Monday 8 April 2013

The Secret Of Skeleton Island

A post that will possibly only be of interest to fans of the Three Investigators series and/or collectors.  Please feel free to move along if you think those things don’t apply to you - see you on the next post.

Dude & I went to Leicester on Friday, as he wanted to get a specific Skylanders 3 pack (the one with Hotdog in) and I love the retro toyshop there.  He bought his stuff, had a go on the Wii U console, we had a good wander, lunch at Toast and then went into the Maynard & Bradley bookshop in Royal Arcade on the off-chance.  I looked at the horror section, Dude went looking at really expensive pictures (and found a gap where, if he put his hand through, went into the shop window - “I’m for sale!”) and then a quick look in the kids section, just in case.

They had a few Three Investigator books and I was flicking through them, hoping for the best and then Dude said “There’s number 6” and it was, The Secret Of Skeleton Island in all its format B glory, a bit dinked but looking good.  I pulled it out and Dude looked at me and I looked at him and I hurried to the counter and paid and when we were out in the arcade, I did a happy dance and he joined in and we yelled a bit (later on, he said “you can stop celebrating now, Dad”).

So I found a book, eh?  Wow.  In a bookshop, eh?  Who’d have thought it.  But this book means a lot more to me than simply being an edition of a long-running series, a story that I’ve read a lot since first finding it on the shelves of my junior school class in 1977.

The Three Investigators series was created by Robert Arthur, a writer of mystery and speculative fiction who was best known for The Mysterious Traveller radio series and his editing work on a whole slew of Alfred Hitchcock anthologies (for which he often contributed stories).  Since some of those were aimed at children, Arthur suggested to Walter Retan, an editor at Random House, a new children’s series that would use the Hitchcock name. The Secret of Terror Castle was published in 1964, and until his death in 1969, Arthur wrote two Three Investigator titles a year.  In 1968, in ill health, he brought Dennis Lynds - a noted mystery writer (who, in this case, used the pen-name William Arden) - into the fold to carry the series on.  Arden and M. V. (Mary) Carey did just that, taking the series past thirty books between them (they were joined by Nick West/Kin Platt for two books).

I’m a big fan of The Three Investigators series (and from 2008 to 2010 embarked upon a re-reading extravaganza of those first thirty books, the reviews from which I posted to this page) and have been since I was eight or so.  I kept the books through childhood, even though I didn’t go back to them often and into adulthood and since I bought most between 1980 and 1983, the bulk of my collection was of the Armada format B.  Since they were “my” editions, I preferred them over all others and at some point - anywhere between ten and twelve years ago - I decided that I wanted the whole series in format B (apart from the three titles that never appeared in it).  That meant a lot of browsing in 2nd hand bookshops until the Internet - and eBay - came along and I did quite well.  But number six, ah, number six eluded me.  I found it twice on eBay, once in Australia and once in the UK and on both occasions I was outbid by a massive margin.  I kept looking, sure that one day I’d find it, unsure of quite how I’d feel once I had.

On the left is the First Edition Collins hardback, published between 1968 and 1970 (my version) and on the right is the Armada Format A paperback (which I also own), published between 1970 and 1979.

The Secret Of Skeleton Island was special because it was the first book of the series I read and owned - (and could, according to some eBay entries, command up to £100 if I sold it) - and it contained a line drawing by Roger Hall, of the ghost in the story (Sally, who was so desperate to finish her last ride that she ignored warnings of a thunder storm and was struck by lightning).  My sister Tracy & I used to dare each other to look at the picture and then go upstairs on our own (I was eight, she was six) and I don’t remember being able to do it.  I showed the picture to Dude on Friday - “Yeah, that’s not so bad," was his considered response.

But I’ve done it now, my series is complete in the way I want it and there's a nice touch that it was Dude who found the missing piece.  I was so thrilled that I treated him to another Skylander!

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