Monday, 20 October 2014

The Mystery Of The Coughing Dragon, by Nick West

Since 2014 marks the fiftieth anniversary of The Three Investigators being published, I thought it’d be enjoyable to re-read and compile my Top 10 (which might be subject to change in years to come, of course).  I previously read all 30 of the original series from 2008 to 2010 (a reading and reviewing odyssey that I blogged here), but this time I will concentrate on my favourite books and try to whittle the best ten from that.

So here we go.
Collins Hardback First Edition (printed between 1971 and 1973), cover art by Roger Hall
Jupiter's smile slowly faded.  "Look behind you," he muttered hoarsely.  Whirling around, Pete and Bob stared, horror-struck, at what had to be impossible.  The cave was slowly opening wider, and something huge and slimy was crawling towards them from the sea.  Backing away, Pete gasped, "It can't be.  It's a dragon!"

Deep in a rocky cavern, a terrifying legend comes to life.  And The Three Investigators are trapped...

Illustration from the Collins/Armada editions,
by Roger Hall
Intrigued by a news report on a spate of missing dogs in the nearby town of Seaside, The Three Investigators receive a call from Alfred Hitchcock who has a case for them.  His friend, Henry Allen, an old-time horror film director, lives there and his dog, Red Rover, has also gone missing, bringing the total to six.  When the boys interview him, he says that whilst looking for his dog, he saw a dragon coming out of the surf and heading for the caves beneath the town.  The boys find it hard to believe - Allen used monsters in his movie - especially when he tells them he also heard the dragon cough but once they start investigating - first with his neighbours and then on the beach - events occur that point towards something very strange happening in the caves below Seaside.

Pete looked at Bob.  “How come he always outvotes us, one to two?”
Bob shrugged.  “He’s just more stubborn than we are. You and I are probably nicer people.”

Working under the pseudonym Nick West, this is the first of two entries in the series by veteran writer Kin Platt - his other being what I consider the worst book of the thirty, “The Mystery Of The Nervous Lion” - and it’s well constructed with plenty of humorous interplay between the boys (Platt started out writing comedy and I once saw his credit on an episode of “Top Cat”).  However, in a similar fashion to “The Mystery Of The Dancing Devil”, which would appear six years later, the central concept is quite preposterous (there’s no other way to put it) and might be difficult for readers to buy into but there’s a lot of pleasure to be gained if you can.

The bulk of the book takes place in Seaside (we don’t see any of the town) with the beach and cave systems being well realised and nicely atmospheric and West builds a plausible history for the city, layering it into the story until all of the (very small) cast are implicated in some way or another.  Headquarters makes an appearance and there’s a welcome return for Mr & Mrs Andrews, with Bob’s dad once again pointing his son on the right track and Pete’s dad helps out by loaning them a projector (I wonder if it was in the same case as the one from “Dancing Devil”?)

Well written and (as mentioned) with some amusing interplay between the boys, this has some excellent set pieces - the gadgetry of Mr Shelby, the collapsing staircase, Bob in quicksand, the odd little cave, the bigger cave, it’s always good to have Worthington involved- and a good pace.  Whilst their client, Henry Allen, only appears briefly, his backstory is well developed and leads into the mystery nicely while his neighbours are well sketched, from Mr Carter and his anger issues - which Bob discovers is tied into family matters when a risky project for Seaside collapsed - to Mr Shelby, his gadgets and the trouble they get him into.  Alfred Hitchcock plays a larger role this time round, running Henry Allen’s dragon film in his projection room for them and at one point, whilst doing his research, Bob finds a book (called ‘Man Is The Prey’ by James Clarke) that’s actually real, which I thought was a nice touch.  West also makes a couple of nice nods to the past, naming one of his thugs Harry (a tradition which, I think, started with “The Mystery Of The Whispering Mummy”) and Blackbeard has one line of dialogue, though he hasn’t been mentioned before and doesn’t appear again.  As for the coughing dragon, I liked the concept of it a lot and I think West uses it well, in terms of suspense (and it’s a chilling image in its ‘lair’), but it doesn’t really make any sense to the scheme that underpins the whole book.  Having said that, it suits the book perfectly and once you know what it is, all of the pieces of the mystery slot nicely into place.

If you can buy into the central concept and accept it for what it is, this is a lot of fun, with a good pace, smart sense of location and nice characterisation.  I did buy into it, I liked it a lot.
Armada format b paperback (printed in 1983 and never re-printed), cover art by Peter Archer
(incidentally, it's the same cover art as used by the format a paperback, printed between 1974 and 1980)
The internal illustrations for the UK edition were drawn by Roger Hall.

All of the images used are scans of my copies, though I would also direct you to Ian Regan's superb cover Art database here

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

An appreciation of Sir Roger Moore

Over the past couple of years, I've had a lot of fun writing blog posts that celebrate things I enjoy (namely on my Nostalgic For My Childhood thread) and I thought it might be an idea to write some about people I admire in entertainment - my heroes, if you will.

With that in mind, in honour of today being his 87th birthday, this is my appreciation of Sir Roger Moore.
Sir Roger Moore & I, backstage at Northampton Derngate theatre, Monday 6th October 2014
Sir Roger George Moore, KBE, was born on 14th October 1927 in Stockwell, London, the only child of George Moore, a policeman and Lillian, a housewife.  By his own account (from his stage shows and autobiography), he had a happy childhood apart from a period of evacuation in Holesworthy, Devon, which he left as soon as he could.

After briefly attending RADA, where he was a classmate of Lois Maxwell (who would later play Miss Moneypenny to his Bond), he began to appear in films as an extra.  Shortly after the war, aged 18, he was conscripted for National Service and eventually commanded a small depot in West Germany.  He later transferred to the Entertainment corps, where he became friends with (film director-to-be) Bryan Forbes.

