Friday 19 December 2014

My Three Investigators All Time Top 10

Over the course of this year, to mark the 50th Anniversary of The Three Investigators, I've been re-reading (and blogging about) my favourites to compile this "All Time Top 10" (which, of course, will always be subject to change).  In case you're interested in those titles that don't appear here, I read all 30 of the original series between 2008 to 2010 and reviewed them on this dedicated blog.

So this is it, as at the end of 2014, 50 years after the boys first appeared in print, here is my Top 10 (with links back to my original post and the full review).

by M. V. Carey
Another strong entry from M. V. Carey (her fifth in the series), this has long been my favourite, for a whole variety of reasons.  Although the boys are hired to investigate a "shadow" that might be a ghost, the real mystery kicks in once they’re on the scene at Paseo Place and the burglary of the late Edward Neidland’s house takes place.  He has created a unique crystal sculpture for Fenton Prentice, The Carpathian Hound, “a heavily muscled dog with a square  massive head. The wide round eyes were rimmed with gold, and gold froth flecked the crystal jowls” and now it’s being held for ransom.  At the same time, a lot of apparently separate incidents are happening around the apartment complex - the church next door is broken into, one neighbour is poisoned and hospitalised, another is in his apartment when there’s a fire that hospitalises him and the building supervisor has her car blow up when she’s on the way to the market (after the bombing, a policeman remarks “Things have been really weird on this block the last couple of days.”).  Great fun, from start to finish, this is a superb read with well-developed characters, a vividly created location, a nicely realised atmosphere and a strong pace.  I highly recommend it.
Read my full review (from December 2014) here

by Robert Arthur
Well told and structured, this is superbly written and drops clues for further in the timeline (“Two and two don’t always make four,” Jupe said, his manner mysterious. “And fifteen and fifteen don’t always make thirty” after Worthington mentions that it opens on the fifteenth day of their thirty days use of the Rolls Royce) though it does niggle me there’s a chapter not told from an Investigator-led POV (which probably troubled me more as an adult than it did as a kid).  That aside, this is a great book with a good sense of location and atmosphere and further proof - should it be needed - that it’s a shame Robert Arthur didn’t write or plot more of the adventures.
Read my full review (from March 2014) here

by Robert Arthur
This is a rollercoaster of an adventure that doesn’t let up and covers a lot of ground from the initial robbery (a cleverly staged set-piece), to the details of the gnomes (when they’re first seen, it’s quite a spooky sequence) and beyond (including a terrific chase in an abandoned cinema), this is full of assured writing and helped by a great sense of location and atmosphere.  It also has a sense of melancholic nostalgia (which I probably missed as a kid but now realise is a signature of Robert Arthur), where the differences between past and present are not generally good.  In this case, it’s Ms Agawam reflecting on the lack of children in the area as those she once read to - and wrote for - have now moved away to start families of their own and it’s also about how old LA is being demolished (the old Moor theatre next door) to make way for the new.  I really appreciated that on re-reading it.
Read my full review (from March 2014) here 

by M. V. Carey
There are some great set pieces - breaking and entering the butlers flat (the first time I think Jupe deliberately breaks the law) and the bombing of the deli - but the key one is when the foursome infiltrate the cult’s mansion on Torrente Canyon. Gripping and tense, with a real sense of location and some great descriptions, this works brilliantly.  Helping the overall tone of the book is that a lot of the action takes place at twilight or after dark and there’s a real sense of adventure to it.  There are also some nice observations about why people join cults and the power of belief that are sharply written and in keeping with future Carey stories, where she touches upon real phenomenon and deals with it effectively.
Read my full review (from March 2014) here

by M. V. Carey
Another strong entry in the series from M. V. Carey and it’s been one of my favourites since I first read it in 1983 (I have the 1982 Armada paperback).  Back then - as now - I got the impression from their working at Amigos Press (as Bob says “the private detective business is slow this summer, we thought we’d get some experience with office work”), that Carey was writing them as slightly older and I think it works really well.  The book also has a nice attitude - shared by Jupe - towards old-time Hollywood that really grounds this in reality.  Starting with a bang, this has a good pace, a concise plot that unravels well, a nicely nostalgic atmosphere and the boys interplay is brilliant.
Read my full review (from September 2014) here

by M. V. Carey
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.
Read my full review (from June 2014) here

