Friday 28 March 2014

The Mystery Of The Singing Serpent, by M. V. Carey

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 in 1973 and never reprinted ), cover art by Roger Hall
(note Bob's tassled waistcoat!)
The Three Investigators stole across the shadowy patio.  Jupiter held a held aside and looked into the dining room.

Then they heard the sound.  It was faint at first - a soft throbbing.  A singing sound, yet in no way was it a song.  It was high and piercing, then a low murmur.  It wavered - then burst forth in hideous gurgling waves.

The Three Investigators listened in mounting panic.

Collins Hardback Second Edition (1975-1978)
which appears to have as its spine image
Pete falling off the wall at Torrente Canyon
It appears that Jupiter Jones might have met his match in Allie Jamison, a smart and independent girl who lives in a mansion up the road from the Jones Salvage Yard.  With her parents away in Europe, she’s being looked after by her Aunt Pat, but there’s a new house guest too, the mysterious Hugo Ariel.  And when a bizarre singing noise is heard - driving away the maid - Allie hires The Three Investigators to find out just what is going on.  They quickly discover that Aunt Pat has become involved in a religious fellowship, run by the mysterious Dr Shaitan from a house on Torrente Canyon and it’s up to the boys and Allie to uncover the truth behind it all before someone gets badly hurt.

This is the second M. V. Carey entry in the series and it’s one of my very favourite stories, as the boys team up with the fiercely strong and independent Allie Jamison (who would re-appear in Carey’s The Mystery Of Death Trap Mine).  Allie's Aunt Pat is an odd type who’s a member of the “Fellowship of the Lower Circle”, along with Hugo Ariel.  Allie is very suspicious of him and his motives and gets the boys to investigate.  At the Jamison's home (hiding on the patio, surrounded by wisteria), they witness one of the ritual meetings, where the cult invokes the power of Belial, who appears in smoke as a serpent that sings a hideous song (and this is very well described, making for an eerie scene).

There are some great set pieces - breaking and entering the butlers flat (the first time I think Jupe deliberately breaks the law) and the bombing of the deli - but the key one is when the foursome infiltrate the cult’s mansion on Torrente Canyon. Gripping and tense, with a real sense of location and some great descriptions, this works brilliantly.  Helping the overall tone of the book is that a lot of the action takes place at twilight or after dark and there’s a real sense of adventure to it.  There are also some nice observations about why people join cults and the power of belief that are sharply written and in keeping with future Carey stories, where she touches upon real phenomenon and deals with it effectively.

Following a conversation with Aunt Mathilda and Uncle Titus, it transpires that Miss Osborne collects movie memorabilia - this drives her element of the plot - and she remembers Jupe from his Baby Fatso days, which doesn’t please him.  “The world’s youngest has-been,” said Pete with a smile.  In fact, there’s quite a bit of humour and Pete has a good role (often to the detriment of Bob, unfortunately), as he develops a good, protective but bickering relationship with Allie.  Worthington also has a good-sized role and proves his mettle once more and there’s clever work to involve the business card and question marks into the story (since Allie doesn’t need to see them).

Great fun, a cracking read, with well developed characterisation and a pace that never flags, this is highly recommended.

Armada format A paperback, printed between 1976 and 1980, cover art by Peter Archer.
There was no format B edition.
There were no internal illustrations for the UK edition (paperback, at least) as far as I’m aware which is a shame, since there are some set pieces that would be ably served by Roger Hall.

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


  1. Hi Mark, is your top ten in any particular order? I've got through your first few and your choices are remarkably similar to mine (with the exception of Haunted Mirror, which I must have commented on when I read your 3I blog). I had the small hardback of Singing Serpent and there were no illustrations in it.

  2. Hi Robert

    No, this read through is in order of publication date, I'll do the Top 10 post in December I think. As for the illustrations, I have the tall hardback and the format b paperback and neither has them. I'd really love to see ones for it though.