Monday, 12 May 2014

The Mystery Of The Moaning Cave, 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 1969 and 1971), cover art by Roger Hall
Whirling around, The Three Investigators stood transfixed as a great black horse galloped towards them, its rider hidden by a black scarf and sombrero.  Suddenly there was a glint of metal - and the boys saw that the cowboy’s gun was aimed straight at them…

When eerie noises are heard coming from lonely Devil Mountain, rumour blames the ghost of long-dead bandit El Diablo.  Jupiter, Pete and Bob are sure there must be another explanation - until they realise that the legendary horseman really does ride again!

This internal illustration by Roger Hall
only appeared in the hardback editions
Pete has gone for a two-week vacation at the Crooked-Y ranch, as a guest of the owners Mr and Mrs Dalton.  Jess Dalton was a famous rodeo rider who’d worked with Mr Crenshaw on several Western films.  But there’s trouble, as a local cave - thought to be the resting place of famed bandit El Diablo - has started moaning again after being silent for fifty years.  Quickly joined by Jupiter and Bob, The Three Investigators need to figure out where the moaning is coming from and if El Diablo has really come back to life, whilst also trying to understand how two old prospectors and a man with an eye patch fit into the mystery.

This is the first Three Investigator mystery not written by Robert Arthur - though he tends to get the credit in the paperbacks I’ve seen - but was actually the first book in the series by William Arden (the pseudonym of crime writer Dennis Lynds).  It’s clearly in good hands though as the story is well written, clever and full of atmosphere.  Arden makes great use of locations, especially Moaning Valley and its cave network and the sequence set in local town Santa Carla (an invention of Arden’s, though the name was re-used in “The Lost Boys” film) is vivid and fun with real historic figures - Father Junípero Serra and John C. Fremont - adding to the authenticity.

The mystery is sound, the boys are well portrayed and have some great moments to shine and the supporting cast of misfits, cowboys and academics all weave together well.  Great fun and with a terrific pace, this is a cracking read that I’d highly recommend.

Collins Hardback Second Edition (printed between 1973 and 1979), cover art by Roger Hall

left - Armada format a paperback, printed between 1972 and 1979, cover art by Peter Archer
right - Armada format b paperback, printed between 1981 and 1983, cover art by Peter Archer

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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