Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Secret Of The Crooked Cat, by William Arden

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
A weird mystery intrigues The Three Investigators when Carson's Carnival comes to town, for they soon find that someone is out to destroy the funfair and its owner.  With a bizarre toy cat as their only clue to the enemy, the boys set out on a deadly manhunt...

interior artwork by Roger Hall shows Andy,
from the carnival, being shown
around Headquarters
Titus Jones gets the boys to paint up some wash tubs to look like ‘lion chairs’, which they hand deliver to ‘Carson’s Colossal Carnival!’ that's been set up at the beach next to the abandoned amusement park.  Almost as soon as they get there, a man tries to steal a bizarre looking stuffed toy (the crooked cat of the title) and the boys chase him but he disappears, with the only apparent means of escape a sheer wooden fence.  Soon after Pete wins the cat for himself, he finds himself trying to calm a lion that has been released from its pen.  As the boys delve deeper it soon transpires that the carnival is in trouble and someone is out to destroy it and its owner.  With a series of accidents of escalating seriousness building up and superstitious carnival folk believing that “everything comes in threes”, it’s up to the boys to figure out what’s going on, with the crooked cat as their only clue.

This is another terrific entry, combining a deceptively simple plot with some really good set pieces, logical detection and plenty of intrigue along the way.  After setting things up in the first chapter, the story takes off and whips along, featuring bad luck, a reverse-disguise, carny-life, a human fly, a bank robbery and remnants of the past along the way.  There’s great use of the abandoned amusement park and it’s desolation and spookiness is remarkably well conveyed (especially during a tense and suspenseful moonlit pursuit).  The book also has an element of Robert Arthur style pathos to it, about the waning carnival life and people wanting someting for nothing, which is a nice touch.

This also marks the introduction of the tracking devices (put to good use) and features several characters saying “The Jones Salvage Yard has everything!”, which I thought was cool.  If the ending is perhaps a little simplistic (though it does have the villain say “I’d have got away except for those stupid kids!” - this was published in 1970, Scooby Doo started in 1969), it still works and doesn’t detract from what is otherwise a gripping read and one I highly recommend.

The Armada editions show completely different aspects of the story (art by Peter Archer)
format A (left) printed between 1973 and 1980, format B (right) printed between 1982 and 1983

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)

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