In the early 1950s, Moore worked as a model for a wide range of products (with his print ads for knitwear leading Michael Caine to give him the nickname ‘The Big Knit’) before moving to Hollywood under contract to MGM.  He has since said, of this time, “At MGM, RGM (Roger George Moore) was NBG (no bloody good)”.

He made his name when he was cast as the eponymous hero in the serial Ivanhoe, loosely based on the novel by Sir Walter Scott.  He later appeared in The Alaskans series for ABC/Warner Brothers and as Bret Maverick in the series Maverick, with James Garner.

In 1962, Lew Grade cast Moore as Simon Templar in the TV series The Saint and it was so successful that it made him a household name across the world.  The series ran for six years and 118 episodes (some of which Moore himself directed), making it - along with The Avengers - the longest running series of its kind on British television.

After two films - Crossplot and the darker, more challenging The Man Who Haunted Himself (which he rates as favourite of his own films) - Moore returned to television with The Persuaders.  Partnered with Tony Curtis (with whom he quickly developed a good rapport) and produced by Lew Grade, Moore was paid £1m for a single series, making him the highest paid TV actor in the world.  Unfortunately the series didn’t take off in America (its primary intended market) and so only 24 episodes were made.

With Sean Connery declaring that following his payday on Diamonds Are Forever it was “never again” for him and Bond, Moore was approached by Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli to take over the role in August 1972.  Moore, who had to cut his hair and lose weight for the role, discussed the situation with his friend Connery before accepting, first appearing in Live and Let Die in 1973.  Moore would appear in seven Bond films in total - Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981) Octopussy (1983) and A View to a Kill (1985).  He was 45 when he took on the role and 58 when he announced his retirement from it.

Opinions differ greatly (the rule of thumb seems to be that your favourite is often the one you grew up with) but I think Moore was the best Bond, though I’ve enjoyed most of the films (Pierce Brosnan had to endure some rubbish) and like the Daniel Craig version.  His Bond was very different to the Ian Fleming character (and the Connery version) but the films were too.  Screenwriters, including Tom Mankiewicz and George MacDonald Fraser, wrote films in which 007 was more of a debonair Englishman, who always had a trick or gadget up his sleeve when he needed it, a move by the producers to better serve the contemporary taste in the 1970s.

In between his Bond outings he made other, often smaller films and was criticised for making three movies in South Africa during the 70s.

After “A View To A Kill”, he didn’t act on screen for five years, breaking that run with “Bed & Breakfast” and “Bullseye!”, with Michael Caine in 1990.  He officially announced his retirement from acting in an article for The Sunday Telegraph magazine in April 2009.

Sir Roger has been married four times.  His first wife was the skater Doorn Van Steyn, whom he left for the singer Dorothy Squires.  Whilst filming in Italy in 1961, he met the Italian actress Luisa Mattioli and lived with her until their marriage in 1969 when Squires finally granted him a divorce.  With Mattioli, he had three children - Geoffrey, Deborah and Christian - but Moore ended the marriage in 1993 (he subsequently reported his marriages to both Squires and Mattioli were often abusive, at his expense).  In March 2002 he married Kristina Tholstrup.  Moore was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1993 though surgery on it was successful (it's in remission) and he had a pacemaker fitted in 2003 after collapsing on stage in New York.

Shocked by the level of poverty he witnessed whilst filming Octopussy in India in 1983 and after speaking with his friend Audrey Hepburn, who worked with UNICEF, he became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1991.  Since that time, he has worked tirelessly for the organisation and writes most movingly about it in his autobiography.

Sir Roger was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1999 and advanced to Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in June 2003.  The citation on the knighthood was for his charity work and he said, at the time, that it "meant far more to me than if I had got it for acting... I was proud because I received it on behalf of UNICEF as a whole and for all it has achieved over the years".  He was awarded a star on the Hollywood Wall of Fame in 2007 and it’s located, appropriately enough, at 7007 Hollywood Boulevard.

Sir Roger has been a hero of mine from when I was a kid right up to the present day.  A huge fan of his films (especially the Bonds), "The Persuaders" and the man himself (reading about this thoughts on his own children, once I was a father myself, just made me like him even more), I've been lucky enough to see him twice.  Alison & I caught his "An Audience With..." tour at Milton Keynes theatre in 2013 and it was a brilliant show.  When we found out he was touring again in 2014 and would be at Northampton Derngate (our local theatre), we booked tickets straight away and I emailed Gareth Owen - his biographer - about the possibility of meeting him ('nothing ventured, nothing gained').  To my surprise, Gareth was amenable to it and so - on Monday 6th October - Alison & I went backstage before the show and got to meet the great man and his lovely wife.  I wrote about it in this blog, but he was everything I expected him to be, a genuine living legend and he couldn't have been nicer to us.  It was a wonderful experience and I'll never forget it.

Over the years, Sir Roger has written four books (the title links go to my Goodreads reviews):

* A diary for Pan, “Roger Moore as James Bond: Roger Moore's Own Account of Filming Live and Let Die”, was published in 1973 (it’s a great read) and opened with the acknowledgement: “I would also like to thank Sean Connery – with whom it would not have been possible.” 

* His autobiography, “My Word Is My Bond”, was published in 2008 by Michael O’Mara and is a fascinating book, full of his wry, self-deprecating humour and a terrific read.  It's also available as an audio book, which he reads.

* In 2012, Michael O’Mara published “Bond On Bond”, which tied in with the 50th anniverary of the series.

* In 2014, Michael O'Mara published "Last Man Standing: Tales From Tinseltown", a collection of anecdotes told in Moore's inimitable style, which was another good read.

There was also a series of six adventure books for children, “Roger Moore and the Crimefighters”, published by Alpine/Everest in 1977/78, aiming for a slice of the market enjoyed by “The Three Investigators”.  Moore’s involvement was limited to a cover photo and a chapter at the end wrapping the story up.  His royalties from the series were donated to the Stars Organisation for Spastics and to the Police Widows and Orphans Fund.  I wrote about the series at this blog-post.

