bit slower on the uptake than his friends, and serves as the guy who keeps Jupiter's arrogance and ego in check (usually by poking fun at Jupiter's foibles).
  • Bob Andrews -- Bob is the other of Jupiter's best friends. He's short, slight, studious, and wears glasses. His father is a newspaper man and his mother a homemaker, and Bob is able to subtly pump his father for news and information that might not be in the newspaper or on the radio or TV. Although brave and willing to go into battle swinging, Bob is somewhat more physically frail than Jupiter and Pete, and is often seriously injured during their adventures. (The first book starts out with Bob in a leg brace, which he had to wear after seriously breaking his leg after falling down a hill.) Bob works part-time in the local library, which suits his personality and allows him to act as the team's researcher. Bob often is the one who provides the best clues in the books, which he's discovered in news archives, reference works, or histories.
The three boys have a nemesis, Skinny Norris, a 16-year-old bully who drives a car. Skinny often tries to beat up Jupiter, which requires Pete to comes to Jupiter's defense. Skinny also tries to interfere in the boys' adventures, going so far as to obstruct justice, destroy clues, or delay the delivery of information just out of spite.

Each book is fairly the same: A client is referred to the boys, who then investigate. Invariably, the mystery involves a mystical or supernatural element, and the boys are threatened with danger (kidnapping, explosions, attempted murder, poisonings, arson, etc.). Through the application of logic and an unswerving belief in the mundane (which rules out those supernatural explanations), the boys are usually able to uncover a dozen or more clues which help unravel the mystery and bring bad people to justice.

* * * * * * * * *

The first novel of the "Three Investigators" which I ever read was The Secret of Terror Castle, which as luck would have it was also the first book in the series.

Stephen Terrill was a movie actor who built a magnificent mansion -- Terrill's Castle -- high in the Hollywood Hills. Terrill was a horror movie star, and his mansion was designed to look like a haunted castle from one of his movies. The interior was decorated like a horror movie set, with suits of armor, Egyptian mummy cases, frightening painting, a pipe organ, old furniture, and the like. But Terrill died in a flaming automobile accident just as his career was tanking. Terrill's estate established a trust to maintain his home, and he had warned that anyone who tried to live there would be haunted. Sure enough, in the past 20 years anyone who has tried to spend the night at "Terror Castle" has run out screaming in fear.

The three boys approach director Alfred Hitchcock, and offer to clear up the mystery of Terror Castle if he will use the mansion in his next film. This, the boys reason, will give their investigation business a big boost of publicity. (In later editions, Hitchcock is replaced by "British director Reginald Clarke".) Hitchcock agrees.

The boys learn that Terror Castle is full of supernatural things: A ghost that walks up and down the stairs; a pipe organ that plays when no one is at the keyboard; screams in the night; strange sighing sounds in the dark; a Blue Phantom that walks through walls; and a "Fog of Fear" that makes people run in fright.

What is the secret of Terror Castle????

Gosh, I loved those books.

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