Monday 14 April 2014

The Mystery Of The Screaming Clock, 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 1969 and 1971), cover art by Roger Hall
A room full of clocks and they all scream…why?

A new mystery for Jupiter, Pete and Bob to unravel but they haven’t much to go on - a torn message in code, a recording of Bert Clock’s glass-shattering scream and the theft of several valuable paintings - a thin collection of clues and time is running out…

A great illustration inside Headquarters,
as Bob, Jupe and Pete try to crack Bert
Clock's riddles
Sorting through some junk that Uncle Titus has just brought in, Jupe plugs in an electric clock and it screams at him, bringing his colleagues running.  Deciding that a screaming clock is a good start to a mystery, the boys try to track down where it came from and the trail leads them to the home of Bert Clock, once a voice-actor on radio famous for his ear-piercing screams.  But Clock has gone, presumed dead, leaving his house cared for by Mrs Smith and her son Harry.  Harry's father is in prison, jailed for a theft he didn't commit and when an old adversary of the Three Investigators - not to mention a handful of ruthless criminals - enters the picture, it suddenly seems that the clock might hold clues to not only his innocence but to lost treasures too.  The boys, with Harry's help, must solve Bert Clock's riddles before time runs out!

With a fantastic opening line - “The clock screamed” - this is a great story and whilst not as sensational as other entries in the series, it is thoroughly entertaining.  Playing to Robert Arthur's strengths, this sticks resolutely close to home (following the trip to Varania in the previous book) and takes full advantage of the Junkyard, Headquarters and the sunny climes of Rocky Beach and Los Angeles.  Arthur plots a solid mystery and the boys detecting skills are showcased perfectly, though some of the clues do seem to rely heavily on chance.  Characterisation is first rate and it’s good to see Hugenay again (after “The Mystery Of The Stuttering Parrot” - it’s a shame he never appeared again), though his adversary Mr Jeeters is a surprisingly nasty piece of work (especially with the threats he makes to Jupiter and Bob).  As always with Arthur, there's a tinge of poignant nostalgia (in this case, the golden-era of radio plays) but that gives the story a bit more heart.  With some well written action sequences, nice interplay with the lads and two footnotes to previous cases, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read and definitely one of the better entries in the series.  Highly recommended. 

the Armada paperbacks, both with cover art by Peter Archer
left - format a, printed between 1971 and 1979 - right - format b, printed between 1980 and 1985

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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