Widely regarded as a genuinely nice man, to my mind Sir Roger Moore is a living legend - suave, debonair, English cool personified - and I'm grateful that I got a chance to meet him.

Thank you, good sir, for the entertainment you've provided us over the years and many happy returns of the day!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Horror at Desborough library...

Just a quick reminder that this is happening next week.

Three writers - Nicky Peacock, Paul Melhuish and myself - combine for a Horror Night at Desborough Library.

Readings by the three of us - I'm going to do a creepy section from "The Mill", the real-life location of which is about a mile or so from the library - and followed by a Q&A session, our books will also be available and it promises to be a great evening.

Tickets are on-sale now (for the princely sum of £2) so, if you're local, why not pop along?

To promote the event, I made my debut appearance on radio as a guest of John Griff at BBC Radio Northampton and had a great time.  The show is available as listen-again until next Monday so if you want to hear my thoughts on horror, you can listen to the whole thing or jump to 1hr 45m when I appear.

The John Griff show - listen-again until Monday 13th October

Unfortunately this event has been postponed due to "circumstances beyond our control" and will now take place in 2015.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

An Evening With Sir Roger Moore (in Northampton)

So, this happened last night…
In November 2013, Alison & I went to the Milton Keynes theatre to see “An Audience With Sir Roger Moore” (which I blogged about here) and it was bloody brilliant.  When we found out that he was touring in Autumn 2014 (and would be appearing at Northampton Derngate), it took the pair of us about two seconds to decide we were going again and she booked us tickets, front row centre.  What a star my wife is.

It’s perhaps worth mentioning here, in case you didn’t know, that I’m a huge fan of Sir Roger Moore, starting with “The Persuaders”, the Crimefighters books (blogged about here) and through the Bond films (the first two of which I saw at the cinema - blogged about here - were “Live & Let Die” and “The Spy Who Loved Me” on a double bill) and he’s a real hero of mine.
Last month, Sir Roger published his latest book “Last Man Standing” (which I reviewed here), a collection of anecdotes from Hollywood and it was a great read.  I happened to mention it on Twitter and got a retweet (which made my day) and that started me thinking.  At a Memorabilia fair at the NEC, I’d seen Gareth Owen (Sir Roger’s biographer and his interviewer on the tour) and went over to shake his hand to thank him for the show.  What if, I thought, I emailed him and asked if it was possible for me to get into a meet-and-greet if they had one.  Remembering sage advice from my youth - if you don’t ask, you don’t get - I did email him (along with a link to my review of the previous show and further mentions of Sir Roger) and he replied, saying that we might be able to sort something out...

I spent most of Monday 6th October feeling nervous (not helped by also having an interview about my writing on BBC Radio Northampton - thanks John Griff!) and at 6.55, I was outside the stage door (alongside autograph hunters who were telling me it was no good, he wasn’t coming out).  I told the lady at the door who I was, she went off and then Alison & I were let in, led down narrow corridors and pointed towards a door that had a sign saying “Sir Roger Moore” pinned to it.  Surely not…

The door opened and Gareth Owen gestured for us to go in.  Sir Roger was sitting in front of the mirror, signing bookplates and his wife, Lady Kristina Tholstrup, was standing to the side and I was completely lost for words.  Sir Roger got up as I walked over and Gareth introduced me (they initially thought I was someone else, a mistake quickly rectified) and mentioned that I’d given his last show a good review on the blog, which made my hero smile.  I looked at him and tried to take everything in - he’s tall and a real commanding presence and - I’ll admit - I was in awe of him.  Sir Roger shook my hand and I can’t for the life of me remember anything I said after that, though Alison assures me I told him I’d been a fan of his for a long time, that it was a real honour to meet him and that I’d loved his books.  I snapped back to reality when he asked if I was watching the show and I said “Yes, my wife Alison bought the tickets” and when he shook her hand, he introduced his wife to us.  We chatted for a while, he posed for pictures and then we took our leave, as I thanked him again and shook his hand again and tried to take it all in.  Alison & I made our way outside and when I checked the photographs had come out okay, I found that my hands were shaking.  Wow, what a moment.
The tickets were, indeed, front row centre and we got settled in as Sir Roger came on stage at 7.30pm.  He made his way to his seat (a little more unsteady than last year maybe but still ramrod straight) and sat down, first moving the Union Jack cushion off it and saying “Sean Connery, Andy Murray.”

Hosted, once again, by Gareth Owen, the show was a real treat (over 2 hours!) and Moore’s abilities as a raconteur were superb - stories went off at tangents, we heard about his early childhood (the baby photo was funny), his early career as an animator, the moves to Hollywood and back (with Owen inserting gleeful “you were fired” comments at key points) and TV, with “Ivanhoe” (we were treated to the theme tune) and “The Saint”.  Following the interval, we got anecdotes about “The Persuaders” and then moved onto Bond (including “Bond…James Bond”, which got as much applause as it did last year).  Within this section there were a couple of poignant moments as he talked about old friends who’d recently passed away - he recalled some of the fun he’d had working with Richard Kiel (I knew the little boy on the beach in “The Spy Who Loved Me” was Kiel’s son, I didn’t realise he’s now an eminent cardiologist), his frequent director Andrew V. McLaglen and Geoffrey Holder.  Following a lively Q&A session, he wrapped up the show with a brief discussion of his work with UNICEF and quoted a poem Audrey Hepburn had told, which was quite emotional.  He left the stage to a standing ovation and as we left the auditorium, Alison & I said, “if he tours again…”

It was a terrific show and Sir Roger was on top form, telling stories and making the audience laugh (including some risqué remembrances) and name-dropping with the best of them, whilst also imitating certain key players voices when the situation called for it (his Tony Curtis is very good).  The term legend gets bandied around a lot these days but Sir Roger Moore genuinely is one and it was reflected in the show - funny, poignant at times but with a real lust for life apparent throughout and he had the audience rapt from the off.

