Monday, 19 October 2020

The Mystery Of The Silver Spider, by Robert Arthur

2014 marked the fiftieth anniversary of The Three Investigators being published and, to celebrate, I re-read and compiled my all-time Top 10 (safe in the knowledge that it would be subject to change in years to come, of course).  I posted my list here, having previously read all 30 of the original series from 2008 to 2010 (a reading and reviewing odyssey that I blogged here).

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
On their way from a visit to Alfred Hitchcock, the boys are almost involved in a car crash which is only averted due to the quick thinking of Worthington.  In the other car is young Prince Djaro, soon to be crowned ruler of the principality of Varania in Europe, who’s visiting the USA.  They boys quickly become friends and Djaro organises for them to spend the day at Disneyland where the lads discover all is not well in the kingdom.  After Djaro invites them to Varania, they’re visited by Bert Young, a US secret service agent, who wants them to help out.  It seems the Regent, Duke Stefan, has plans for Varania that are not only villainous but most definitely do not involve Prince Djaro.

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)

2 comments:

  1. A great book, which I first read in my former house when I was around 12 or 13. I've re-read it at least a couple of times since then, the last time not that long ago, and when I did, I was back in the bedroom of that house. I think it's because a scene with the spider seemed to be taking place in my room as I read it (in other words, for some strange reason, I mentally pictured the events as occurring in my room as I read), so that's where I associate it with whenever I re-read it. Incidentally, The Silver Spider was the character that eventually became the comicbook hero The Fly, though the name started as Spiderman (no hyphen) at the concept stage.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Kid and I understand exactly what you mean about the locations. Interesting about The Silver Spider/Fly too.

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