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 1969 and 1971), cover art by Roger Hall|
Desperately The Three Investigators began to climb the rope. Far below them, the city lights gleamed and the Denzo River swirled dark and swift in the night. If they gave up now, they all knew what the guards would do to them. Suddenly, before he could save himself, Bob's hand slipped and he fell backwards...
Jupe, Pete and Bob uncover a sinister plot when they visit Varania. For evil forces are out to destroy the tiny country's young Prince and seize power. But when the priceless Silver Spider goes missing, the boys know it's time for a speedy exit - before they end up in the local torture chamber...
|illustration from the Collins/Armada editions,|
by Roger Hall
The eighth Three Investigator book written by the series creator Robert Arthur, he has a lot of fun taking the boys out of Southern California and casting them into the kind of small European kingdom that feels a curious mixture of medieval and modern. Taking full advantage of castles, dungeons, sewers, history and a rebellion, he clearly enjoys himself giving the boys CIA toys to play with (camera radios and mini-recorders) and the set pieces reflect that though I did miss the usual touch of melancholy Arthur often brought to his work. The Silver Spider of the title is a small piece of sculpture that plays a very big part in both the book and the rituals of Varania and its disappearance drives the plot, while the resolution of it is very well played.
Characterisation, as always, is spot on and the boys have a good repartee, while Jupiter shows he perfectly understands how he’s sometimes perceived (but thankfully is okay with it) - “I don’t suppose you can call me exactly typical because some people think I’m conceited and use too many long words and sometimes get myself pretty well disliked. But I can’t seem to change”. Bob also has a decent part to play, with a couple of bumps to the head and a nice call-back to his injured leg. There’s a larger supporting cast than usual, so those characters are painted in broader brushstrokes - Djaro, Rudy and Elena, who help them escape - while the villain of the piece, Duke Stefan, is quickly shown to be terrible with a great scene set in a torture chamber (and his plot is intriguingly dastardly). The set pieces are all action - shinning up and down ropes, boating through cellars, chasing across squares and into church - and very well written with great pace. A complaint might be that, on occasion, the boys feel like passengers in the adventure as their new friends organise escapes but having said that, it's Bob who hides the Silver Spider and Jupe who figures out how to call attention to Duke Stefan's scheming, so it balances out. As an aside, at the accident, the boys had “just been to Hollywood to call on Alfred Hitchcock and give him the facts of their latest adventure” so does this happen directly after The Mystery Of The Fiery Eye? With a cracking pace, an excellent sense of location and some great character work, I thoroughly enjoyed my read and would highly recommend the book.
|Armada format a paperback (printed between 1972 and 1980), cover art by Peter Archer|
(cover scan of my copy)
|Armada format b paperback (printed in 1982 and never reprinted), 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)