Monday, 17 March 2014

The Mystery Of The Vanishing Treasure, by Robert Arthur

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 1968 and 1970), cover art by Harry Kane
“Gnomes, sir?” Jupiter was baffled.

But that was exactly what Alfred Hitchcock had said - he wanted The Three Investigators to help a friend of his who was being troubled by gnomes.  But who believes in them?  The boys don’t - at least, not until the gnomes take them prisoner!

illustration from the Collins/Armada
editions, by Roger Hall
The Three Investigators visit the Peterson Museum on Children’s Day, to see the world famous Nagasami Jewels, which are on special display.  Whilst there, a daring robbery takes place and the priceless Golden Belt is stolen with the only suspect an old actor friend of Jupiter’s who, it quickly turns out, had nothing to do with it.  Jupiter offers his services to Mr Togati, head of security, but is turned away though his disappointment is termpered by a call from Alfred Hitchcock.  He wants the boys to help his old friend Agatha Agawam, a childrens writer who is having trouble with gnomes.  No-one but Hitchcock believes her, so the boys stay the night at her house in an area of Los Angeles that is being modernised, in order to try and get to the bottom of the case.

Another one of my all-time favourites, that I loved as a kid and never lost my affection, this is a rollercoaster of an adventure that doesn’t lets up and covers a lot of ground.  From the initial robbery (a cleverly staged set-piece), to the details of the gnomes (when they’re first seen, it’s quite a spooky sequence) and beyond (including a terrific chase in an abandoned cinema), this is full of assured writing and helped by a great sense of location and atmosphere.

It also has a sense of melancholic nostalgia (which I probably missed as a kid but now realise is a signature of Robert Arthur), where the differences between past and present are not generally good.  In this case, it’s Ms Agawam reflecting on the lack of children in the area as those she once read to - and wrote for - have now moved away to start families of their own and it’s also about how old LA is being demolished (the old Moor theatre next door) to make way for the new.  I really appreciated that on re-reading it.

Although this features another non-Investigator POV sequence (very brief, but still jarring), this is a brilliantly written story, with some terrific set pieces (Headquarters features heavily in the exciting climax), characterisation and dialogue.  Great fun and very highly recommended.

Armada format A paperbacks (unusually there were two designs - edition on the left was published in 1970 and never reprinted, the one on the right was published between 1972 and 1979).  Cover art by Peter Archer (right), artist unkown on left.

Armada format B cover (published in 1980 and never reprinted) by Peter Archer

The internal illustrations for the UK edition were drawn by Roger Hall.

Thanks to Ian Regan for the artwork (you can see more at his excellent Cover Art database here)

1 comment:

  1. Good review Mark. This entry is also one of my favorites. Holds up very well in rereads. It's a shame modern young readers don't have access to this wonderful series.

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