Well done, Sir Roger and thanks also for being so nice to an idiot who was smart enough to send an email asking to see you but not clever enough to remember what he was saying when stood in front you.  I’m an unabashed fan of long standing and to finally meet my hero was a true highlight for me.

Roll on the next tour - Alison & I will be there!

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Nostalgic for my childhood - The Three Investigators

I first discovered The Three Investigators in 1978, when I was nine.  As I recall, it was a rainy day and at breaktime, we were sent to one of the classrooms in the older part of the school buildings.  As other kids settled down to read comics or swap football cards, I had a look at the bookshelves and one spine in particular caught my eye.  I pulled it out and had a look at the cover - three boys, in a cave, with a skull in the foreground.  I took it back to the desk, started reading “The Secret Of Skeleton Island” and so began a lifelong love affair with a series that began in 1964 and so, this year, celebrates its fiftieth anniversary.
The book that started it all for me -
Collins hardback first edition (first printed 1968, last reprinted 1970) with cover art by Roger Hall
Robert Arthur at work
The series was created by Robert Arthur, who was born on November 10th, 1909 at Fort Mills, Corregidor Island, in the Philippines.  His father, Robert Arthur, Sr, a lieutenant in the army, was stationed there and the family moved frequently before settling in Virginia in 1925.  After high school, he turned down scholarships to both West Point and Annapolis set on becoming a writer, having already published his first story. He graduated from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, in 1930 with a B.A. in English with Distinction and received his M.A. in Journalism in 1932, after which he moved to New York City.

By then, Arthur was writing for the pulp magazines which flourished in the early thirties, as well as writing and editing pulp western, detective, and screen magazines for Dell Publishing, was the associate editor of Photo-Story, and created and edited Pocket Detective Magazine (the first pocket-sized, all-fiction magazine).  Following a failed marriage, he met David Kogan in 1943 and they became writing and producing partners in radio (whilst Arthur also worked for Parade and continued to publish in most of the story magazines of the time, including Weird Tales, Astounding Science Fiction, Detective Tales, Astounding Science-Fiction, Baffling Detective Mysteries, Dime Mystery, and others).

From 1944 to 1952, he and Kogan co-wrote and produced for the Mutual Broadcasting System programme Dark Destiny as well as their own show, The Mysterious Traveler, which was re-aired as Adventure Into Fear, and syndicated among other radio stations.  The Mysterious Traveler consistently outranked shows from the CBS and NBC networks and Arthur and Kogan were awarded the Edgar for Best Mystery Radio Show of the Year by the Mystery Writers of America.

In the early forties, Arthur met Joan Vaczek, a fiction writer and daughter of a Hungarian diplomat and they married in December 1946, moving to Yorktown Heights in New York where they had two children - Robert Andrew Arthur in 1948 (which means that Bob Andrews was a nice nod to his son) and Elizabeth Ann Arthur in 1953 (who is now a writer herself).

The Mysterious Traveller was cancelled in 1953 as part of the McCarthy investigatons (they believed, Kogan said later, that the Radio Writers Guild was leading writers “down the path to Moscow”), by which time Arthur had written and produced over five hundred radio scripts.  Following his divorce, in 1959 he moved to Hollywood and began writing for television, namely with Alfred Hitchcock Presents, for which he also served as story editor.

In 1962, Arthur moved to Cape May, New Jersey, where he lived with his fathers aunt until his death.  Due to his association with Alfred Hitchcock, he was hired by Random House to edit a series of anthologies that capitalised on the great directors popularity and allowed Arthur to not only commission new work but also mine the pulp magazines for neglected classics (he also wrote the Hitchcock introductions).  The anthologies included Stories For Late At Night (1961), Stories My Mother Never Told Me (1963), Stories Not For The Nervous (1965), Stories That Scared Even Me (1967) and Stories They Wouldn’t Let Me Do On TV (1968).  At the same time, he was editing anthologies for younger readers - again under the Hitchcock brand - including Alfred Hitchcock’s Haunted Houseful (1961), Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery (1962), Alfred Hitchcock’s Monster Museum (1965), Alfred Hitchcock’s Sinister Spies (1966) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbinders in Suspense, (1967), whilst under his own name he edited Davy Jones’ Haunted Locker (1965), Spies and More Spies (1967) and Thrillers and More Thrillers (1968).  Collections of his own fiction were brought out by Random House as Ghosts and More Ghosts (1963) and Mystery and More Mystery (1966).

The success of the anthologies led Arthur to suggest creating a new juvenile series for Random House, under the editor-ship of Walter Retan.  This would have as its basis other successful American series (though be “better written than The Hardy Boys”), such as the Andy Blake and Jerry Todd books (both written by Edward Edson Lee) and The Bobbsey Twins, crucially pegging them as slightly younger (the boys aren’t quite old enough to drive or be interested in girls).  In keeping with this, the books continued proven tradition with interesting mysteries (he realised kids would respond to spooky tales), humour coming out of the repartee between the boys and three distinct characters who would share attributes with the youthful readers.
Evocative and deceptively simple artwork by Roger Hall for the Collins and Armada editions
l to r - "The Mystery Of The Stuttering Parrot", "The Mystery Of The Vanishing Treasure", "The Secret Of Skeleton Island" (this picture frightened me, as a kid) and "The Secret Of The Haunted Mirror"
Working with Retan and Louise Bonino, Arthur shaped the first novel steadily, keen on the idea of The Three Investigators as an entity - “once readers know the group,” he wrote, “and come to identify them by their ‘firm name’, it will stick in their minds naturally and easily.”  Overall during the process, the biggest changes made were the names - Jupiter Jones was originally going to be called Jason “Genius” Jones (Arthur liked alliterative names, he believed they were more memorable), whilst Pete was known as Dick for a while.  Skinny Norris, the boys bête noire in a lot of the books, came from Arthur’s research that children liked a type ‘of a nuisance character for the hero to have an occasional brush with”.  To make him more obnoxious, he was slightly older than the boys and allowed to drive.

Armada format b, cover art by Peter Archer
In correspondence, which Seth Smolinske has on his website, it’s clear that Arthur researched other series extensively, helping him to structure and form The Three Investigators and give - as he wrote - “the readers a quality product.”  There is a lot of correspondence, back and forth, strengthening the tension and suspense and streamlining the plot and some of the points Arthur raised showed his plan for the series, building in secret entrances to Headquarters that wouldn’t be used until much later (such as the ones the sinister midgets utilise in “The Mystery Of The Vanishing Treasure”).  Even before “The Secret Of Terror Castle” was written, Retan writes that the company was most eager for two more books on the “Fall 1965 list”.

By June 1964, in addition to “The Mystery Of The Stuttering Parrot”, Arthur also had plans for “The Mystery Of Phantom Island” and “The Case Of The Whispering Mummy” plus another called “The Mystery Of The Lost Wagon Train”.  As publication crept closer, the final contracts were settled with Alfred Hitchcock - who only lent his name - contracted to receive 80% of all foreign sales royalties.  He later agreed to share this 50/50 with Arthur whose original contract allowed no income from this market,

The first book in the series, “The Secret Of Terror Castle”, was published on 24th September, 1964, along with the second "The Mystery Of The Stuttering Parrot".

From 1963, Robert Arthur wrote two Three Investigator titles a year and the books quickly became successful, both in America and abroad (there was a publication lag of a couple of years to the UK).  In 1968, with his health failing, he recruited Dennis Lynds to help write the series and the first non-Arthur book, “The Mystery Of The Moaning Cave”, was published under Lynds’ pseudonym of William Arden.  At this point, Jenny Fanelli took over as the series editor, a job she held until her retirement in the early 1990’s.
Robert Arthur died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on May 2nd, 1969, at the age of fifty-nine.  Walter Retan, the series original editor, died in 1998.

The Collins hardcovers end papers (artwork by Harry Kane)
As I wrote before, I started reading the series when I was nine and it fitted perfectly with me (another beloved book of that summer was “The Adventures Of The Black Hand Gang” and me and my friend Claire did, indeed, set up a detective club).  I still don’t know for sure how old the boys are supposed to be (I’m guessing very early teens) but it felt like I could be part of the gang.  I wanted to have a friend like Jupiter who had an encyclopaedic memory, I wanted to be a cross between Bob and Pete (good on research and writing, but also up for some physical action), I desperately wanted to have a secret hide-out in a fabulous junkyard.  But most of all, I really wanted to find mysteries in and around Rothwell - anywhere I could reach by bike, basically - that were spooky and exciting and fun.

As I started reading the series, the books were available as Collins hardbacks (the small format) which could be found in libraries and Armada were moving out of the format a paperbacks into format b.  At that time, Rothwell library was housed in the old Market Square building, up a stone, spiral staircase and into a room with plenty of shelves, dark wood floors and high old windows.  The kids section was at the back, to the right and I spent a lot of time in there, flicking through the books, searching out the latest adventure.  For my home library, I started picking up the Armada paperbacks, unwittingly setting my love for the format b artwork and design firmly into place.  Back then, you could pick up the books pretty much anywhere - good haunts were W H Smith, John Menzies and Boots - and the series became something my family bought me for birthday and Christmas presents (my parents bought me the box-set for Christmas 1981).

The Three Investigators always operated as a team and had distinct roles to play.

The boys, as shown on the back covers of the Armada format b
paperbacks - c.1983 (artwork by Peter Archer)
Jupiter “Jupe” Jones is “First Investigator.”  Stocky and intelligent, he’s an adept actor and mimic, often able to outwit well-meaning adults and crooks alike by employing the Occam’s Razor principle (the simplest and most rational explanation should be preferred to an explanation which requires additional assumptions).  A former child actor - he was called “Baby Fatso” and understandably hates to be reminded of it - he was orphaned at an early age and now lives with his Uncle Titus Andronicus Jones and Aunt Mathilda, who run The Jones Salvage Yard.  Jupe builds equipment and devices for the team using materials gleaned from the junkyard, likes to play jokes on his fellow investigators and loves using big words - often to the confusion of Pete - though that helped me as a young reader, since most books required at least one search through a dictionary.

Peter “Pete” Crenshaw is “Second Investigator”, athletic and dependable, though reluctant to get involved in dangerous situations but always at the forefront when there’s action.  Pete is often Jupe’s partner on stake-outs and explorations (especially in the early books when Bob’s injury sidelines him) and whilst he doesn’t have the same intellectual ability, he’s never ignored and can always be relied on to point out Jupe’s errors, often using humour (Pete gets the bulk of the best lines in the series).  A key member of the team, with an excellent sense of direction (they often get lost in caves or other strange places), he has some great phrases (“Gleeps!” and “Skullbuster” are but two) and his dad is a special effects man at a Hollywood studio which helps them out on some mysteries and puts them into the path of others.

Robert “Bob” Andrews is “Records and Research”, who writes up the cases and works part-time at the Rocky Beach library, giving him excellent access to whatever research tools he might need.  Studious and meticulous, his dad works for the LA Times and occasionally helps Bob and the team out.  Although he’s the smaller of the boys, he “has the courage of a lion” and suffered a fall before the series began, breaking his leg which necessitated him wearing a leg brace (it was removed before the start of “The Mystery Of The Green Ghost”).  Although not as intellectual as Jupe, he is able to hold his own with his friend and often ends up explaining to Pete what it was that Jupiter has said.

The Three Investigators calling card - everyone asked what the
question marks stood for, as Jupe guessed they would.

