The Three Investigators were originally created in 1965 to be literary rivals to The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. They were created by Robert Arthur, who had worked closely on Alfred Hitchcock book tie-ins in the Fifties and Sixties. Alfred Hitchcock was originally the boys' mentor slash supporter, so the orignal books were called Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators.
After the great director died, the series tried a fictional supporter named Hector Sebastian for a few books, then ceased publication in the US completely. The boys came back in this "Crime Busters" series in the late Eighties, having aged a few years. They were now driving cars and interested in girls, but still out to solve mysteries. And basically that is all you need to know.
The cover is a good one. Although it's a bit odd to think that Jupiter, Pete, AND Bob all jumped into an open grave, the illustration by Hector Garrido is still sufficiently atmospheric. The blurb scrams, "Lights, Camera, Danger on a Hollywood horror set!" Long-term T3I fans know that this means the story will involve Pete's father, who works in Hollywood.
The story begins with Pete delivering a special effects arm to a movie set; this sets him up to do additional automotive work on the movie. Then when the star of the film Suffocation II isn't answering his phone, it's local boy Pete who knows hot to get to the house Diller Roarke is renting. When Pete and the film crew-members get to the house they find it in a shambles, and no sign of Diller. This is a good start to the story, as Pete goes from being nervous to being confident to being nervous to confident again. I like it! Pete is often overlooked or overshadowed in the brain department by Jupe and Bob, so it seems good for him to be a bit out-going in the Hollywood environment. After all, his father has been in the entertainment business his whole life; he should be used to it by now. On a side note, some of the terms used in the story seem dated; pulling me out of the action. (Did anybody ever really use the term "hunk"?)
In the first chapter or two Pete does some initial "investigation" on his own, and I like it. Because he is on his own in this initial situation, it makes sense that he would do what he could on his own. He meets with the actor's "spiritual advisor," Marble Ackbourne-Smith, who waxes on about power crystals and how they effect everything everywhere. It spooks Pete a bit. Later, Pete talks to Jupe's cousin instead of to Jupe and Bob, and then he goes out of his way NOT to talk to them; this seems artificial. In the old days when one or two of the boys had an experience, he/they shared it with the others immediately. Where is Pete's "I want to do it on my own" thing coming from!?! Maybe it's supposed to establish that Pete is trying to be his own man? If so it's a bit heavy-handed. I'm not liking it.
Then FINALLY in Chapter Three the Three Investigators show up. This is what I missed! The interaction between the boys is well written and the dynamic is quickly re-established. And there is some actual detection going on, which is always good. They are wondering what to do when their headquarters is broken into....which makes them determined to solve the case. I don't care for Pete's reaction to thinking he sees his girlfriend with another guy....but other than that, this is the best chapter yet. The "vampire" coming in to the Junk Yard was also very very creepy.
As of Chapter Five the plot has gelled: Diller Rourke, who had been missing, has actually been kidnapped. The producer shuts the movie down and refuses to bring in the police or the Three Investigators. Jupiter decides to track down the star's co-star. They find her "under cover" at a retiremement home. There is then a bit of a diversion with her, which is fun. Does it mean something? I'm not sure. This story is going along pretty well now! I'm hooked.
Pete brings Jupiter to the movie studio to talk to the producer. They also meet with Marble, who manages to push Jupiter's buttons. He is high on their list of suspects. Pete meets up with the actor who was replaced by Diller, who is not happy with the way things have worked out. Then Pete finds an unconscious Jupiter and freaks out. I liked that Pete thought Jupe was actually hurt and was concerned for his friend. As readers we know the leads won't be hurt or killed, but it was still nice to read that Pete cares about his buddy. And the suspects keep piling up....! This is where we get the cover scene, as somebody pushes the two boys into an open grave at the cemetery used for filming. Except for the exclusion of Bob, the "buried alive" threat was pretty well done, too.
Now it's difficult to get into details, as things start to be revealed and I don't want to spoil anything. I did like how the investigation of Pete and Jupiter merged well with the accidental investigation by Bob. It was a good example of being able to put the whole story together using various sources. Speaking of Bob, is he a player in these books now? He is able to convince the waitress to spill water on the producer so that they could lay their hands on his suit jacket, which was clever. After that, the action starts moving more quickly. The drop-off for the kidnap money was done well, and the pertinent data was right there for us to over-look.
That being said, the actual ending was a bit of a let-down. The Three Investigators were able to expose the kidnapper, but the way it occurs seemed a bit anti-climactic. Oh, well. Not a bad one, but not one of the great ones, either. Let's hope the next one I read is a bit better.