In 1964, Random House began publishing what I consider one of the best juvenile mystery series: The Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators Mystery Series.
A lot of things make this series, now 45 years old, worthy of note. Not least of which, on a personal level, The Three Investigators probably ignited my love of reading and my decision to be a writer.
Also, creator Robert Arthur didn’t talk down to his readers. He respected their intelligence. That’s one of the reasons why I can still read and enjoy a Three Investigators book today. You can’t say that about every juvenile mystery series.
That doesn’t mean every one of the 43 books in the series (which ran until 1987) is perfect; just that, taken as a whole, The Three Investigators stands above the competition, quality wise.
Arthur (Nov. 10, 1909- May 2, 1969), whose credits include co-creation of the radio program The Mysterious Traveler; and editing or ghost-editing various Alfred Hitchcock short story anthologies, wrote 10 books in the series before his death; including the first Three Investigators book I read, in fourth grade: The Mystery of the Talking Skull.
Other mysteries the boys tackled included a stuttering parrot, a whispering mummy, a green ghost and a screaming clock.
But 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 context clues put them at 13-15. Myself, I’d peg them at 14 or 15. Jupe, the leader, is sharp of mind and stocky of build, leading many people to underestimate him because of his appearance. He also often outvotes Pete and Bob 1 to 2.
Pete is athletic, but prefers taking on more run-of-the-mill cases. 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 hidden mobile home trailer in the Jones Salvage Yard, owned by Jupiter’s aunt Mathilda and Uncle Titus. Access is through a variety of secret passages.
Another thing of note is that unlike Frank and Joe Hardy in the Hardy Boys, neither Jupe, Pete, nor Bob are related to an adult detective (or police officer) or otherwise assist such a person on cases. The boys solve their own cases. Yes, Rocky Beach Police Chief Samuel Reynolds has issued cards to them identifying them as junior deputies, but Reynolds doesn’t assign them cases; and would sometimes prefer they leave detective work to adults.
In addition, the Hitchcock connection gave the stories the illusion of verisimilitude. Since Hitchcock was a real person, it made it seem as if Jupe, Pete and Bob were real, too. Deep down, I knew they were fictional characters, but having Hitchcock as a character made it easier to pretend otherwise.
Of course Hitchcock was not directly involved with the books; he just allowed his name to be used. His “introductions” were penned by the author of a particular book. And in addition to Arthur, other Three Investigators 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.
After Hitchcock’s death, the “introductions” were handled by a fictitious mystery writer named Hector Sebastian.
Another personal appeal for me were the “graveyard” endpapers and internal illustrations by Harry Kane (July 2, 1912- March 1988), considered the series’ definitive artist. I always liked the atmosphere of those endpapers, which depict Jupe, Pete and Bob making their way past a row of tombstones.
I also particularly liked an illustration in The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure that shows Pete, who’d been climbing down the wall of a theater, forced to climb back up by one of the bad guys, lest his rope be cut. That illustration works well with text describing Pete’s struggles to leave a chalk question mark (the symbol of the Three Investigators) on the side of the building as a clue.
Headquarters was another strong appeal. What kid wouldn’t have loved to have had a hideaway like that?
Although the last book was published in 1987 (save for a brief re-issue of the first 11 books in 1999), the series hasn’t been forgotten. In Germany, it never stopped. And despite the fact that he died in 1980, Hitchcock continues to “introduce” the boys’ cases in those volumes.
In 2007, the German company Studio Hamburg released the first of two Three Investigators movies, The Three Investigators and the Secret of Skeleton Island, in both English and German versions. A second film, based on the first Three Investigators book, The Secret of Terror Castle, has also been made. Unfortunately, the DVDs for either movie have not yet reached the U.S. market.
While the Three Investigators books are out of print (in the U.S. at least), copies turn up in used bookstores and online auctions. They are well worth seeking out, either to relive the stories of one’ youth or to give to your own kids- especially those who enjoy good mystery stories.
And maybe one day the series will be re-released. The 45th anniversary would be great timing (hint, hint).
For more about this great series, I recommend visiting the following websites: