The Three Investigators

14 Jun

The Three Investigators was a young adult detective book series written by Robert Arthur. It centered on a trio of high school boys who live in the fictional town of Rocky Beach, California. They are: Jupiter Jones, First Investigator, who is a leader known for his remarkable powers of observation and deduction; Pete Crenshaw, Second Investigator, who is a tower of strength in any kind of trouble; and Bob Andrews, Records and Research, who is something of a scholarly type with an adventurous spirit. The boys spend their free time solving various mysteries rather than true crimes, mysteries which tended to be far more bizarre, unusual, complex, and intriguing than those of other Kid Detective books of the day, with protagonists who were simply ordinary, middle-class American boys, without the riches or special advantages of sleuths such as The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew, both of whom had famous fathers who helped them out in their cases a great deal. Headquarters for The Three Investigators is a damaged 30-foot mobile home trailer within the salvage yard run by Jupiter’s Uncle Titus and Aunt Mathilda which has been cleverly hidden from view by stacks of junk which surround it. For travelling long distances, the boys have the use of a gold-plated Rolls Royce, complete with a chauffeur, Worthington, whom Jupiter won the use of in a contest. Adding to this quasi-realism was the real-life movie director, Alfred Hitchcock, who appeared in the original texts of the first thirty titles. His character provided the introductory and closing remarks in each book and, acting as a mentor, he was occasionally called upon by The Three Investigators during the course of solving a mystery. The real Alfred Hitchcock had little to do with the creation of these books. He was simply paid a handsome percentage for the use of his name and character. This provided brand-name recognition and helped boost sales of the books. Following Robert Arthur’s death, the writing of the series was taken over by several successive authors — two titles by Nick West (pseudonym of Kin Platt), three by Marc Brandel, and the bulk of them penned by William Arden (pseudonym of Dennis Lynds) and M V Carey.

The Three Investigators were created by Robert Arthur, who wrote the first few books and then oversaw and edited the rest of the series. It was he who had the brainwave of having Alfred Hitchcock as the patron of the team. Hitch introduced each case, and often called them in to set them off on their latest adventure. This intrusion of real life into a fictional world tantalised readers: Could these stories possibly be true… ? The investigations themselves had more than a dash of the Scooby-Doos about them, with spooky scenarios, villains hiding behind grotesque disguises and the sheer, enviable freedom of a bunch of kids doing their own thing and solving honest-to-goodness mysteries. They also had a long-running enemy in Skinner “Skinny” Norris, a rich kid who could drive because he’d passed his test in another state, and who was always trying – and failing – to outdo the Three Investigators. The real magic, though, was in the boys’ headquarters, hidden among the piles of junk in Uncle Titus’s scrapyard. Built from an abandoned trailer, the secret base was accessed via a series of ingenious secret passages, with the codenames Green Gate One, Tunnel Two, and Red Gate Rover – the latter so named because it was hidden behind a painting of a dog. The investigators were typically introduced to a mystery by a client or by finding something unusual accidentally in the scrapyard of Jupiter’s Uncle Titus Jones and Aunt Mathilda, who had a salvage business. The boys encountered baffling, sometimes misleading clues and danger before finally solving the mystery. The series had one major theme: however strange, mystical, or even supernatural a particular phenomenon may seem at first, it is capable of being traced to human agency with the determined application of reason and logic. This theme was compromised on four occasions by Carey: in The Mystery of Monster Mountain, the boys encounter Bigfoot; in The Invisible Dog, she canonizes astral projection and dangles the possibility of a “phantom priest”; in The Mystery of the Scar-Faced Beggar, a woman has genuine prophetic dreams; and in the final book of the original run, The Mystery of the Cranky Collector, a young woman’s ghost returns to haunt her former employer’s mansion.

The books were full of deliciously pulpy fun. Well-written with genuine mysteries, they were a real treat, especially compared to the sanitized rewrites that were being inflicted on The Hardy Boys at the same time. In fact, several of the books were written by Dennis Lynds (Dan Fortune’s creator) under the pseudonym of William Arden, and more than a few covers (by such artists as Harry Kane, Ed Vebell, Jack Hearne and others) would have felt right at home on a pulp magazine thirty or forty years earlier. But for some reason, the books lacked the staying power of The Hardy Boys. The original run of The Three Investigators books started in 1964 and ended in 1987. There were moves to – shudder – update them in 1989, ageing the characters to 17 and adding more action to the mix, but apparent disagreements between publishers Random House and the estate of creator Robert Arthur put the revamp on ice after two years. The Three Investigators, though, have had a new lease of life in, of all places, Germany, where they are known as “Die Drei Fragezeichen” – The Three Question Marks). The original run of just over 40 books has been bumped up to more than 150, with attendant – and hugely popular – radio adaptations. In 2007, a Three Investigators movie, The Three Investigators and the Secret of Skeleton Island, was released in Germany, starring Chancellor Miller as Jupiter, Nick Price as Pete, and Cameron Monaghan as Bob. It was followed in 2009 by The Three Investigators and the Secret of Terror Castle. Although adopting the same titles as two of the novels, and some of the characters, the stories in the films are significantly different to those in the books on which they are based.

One Response to “The Three Investigators”

  1. theonavan July 17, 2020 at 8:26 am #

    I am torn, because although I feel cheated by endings that fade to magic for the resolution, I was haunted for years by INVISIBLE DOG

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