Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Secret Of The Haunted Mirror, 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 1975 and never reprinted), cover art by Roger Hall


A harsh noise inside the darkened hall made Jupiter turn.  He could see nothing.

Something laughed.  A greenish light flickered in the library, and suddenly Jupiter found himself staring down through the doorway and into the hideous mirror.  He saw grey, matted hair, a face whiter than death, and wide, green, glittering, mocking eyes.  Jupiter froze with horror - IT WAS THE GHOST!
illustration from the Collins/Armada
editions by Roger Hall

On their way home from a buying trip with Uncle Titus, The Three Investigators see the Rolls Royce they use standing outside a grand house.  When a burglar runs out, pursued by Worthington, Pete gives chase but the criminal escapes.  The house belongs to Mrs Darnley, a grand Dame who collects mirrors and, having heard of the boys, takes them on a tour of the mansion which was built for Drakestar, a very well known magician.  Her latest acquisition, stored in the library, is the Goblin Glass, an ugly framed mirror that once belonged to a Spanish magician named Chiavo, who lived in Madrid two hundred years ago.  But now sinister laughter is heard in the library whilst the house is asleep and Mrs Darnley has seen the glowing ghost of Chiavo in the mirror.

I think this, the fourth book in the series by M. V. Carey, is a great addition and it’s one of my favourites because it buys into its premise so completely, with a ghost in a mirror, a thunderstorm and a house built for a long-dead magician.  Of course, if you don’t go in for that kind of all-or-nothing pulpy approach, your mileage may vary but who can resist a scary looking “goblin glass” which appears to be cursed by an embittered sorcerer?

The atmosphere is well handled - especially the sequences in the Darnley household with the library and the sense of mirrors -  and her use of location is very good.  In fact, the book dots around Los Angeles quite a bit - an old farmhouse, a hotel on Beverly & Sunset, a pier and warehouse at San Pedro - but still finds time for Headquarters, which Carey always deals so well with.

Although Mrs Darnley and her grandchildren Jean & Jeff get a little short-changed, there’s some great characterisation, including a prize quote from Worthington - “Master Pete prefers to avoid unnecessary vexation” - and Henry Adnerson, a bakery delivery driver, is well handled.  It was also nice to have a cameo from Dr Barrister, who appeared in ‘The Mystery Of The Singing Serpent’, though I was surprised that the calling card isn’t used (or, at least, not shown to the reader - did that happen in any of the other books?)  The ending, with Jupe using Sherlock-Holmes-level detecting skills to find a kidnapped Jeff is well handled with plenty of tension and capped by a wonderful ‘what did he see?’ moment where the kidnapper has a surprise (though the denouement following this is lumbered with overlong exposition).

With top notch writing and some nicely spooky sequences, a smart mystery and a cracking pace, this is a fun read and highly recommended.
left - Collins Hardback Second Edition (printed in 1979 and never reprinted), cover art by Roger Hall
right - Armada format A paperback (printed and reprinted in 1979 only), cover art by Peter Archer
Armada format B paperback (printed in 1981 and reprinted in 1982), cover art by Peter Archer
(cover scan of my copy)

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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