"They are our symbol, our trademark.  They stand for questions
unanswered, riddles unsolved, mysteries unexplained.  We attempt
to solve them" (taken from 'Coughing Dragon')
Alfred Hitchcock acts as their patron (after being tricked into the role by Jupe in “The Secret Of Terror Castle”) and agrees to introduce their cases so long as they are sufficiently exciting (it’s assumed - and occasionally mentioned - that they do have other, smaller cases).  More tolerant of the boys as the series goes on, he’s sometimes called upon for advice and occasionally suggests their services to friends and colleagues.

The boys operated from The Jones Salvage Yard, in the coastal town of Rocky Beach a few miles from Hollywood.  Some of the stories take place there but for those going further afield - across ‘the vast distances in California’ - they have use of a gold-plated Rolls Royce, complete with Worthington, a dignified, English chauffeur (a great character, who later helps the boys out on his own time).  Jupiter won the Rolls, for “thirty days of 24 hours each” just prior to “The Secret Of Terror Castle” and those ran out during “The Mystery Of The Fiery Eye” (though their client on that case gratefully extended the time indefinitely).  Otherwise they bike everywhere or one of the salvage yard helpers - Bavarian brothers Hans and Konrad - drive them in one of the trucks.

This illustration, by Roger Hall, from "The
Mystery Of The Vanishing Treasure" shows
Tunnel Two in operation
Headquarters was inside the salvage yard, a fire-damaged 30-foot trailer that was hidden behind artfully composed stacks of junks and by the time the series had started, both Uncle Titus and Aunt Mathilda had forgotten it was there.  Headquarters was decked out with (for the time) modern equipment like a typewriter, telephone (rigged up to a speaker), tape recorder, reference books plus a small laboratory and dark room.  Most of the equipment was rescued from the junk that came into the yard and rebuilt by the boys and a printing press (to make the business cards) was set up in Jupe’s workshop, which Aunt Mathilda did know about.  In order to maintain the secrecy, there were several entrances to Headquarters known only to the boys (though security was breached occasionally).

Emergency One - a skylight that was, to my knowledge, only used in “The Mystery Of The Vanishing Treasure”
Green Gate One and Red Gate Rover - secret entrances built into the fence that surrounded the junkyard, opened by poking a finger through a knothole and releasing a catch.
Tunnel Two - a corrugated iron pipe, padded with old carpet, that runs from the workshop and under the trailer to a trapdoor.  The most commonly used entrance.
Door Four - a large door, apparently leaning but in actual use.

Although the stories are written for children and follow a general formula, the level of writing and invention is superb and highlights the quality of the writers chosen for the series.  Most of the books open with the mystery being brought to the team and the boys often encountered baffling clues and plenty of danger before they resolved everything.  The series was organised around one major theme (hence the superb titles) which could be strange, supernatural or mystical, though most were down to human hand (apart from a couple of M. V. Carey’s editions, which never really confirmed one way or the other).  The boys solved their mysteries with the same resources the readers had at their displosal - telephones, walkie-talkies, chalk, bicycles and access to a library (Worthington and the Rolls was a great resource, if somewhat unlikely to a kid in the Midlands in the 70s, but I loved it and wanted one.) - which made identification stronger.  The final chapter of each book had the boys visiting Hitchcock so the great director could review the mystery and reveal the deduction and clues Jupiter had worked on throughout.
My favourite book of the series, in its first three UK editions
l to r - Collins hardback (printed 1976), Armada format a (printed 1979 - 1980), Armada format b (printed 1981 - 1982)
Hardback cover art by Roger Hall, paperback art by Peter Archer
The UK editions were published in hardback by Collins in tall and short editions, featuring cover art and interior illustrations by Roger Hall, both of which were based on drawings by Harry Kane from the US editions.  The series was published in paperback by Armada, carrying over the same interior illustrations, but the format a (1970-1980) and b (1980 - 1986) editions had superb and evocative cover art by Peter Archer.  Format c and beyond had cover art by González Vicente which, frankly, didn’t work at all.

William Arden was the pseudonym for noted mystery writer Dennis Lynds, perhaps best known for his series featuring one-armed detective Dan Fortune, written under the pen name of Michael Collins.  He was born on January 15th 1924 in St. Louis (the only child of two actors) and grew up in New York, earning a B.A. in chemistry from Hofstra College in Hempstead, New York and an M.A. in journalism from Syracuse University.

A prolific pen-for-hire, he also created private detectives Paul Shaw (written as Mark Sadler) and Kane Jackson (written as William Arden) as well as continuing adventures (under various ‘house names’) of Charlie Chan, The Shadow, Nick Carter and Mike Shayne.  A good friend of the mystery writer Ross Macdonald, he was handpicked to continue the Three Investigators series by Robert Arthur himself.

After serving in World War II (he was awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantry Badge and three battle stars), he worked as a chemist and began writing crime fiction in 1962.  President of The Private Eye Writers of America, he received their Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998 as well as an Edgar and Marlowe Lifetime Achievement Award from the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) Association.  He lived with his wife, fellow mystery writer, Gayle Lynds in Santa Barbara where they collaborated on several books, as well as a couple of Mack Bolan (The Executioner) novels, under the Don Pendleton ‘house name’.

Mr Lynds passed away on August 19th 2005, leaving behind an incredible body of work featuring some 80 novels, as many novellas and 200 shorts.

Kin Platt (who wrote two Three Investigator mysteries under the pseudonym Nick West) was born on August 12th 1911 in New York.  Starting out in radio comedy in the 1930s, he later wrote for Disney and Walter Lantz theatrical cartoons before moving into writing and drawing comic books, where he created the character of Supermouse amongst others.

Following military service he focussed on comic work but began writing children's books and young-adult mysteries in 1961, eventually going on to publish more than 30 under various pseudonyms.  He won two Edgar Awards, in 1967 and 1970.

Mr Platt passed away on November 30th, 2003.

