Monday, 2 June 2014

The Mystery Of Death Trap Mine, 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 1977, never reprinted), cover art by Roger Hall
A cry for help from their friend Allie takes The Three Investigators to an abandoned silver mine in New Mexico where a sinister puzzle awaits them.  Who is the shady Wesley Thurgood and what is the connection between the explosions in the night, the armed prowlers and a long-dead body?

Before they can unravel the mystery of Death Trap Mine, Pete and Allie are kidnapped and left to perish in the scorching desert...

Collins Hardback 2nd Edition
(printed in 1979, never reprinted)
When Allie Jamison appears back in their lives (having sneaked into Headquarters to surprise them), the boys accept an invitation to stay at her Uncle Harry’s Christmas tree ranch in Twin Lakes, New Mexico.  In the next property stands Death Trap mine, long since played out but it’s recently been bought by local-man-made-good, property tycoon Wesley Thurgood.  Allie is suspicious of him - he threw her out of the mine when he found her exploring it - and she tries to convince The Three Investigators that he’s up to no good.  Then they hear explosions in the night, discover a long-dead body and Jupiter finds a pebble that contains a seam of gold, so it appears that Allie might be right.  What is Thurgood doing, why was the dead man in the mine and who is the stranger in the trees?

This is the sixth entry in the series by M. V. Carey, following her excellent “The Invisible Dog” (which I’m saving for Christmas week) and it’s a great read.  Teaming up again with Allie Jamison (from “The Mystery Of The Singing Serpent”, which gets a mention as having happened ‘last summer’) works well and her dynamic with the group is as well observed as before - although it’s Jupe & Allie who seem more at odds with each other, there’s a nice relationship between Pete & Allie, highlighted when they are briefly kidnapped later in the story and it’s a shame the character didn’t appear again.

With Rocky Beach only seen very briefly, this takes place in Twin Lakes, an old mining town in New Mexico that has shrunk since the Death Trap mine played out its silver (only the town’s logging operation is keeping it going).  There are some nice reflections on this - and a great use of Hambone, a ghost town that suffered a worse mine closure - and the locations are well used and realised.  Tightly written and paying out its clever central mystery strand-by-strand - their tracking down of information on Gilbert Morgan (the corpse found in the mine) is well played - this is full of suspense, casting suspicion on Wesley Thurgood and Uncle Harry’s other neighbour Mrs Macomber alike, before fresh suspects enter the fray.

The characterisation is as good as you’d expect from Carey, with even bit-part players - such as Magdalena the housekeeper and Mr Kingsley, editor of the Twin Lakes Gazette - shining, whilst the boys and Allie all get a chance to hog the spotlight.  With some great set pieces - the prowler in the field of evergreens, finding Morgan in the mine, the pursuit to Hambone (and the encounter with the rattle snake) - and a wonderfully explosive climax, this is a terrific read and I highly recommend it.

Armada format B paperback (published in 1980, never reprinted), cover art by Peter Archer
(cover scan of my copy)

There were no internal illustrations in the UK edition

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

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