Following this, I decided to re-visit some of the books I'd missed on that second read-through, without any intention of posting reviews of them but, as if often the way, it didn't quite work out like that. Happily, this is on-going and so here's an additional review...
|Collins Hardback First Edition (printed between 1968 and 1970), cover art by Roger Hall|
The Three Investigators are thrilled when they are invited to star as frogmen in an underwater film - especially as it means a trip to lonely Skeleton Island!
But Jupiter, Pete and Bob soon discover that the island's past hides a sinister secret. Danger awaits them in the mysterious ocean depths, for the sea-bed is rich not only in fish - but in sunken treasure!
|illustration from the Collins/Armada editions,|
by Roger Hall
Sally Farrington tries to complete her turn
on the carousel
The sixth book in the series, this is the first to take place away from Rocky Beach and gets a mention in The Mystery Of The Fiery Eye when, discussing the use of the Rolls, Pete says, “the thirty days ran out while we were back East tangling with the mystery of Skeleton Island”. By extension, of course, this assumes the events of Skeleton Island take place thirty days after the boys investigate Terror Castle, which made for a very exciting month! With the relocation there’s no mention of Headquarters and it’s some way into the book before Jupiter gets to show someone the card but Arthur works all this in well, making the disorientation a key part of the first set piece, as the boys are stranded on The Hand group of reefs.
The locations are well realised, from Skeleton Island (which doesn’t feature as much as you’d expect it to) to Fishingport, the town on the mainland where the boys B&B is located. The Hand is an inspired creation and features a gripping set piece later in the book, a sequence in the underwater cave that is an exercise in tension and suspense.
The use of Fishingport allows Arthur some flashes of social comment, a sad and depressed fishing village decimated by “some tiny red parasite” that has “got into the oysters in this part of the bay”. Many townsfolk are desperate to find the treasure Captain One-Ear dumped off the island in 1717 as the British closed in on him and one of them is Chris, a young Greek boy who befriends the lads. Seeking the treasure to raise enough so his sick father can go home for treatment, he’s badly treated by almost every adult in the story - apart from the police chief - but doesn’t let it deter him and he plays a key part in the plot.
Characterisation, as always with Arthur, is very good indeed with the boys all getting a chance to shine, especially Bob and Pete when Jupe is laid low by a cold. While some of the supporting cast are merely brushstrokes, the stress of the adults - both in the town and on the film - comes out in the dialogue, with most of them (including Mr Crenshaw at times) being generally dismissive of the boys. Chris is likeable and well-realised, making us root for him before we properly find out the truth of his situation and what the true secret of the island actually is. And then, of course, there’s the excellent Sally Farrington, forever trying to finish her ride on the carousel, a spooky image (that terrified my sister & I back in 1978) well used in the story and superbly captured by Roger Hall’s illustration.
The Secret Of Skeleton Island is special to me in that, as I wrote about here, it was the book that introduced me to the series (I still have that now-very-beaten-up hardback edition) and was also the final piece of my search to get the first thirty Armada books in format b (as I wrote about here). With a good pace, suspenseful set pieces and a terrific use of location, this is a cracking read and I highly recommend it.
|Armada format a paperback (printed between 1970 and 1979 ), cover art by Peter Archer|
(cover scan of my copy)
|Armada format b paperback (printed between 1981 and 1983), 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)