M. V. (Mary Virginia) Carey was born on May 19th 1925 in Brighton, England - the same year her family moved to the United States - and she became a naturalised citizen in 1955.  Moving into publishing, she worked at Walt Disney Productions from 1955 - 1969 and wrote novelisations for them through the 1960s, before leaving to become a freelance writer.  She began writing for the Three Investigators series in 1971 with “The Mystery Of The Flaming Footprints” and produced sixteen titles up to 1987.  In 1986 she was awarded the Southern California Council on Literature for Children and Young People Award, 1986, for  her novel “A Place for Allie”.

Ms Carey is quoted in Contemporary Authors: "The 'Three Investigator' books have always seemed so very special, in part because I remember my first encounter with detective stories.  By the time I was eleven I had read my way through the children's section at our local library, and our librarian - a dear lady named Gertrude Foley - permitted me to come into the adult section.  There was a whole corner devoted to mysteries.  I was instantly hooked, and I think I was almost completely happy for about three years."

Ms Carey passed away in 1994.

Bibliography (the first 30 books)
(my version of the official series)

1:   The Secret Of Terror Castle (1964, by Robert Arthur)
2:   The Mystery Of The Stuttering Parrot (1964, by Robert Arthur)
3:   The Mystery Of The Whispering Mummy (1965, by Robert Arthur)
4:   The Mystery Of The Green Ghost (1965, by Robert Arthur)
5:   The Mystery Of The Vanishing Treasure (1966, by Robert Arthur)
6:   The Secret Of Skeleton Island (1966, by Robert Arthur)
7:   The Mystery Of The Fiery Eye (1967, by Robert Arthur)
8:   The Mystery Of The Silver Spider (1967, by Robert Arthur)
9:   The Mystery Of The Screaming Clock (1968, by Robert Arthur)
10: The Mystery Of The Moaning Cave (1968, by William Arden)
11: The Mystery Of The Talking Skull (1969, by Robert Arthur)
12: The Mystery Of The Laughing Shadow (1969, by William Arden)
13: The Secret Of The Crooked Cat (1970, by William Arden)
14: The Mystery Of The Coughing Dragon (1970, by Nick West)
15: The Mystery Of The Flaming Footprints (1971, by M. V. Carey)
16: The Mystery Of The Nervous Lion (1971, by Nick West)
17: The Mystery Of The Singing Serpent (1972, by M. V. Carey)
18: The Mystery Of The Shrinking House (1972, by William Arden)
19: Secret Of Phantom Lake (1973, by William Arden)
20: The Mystery Of Monster Mountain (1973, by M. V. Carey)
21: The Secret Of The Haunted Mirror (1974, by M. V. Carey)
22: The Mystery Of The Dead Man's Riddle (1974, by William Arden)
23: The Mystery Of The Invisible Dog (1975, by M. V. Carey)
24: The Mystery Of Death Trap Mine (1976, by M. V. Carey)
25: The Mystery Of The Dancing Devil (1976, by William Arden)
26: The Mystery Of The Headless Horse (1977, by William Arden)
27: The Mystery Of The Magic Circle (1978, by M. V. Carey)
28: The Mystery Of The Deadly Double (1978, by William Arden)
29: The Mystery Of The Sinister Scarecrow (1979, by M. V. Carey)
30: The Secret Of The Shark Reef (1979, by William Arden)

In 1984, the British company Rainbow Communications produced two audio plays, 50 minute long dramatisations of “The Secret Of Terror Castle” and “The Mystery Of The Stuttering Parrot”.  I quite liked them, to be honest, though none of the boys sounded like I thought they should and huge chunks are cut out of “Stuttering Parrot” but, even worse, although “The Whispering Mummy” is teased it was never produced.  Shame.  Long since unavailable, you can find them on Youtube.

Following Hitchock’s death in 1980, there were further entries in the series though the great director was replaced (poorly, in my opinion) by a fictional writer called Hector Sebastien.  Of these, I read books 31 through to 38 and don’t really have much good to say about any of them (though “The Purple Pirate” does have a good atmosphere).

31: The Mystery Of The Scar-Faced Beggar (1981, by M. V. Carey)
32: The Mystery Of The Blazing Cliffs (1981, by M. V. Carey)
33: The Mystery Of The Purple Pirate (1982, by William Arden)
34: The Mystery Of The Wandering Cave Man (1982, by M. V. Carey)
35: The Mystery Of The Kidnapped Whale (1983, by Marc Brandel)
36: The Mystery Of The Missing Mermaid (1983,M. V. Carey)
37: The Mystery Of The Two-Toed Pigeon (1984, by Marc Brandel)
38: The Mystery Of The Smashing Glass (1984, by William Arden)
39: The Mystery Of The Trail Of Terror (1984, by M. V. Carey)
40: The Mystery Of The Rogues' Reunion (1985, by Marc Brandel)
41: The Mystery Of The Creep-Show Crooks (1985, by M. V. Carey)
42: The Mystery Of Wrecker's Rock (1986, by William Arden)
43: The Mystery Of The Cranky Collector (1987, by M. V. Carey)

There were also four “Find Your Fate Mysteries” mysteries published in the mid-80s

RH1: Case of the Weeping Coffin (1985, by Megan Stine and H. William Stine)
RH2: Case of the Dancing Dinosaur (by Rose Estes)
RH7: Case of the House Of Horrors (by Megan Stine and H. William Stine)
RH8: Case of the Savage Statue (1987, by M.V. Carey)

In the late 80s, an attempt was made to update the series under the “Crimebusters” brand and age the boys into their late teens.  Again, I’ve read almost all of these and wasn’t a fan of any of them.

