Sunday, April 8, 2012

Book-Ends: The Three Investigators

Have you ever heard of Jupiter Jones? If you have, you're in for a treat because today's theme is on those boys with the chalk! If you haven't heard of him, then sit back and read all about one of the minor but terrific literary series for kids: The Three Investigators!

Jupiter, Pete, and Bob
The Three Investigators began in 1964 in a novel called The Secret of Terror Castle, written by Robert Arthur and illustrated by Harry Kane. I don't want to turn this into a history lesson, so suffice it to say: Arthur was an editor who had worked with/for Alfred Hitchcock, who was very popular at the time. He is mostly remembered today for his movies, but at this time he also had his television series, his mystery magazine, and various mystery-suspense-ghost story collections. When the publisher Random House decided to enter the Young Adult book genre, Arthur gave them a unique hook: these stories would be "presented by" and guest-star the great Alfred Hitchcock!

The first book, The Secret of Terror Castle, introduced all the elements of the series that lasted nearly 20 years. When Jupiter Jones, the orphaned genius who lived with his Aunt and Uncle, won the use of a gold-plated Rolls-Royce in a contest, he decided to start a "mystery club" with his best friends,  Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews. Jupiter was the leader, Pete was Second Investigator, and Bob was in charge of Records and Research. In fact, his nick-name was "Records." The Rolls Royce and its driver, Worthington, were featured in many of the adventures; prominently in several. The boys, whose ages were never given but acted and were illustrated as if they were in their early teens,  lived in a small city named Rocky Beach, right outside of Los Angeles. Their headquarters was an abandoned trailer in the corner of Jupiters' guardians' junk salvage yard. Often Jupiter's Uncle Titus would acquire something that would either begin their adventure, such as a talking skeleton in The Mystery of the Talking Skull, or iron bars that would lead to The Mystery of the Nervous Lion.

In their first adventure, the boys read in the newspaper about how Alfred Hitchcock is looking for an actual haunted house to use in his next motion picture. So they finagle an interview with him to get permission to investigate said "Terror Castle," and thus begin their long association with him.

I started on the series when my parents gave me and my brother copies of The Mystery of the Nervous Lion and The Mystery of the Singing Serpent for Christmas in 1975. They probably were attracted by the titles! My brother didn't like them, but I was hooked! In the days before antique malls and the internet I actually managed to acquire many of the newer books and several of the older ones. And of course I never missed a hard-bound new edition! Then in 1978 Random House began to re-print some of the earlier novels in trade paperbacks with gorgeous painted covers by Stephen Marchesi (see cover above). I bought all of these that I didn't already have. I was always a fan of Marchesi's abstract illustrations. He is my favorite cover artist of the series.

In 1979 several dramatic things happened to The Three Investigators: Random House decided to stop publishing the hard-bound versions AND they stopped using illustrations inside. I remember coming across The Mystery of the Sinister Scarecrow as a brand-new adventure but it was in the reprint format (paperback!), with a different artist (no more Marchesi?!) and it had no illustrations inside!! Even now, Sinister Scarecrow is not one of my favorites in the series for those three reasons.
For the first sixteen books the illustrations were by the late great Harry Kane. Evidently he had a falling out with Random House over the amount of money he was getting paid, so after book #17 the illustrations were by Ed Vebell (17) or Jack Hearne (18~27) or Herb Mott (#28). Sinister Scarecrow was book number twenty-nine in the series, and for the rest of the series there were no illustrations at all. Also from that book on, the covers were painted by Robert Adragna. Some of them were wonderful (such as Scarecrow, actually); some of them were not. They were definitely not abstract or anywhere near as daring in their layout or composition as Stephen Marchesi's were. I know many people who like them very much, but they never really did much for me, I'm sorry to say. It might be because of how I was introduced to them; I can't say...
Then on April 29, 1980 The Three Investigators faced their most serious problem: the great Alfred Hitchcock died. Would the series cease? The answer came with novel #31, The Mystery of the Scar-Faced Beggar, which introduced the fictitious author-former private detective-restaurateur Hector Sebastian. He took over the role the voice of the reader in the last chapter to help clear up any possible lingering questions, and nominally "introduced" the casese. The Hitchcock silhouette, which had been used on all of the recent reprintings, became the shape of a door-lock. The series continued for another ten books until it finally ended in 1987. The last new book I purchased, however, was the last Hitchcock book, The Mystery of Shark Reef. I figured that was a pretty good place to end.

However, the story didn't actually end there.
Just recently I re-discovered The Three Investigators and realized that there is a lot more to the story. On my recent trip back to Japan I found my thirty books and re-read the first fifteen or so. When I went on the internet to see what I could find about them, I learned that there are various homepages about them, their creators, and their fans. I learned that there have been two movies made about The Three Investigators in the last few years: SKELETON ISLAND and TERROR CASTLE.

I found various homepages about them, their creators, and their fans. I also found that although the series ended in the late 80s in the United States, the series continues in Germany under the name "The Three Question Marks" (Die Drei ???). This is a reference, by the way, to their habit of using question marks as their symbol on their business cards or in their chalk messages. So I also need to acquire a German version for myself. While in Japan I also started hunting down the Japanese versions of the series. On the back of the paperback versions it had said, "Millions of fans around the world...from America to Finland to Japan...have thrilled to (their) exciting adventures...." It turns out that in Japan there were actually two versions: the novels and "manga" comic-book versions. They haven't been reprinted in more than 30 years, so it will make tracking them down difficult, but I am on the case! It looks like there are versions of the books in the Library of the Japanese Congress, so if I have to go there to read them, I will, haha!

Also, I found out that back here in the States, after the original series ceased publication the boys came back in another series of novels called The Three Investigators Crime Busters. In these books they are now 17 years old and as interested in cars and girls as they are in mysteries. I have only found two of these so far so I can't really comment on them....BUT, they don't really compare in quality to the best of the originals. Still, there are ten or so more I need to track down.

So....I have a lot to catch up on. This will be fun! :-)

1 comment:

  1. Cool. What a relive and great research! Im a huge fan. Seen some of the japanese versions, but NOT the mangas.. bah. Im an artist hoping to do a fanfic motion graphic novel with the crimebuster 3i but not too bad as the series was. I enjoy every book.. what can i say? Im a fan! HUGE fan for 30 years now! Live on!