Random Musings: A look back at The Three Investigators

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During the last four of the 18 years I worked a staff writer at the Michigan Chronicle newspaper in Detroit, I wrote a blog called Random Musings (http://www.michronicleonline.com/index.php/your-voice/opinion/patrick-keating), in which I ruminated on various topics. This blog is a continuation of that one.
Today, a look at a series of books which probably both ignited my love of reading and my decision to become a writer. These are the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators Mystery Series, created by Robert Arthur and first published by Random House in 1964. I consider The Three Investigators, which ran until 1987, to be one of the best juvenile mystery series ever published.
A lot of things make this series— now approaching its 50th anniversary— worthy of note. For one, Arthur respected his readers’ intelligence. That’s one of the reasons I can still read and enjoy a Three Investigators book today. You can’t say that about every juvenile mystery series.
That’s not to say that every one of the 43 books is, as the guy said in Men in Black, “the best of the best of the best.” However, taken as a whole, The Three Investigators stands above the competition.
Arthur (Nov. 10, 1909- May 2, 1969), who co-created the radio program The Mysterious Traveler and edited or ghost-edited various Hitchcock short story anthologies, wrote the first nine and the 11th books. He also set the series’ tone.
Other writers were Dennis Lynds (1924- Aug. 19, 2005), writing as William Arden; Mary V. Carey (1925-1994); Kin Platt (Dec. 8, 1911- Nov. 30, 2003), writing as Nick West; and Marcus Beresford (March 28, 1919- Nov. 16, 1994), writing as Marc Brandel.
How does Hitchcock fit in? Within the fictional narrative, the Three Investigators shared with him their case notes. He, in turn, introduced their cases. In reality, Hitchcock had nothing to do with the series beyond allowing the use of his name. The various authors wrote the “introductions.”
After Hitchcock died, the cases were “introduced” by a fictitious mystery writer named Hector Sebastian, beginning with book #31, The Mystery of the Scar-Faced Beggar.
The Hitchcock connection created the illusion of verisimilitude. When I first read the books, in fourth grade, I knew, deep down, that the Three Investigators were fictional, but the Hitchcock connection made it easier to pretend otherwise.
Who are The Three Investigators? They’re Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews, residents of Rocky Beach, California. Their ages are never given, but from context clues I’d put them at 14 or 15. Jupe, the leader, has a sharp mind and a stocky build. A former child actor, he often uses both his acting skills and his appearance to trick people into underestimating him.
Jupe also tends to outvote Pete and Bob 1-2.
Pete is athletic, but far from the stereotype of the macho “jock.” He’s not one to court danger. No whispering mummies for him, thank you. He’d rather look for a lost cat.
Bob, slight of build, handles records and research through his part-time job at the library. He’s also a bit more courageous than Pete.
The boys’ Headquarters is a mobile home trailer hidden under piles of junk in the Jones Salvage Yard, owned by Jupiter’s aunt Mathilda and Uncle Titus. Access is through a variety of secret passages. Headquarters had a strong appeal for many Three Investigators fans, myself included. What kid wouldn’t have loved a hideaway like that?
As a kid, I built my own “Headquarters” in our basement. It consisted of boxes, a broken ping-pong table and other items. People who saw it assumed it was a pile of junk thrown into a corner. Which was the intention.
In The Hardy Boys, Frank and Joe are the sons of a famous detective and often help him on his cases. In The Three Investigators, Jupe. Pete and Bob solve their own cases. They even have business cards, which Frank and Joe Hardy never did. And none of them are related to a detective.
Frank and Joe Hardy also drive cars and own a motor boat. By contrast, Jupe, Pete and Bob were more identifiable to their (mostly) young readers (moments of danger notwithstanding). Too young to drive (though Jupe did win the use of a gold-plated Rolls Royce in a contest), they often had to get around on their bikes and/or get a ride in one of the Salvage Yard trucks (once they’d done their share of work under Aunt Mathilda’s watchful eye).
And none of them owned a rowboat, much less a motor boat.
While Random House stopped publishing The Three Investigators in 1987 (save for a brief re-issue of the first 11 books in 1999), the series continues to be published in Germany. And despite the fact that he died in 1980, Hitchcock still “introduces” the boys’ cases.
Maybe the German publisher anticipated a certain trend years ahead of time and will soon re-title the books Zombie Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators.
Or maybe not.
The series’ popularity in Germany led to a German film company, Studio Hamburg, making The Three Investigators in the Secret of Skeleton Island (2007) and The Three Investigators in The Secret of Terror Castle (2009). Made in Cape Town, South Africa, they starred American actors Chancellor Miller, Nick Price and Cameron Monaghan as Jupe, Pete and Bob, respectively. Perhaps I’ll discuss the movies in a subsequent posting.
The 50th anniversary of The Three Investigators would be the perfect time for the series to be re-released (hint, hint). In the meantime, whether to re-live stories of your youth or to give good mystery stories to your own kids, the books are well worth seeking out. They can be found, at reasonable prices, either at used book sales or online auctions.
For more about this great series, I recommend visiting the following websites: http://www.threeinvestigatorsbooks.com/ and http://3investigators.homestead.com/

Copyright 2013, Patrick Keating

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2 thoughts on “Random Musings: A look back at The Three Investigators

  1. I was truely inspired from the series at a young age and will continue to be inspired. HOW do we bring them back here is a great question because they tried it with 2 movies in Germany which surprisingly failed. They were not bad but not was expected. I had been waiting since 1984 to see anything on them so I can’t complain. At least we have Germany!

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