1: Hot Wheels (1989, by William Arden)
2: Murder To Go (1989, by Megan Stine and H. William Stine)
3: Rough Stuff (1989, by G.H. Stone)
4: Funny Business (1989, by William MacCay)
5: An Ear For Trouble (1989, by Marc Brandel
6: Thriller Diller (1989, by Megan Stine and H. William Stine)
7: Reel Trouble (1989, by G.H. Stone)
8: Shoot the Works (1990, by William McCay)
9: Foul Play (1990, by Peter Lerangis)
10: Long Shot (1990, by Megan Stine and H. William Stine)
11: Fatal Error (1990, by G.H. Stone)
a further edition, “Brain Wash”, was never published.

The books continue to sell strongly in Germany as “Die Drei ???”, with over 100 titles now in the series and two films have been made - "The Three Investigators and the Secret Of Skeleton Island” (2007) and “The Three Investigators and the Secret of Terror Castle” (2009).

By the by, I still have that original hardback copy of “The Secret Of Skeleton Island” - a bit beaten up now but standing strong.  I held onto my full collection and do still read it - in fact, from 2008 to 2010 I re-read all of the first 30 books and set up a dedicated review blog (which you can find here).  After deciding to try and collect the whole series in format b (which I achieved, as I blogged about here) , I have started collecting the books in format a, as well as the Collins hardback editions.  For the 50th anniversary year, I’m in the process of re-reading my favourites to try and determine my all-time Top 10, quite safe in the knowledge the list is surely subject to change, but enjoying both the reading and reviewing.  As it is, I have written fairly extensively on the series and all of my blogged Three Investigator posts can be found at this link.

With thanks to
* the official Three Investigators site (from Elizabeth Arthur)

Seth Smolinske’s The Three Investigators US Editions Collector Site

Ian Regan’s excellent Cover Art database (for the UK editions)

*  Phil Fulmer’s Three Investigators Readers Site

plus Alan Pickrell's essay "The Power Of Three: Alfred Hitchcock’s Three Investigators Series” from “The Boy Detectives: Essays on the Hardy Boys and Others”, edited by Michael G. Cornelius

more information on Roger Hall here

Three superb Armada format b covers with artwork by Peter Archer
(cover scans of my copies)

Monday, 22 September 2014

Some love for "Drive"...

My novella "Drive", available in a limited edition paperback and as an ebook across platforms, has been picking up some nice reviews over the past few weeks and here they are.

First up was M R Crosby at his Stranger Designs site (the full review can be read here)
I didn't mean to sit up late in order to finish Drive, the new novella from Mark West, published by Pendragon Press. I really didn't. However, once I started to read, I found it difficult to stop. It's not often I get caught up in the moment with a book; usually I get drawn in slowly, soaking up the atmosphere. Yet here I was, quite unable to put the thing down, compelled to find out what happens next.

Then there's Matthew Fryer, at Welcome To The Hellforge (the full review can be read here)
I’ve been enjoying Mark West’s fiction for several years now, and his brand of atmospheric, uneasy horror always has me coming back for more. He is one of those authors that brings such investable humanity and resonance to his fiction that genre is rendered almost irrelevant. I was therefore delighted to discover that with this new novella from Pendragon Press, he wanders outside his usual discomfort zone into white-knuckle territory, but still manages to deliver his most terrifying piece to date.

from before, here's Jim Mcleod's review at The Ginger Nuts Of Horror (the full review can be read here)
Many authors are limited by  style and genre, and when they write outside of their comfort zone the resulting book can feel like a letdown.  Regular readers of this website will be  aware of how I feel about Mark West's writing.  He is one of those  rare breed of horror writers that is capable of wrapping up a horror story within a framework full of heart and soul.  His stories have a deep emotional core that elevates them to a whole new level.  So what happens when Mark decides to take his writing in a new direction.....

Also The Ginger Nuts Of Horror (the full review can be read here), this from reviewer Paul M. Feeney
Mark West pens a short tale that's steeped in 70's and 80's chase films, yet retains a character all of its own.  [It's] a pretty simple premise – that of the innocents (David and Nat) being hunted and terrorised by unknown and violent assailants, through the dead of night where there seems to be nowhere to go and no one to help. West cleverly wastes little time in getting to the meat of the action and the bulk of the book details David and Nat's encounters with the gang and their subsequent attempts to escape. As such, there is very little room for prolonged character development and it's a testament to West's talents that he still manages to imbue both David and Nat with three dimensional and sympathetic traits. We really feel for these two people and their plight.

James Everington, at Scattershot reviews, had this to say (the full review can be read here)
Mark West’s latest novella is in some ways a departure from the author’s previous work; there’s none of the supernatural horror of The Mill here. But despite its realism there are scares aplenty in Drive and its small-town English realism adds to the effect.

Paula Limbaugh, at Horror Novel Reviews, wrote (the full review can be read here)
YES!!  A new novella by Mark West!  Okay, just to get it out of the way I’m a big fan of Mark West.  He has a way of plotting the course and leading you down the dark and twisted corridors of his mind.  Drive is another example of a top-notch tale.  Have you ever been out alone in the middle of nowhere driving?  Have you ever thought what if?  What if someone forced you off the road, what if you have a flat and a car full of men pull up, or  what if…..

If you're interested:

“Drive takes you for a journey down the darkest alleyways of human savagery.  
A fast paced, high tension thriller that delivers on all fronts....”
- Jim Mcleod, The Ginger Nuts Of Horror

"Drive is a gripping, tense urban noir with prose as tight as a snare drum..."
- Paul D. Brazill, Guns Of Brixton.

“Mark West writes the kind of fiction that gets under the skin where it lies dormant until you turn out the lights ...”
- Dave Jeffery, author of the Necropolis Rising series

Friday, 19 September 2014

Reading and Q&A Session at Desborough Library

Coming up next month, I will be involved in a Horror Night event at Desborough Library, along with fellow writers Nicky Peacock and Paul Melhuish.  Starting with readings by the three of us - I'm going to do a creepy section from "The Mill", the real-life location of which is about a mile or so from the library - and followed by a Q&A session, our books will also be available and it promises to be a great evening.

Tickets are on-sale now so, if you're local, why not pop along?