by William Arden
There’s a lot of bright characterisation - especially Billy Towne, Dingo’s eight-year-old grandson who knows all about the Three Investigators and ends up a fourth partner (and wears a cape and deerstalker), Turk & Mr Savo and Dingo’s niece and nephew, the awful Winifred & Cecil Percival, two nasty piece of work English villains - along with some nice interplay between the boys.  The book also has a good sense of humour about it, typified by Pete’s eating habits and it runs at a cracking pace (I read the first half in one sitting and the time just flew by).  After opening on Bob writing up their last case (the search for Mrs Hester’s ring), we see the boys at school (and find out that Jupiter is president of the Science Club) and old favourite the Ghost-to-Ghost hook-up makes another appearance - and is used again by Billy, at a critical point of the story, where he makes his headquarters a phonebooth.
Read my full review (from April 2014) here

by William Arden
This is another terrific entry, combining a deceptively simple plot with some really good set pieces, logical detection and plenty of intrigue along the way.  After setting things up in the first chapter, the story takes off and whips along, featuring bad luck, a reverse-disguise, carny-life, a human fly, a bank robbery and remnants of the past along the way.  There’s great use of the abandoned amusement park and it’s desolation and spookiness is remarkably well conveyed (especially during a tense and suspenseful moonlit pursuit).  The book also has an element of Robert Arthur style pathos to it, about the waning carnival life and people wanting someting for nothing, which is a nice touch.

by William Arden
Taking place solely in Rocky Beach - as did Arden’s last book, “The Mystery Of The Dead Man’s Riddle” - and giving us a whole new set of locations to imagine, this makes good use of the town and adds the story a nice flavour.  Opening on Pete’s street and staying close by for several chapters, it brings a touch of realism to a tale that, it has to be said, needs to be sometimes taken with a pinch of salt.  Now I like pulpy action, I like twinges of horror in my mysteries and so I loved the whole Dancing Devil (the spirit/demon/man, rather than the statue) concept (especially how people accept its existence) but I can see that others might have problems with it though who could deny that “The Dancing Devil of Batu Khan, dated 1241AD and inscribed ‘To the Exalted Khan of the Golden Horde’” isn’t a touch of brilliance.
Read my full review (from July 2014) here

by M. V. Carey
This has some great characterisation (including a prize quote from Worthington - “Master Pete prefers to avoid unnecessary vexation”), a nice cameo from Dr Barrister, who appeared in ‘The Mystery Of The Singing Serpent’, some nicely spooky scenes and Jupe using Sherlock-Holmes-level detecting skills to wrap the case up at the harbour.  Top notch writing, a smart mystery and a cracking pace make this a fun read.
Read my full review (from April 2014) here

For all of my Three Investigator related posts, click this link

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


  1. 1 INVISIBLE DOG - A deserved first-position, and has always been in my all-time top three. Loved the phantom priest, even though the Armada Format D cover (from 1989) really gave me the willies!

    2 WHISPERING MUMMY - Another fantastically bizarre and mind-boggling title that rewards the reader with a fantastic prank played by Jupiter on his pals, and an exercise in
    deduction played out by Bob and Pete. An entertaining play on the trojan horse stratagem proves key. The solution is scientifically plausible, and clever. This reader enjoyed the chapter where the POV is switched to secondary characters. Arthur really liked to experiment, and more often than not, it paid off handsomely.

    3 VANISHING TREASURE proves the point that a story does not need countless scenes, played out at a breakneck pace, in order to be tense, exciting, and compelling. The overnight surveillance conducted by Jupiter and Pete, through to the conclusion at the docks, is a tour-de-force of drama, excitement, humour, peril, and heart-racing action.

    4 SINGING SERPENT - Originally entitles EBONY ANGEL, and with references to Belial, this book tackles Satanism in a subtle yet very mature manner. There are many moral themes and messages to take away from this one, and Allie Jamison becomes a thorn in the boys' side, while demonstrating spunky street-smarts that help bring this dark and riveting tale through to its satisfying conclusion.

    5 MAGIC CIRCLE - Apropos to the previous title, Jupiter makes a profound statement about Satanism that may have alleviated the concerns some parents may have harboured

    --- Jupiter nodded. "A Satanist could be a person who is completely without a conscience," he said. "Or he could be a person who is somewhat simpleminded." ---

    This books revels in the mysteries of a bygone Hollywood, and the somewhat esoteric pastimes and beliefs. Carey's Jupiter was always a wise old soul in a young man's body, and that is demonstrated nowhere better than in this story.

    6 DEATH TRAP MINE - The description of a hollow, husk of a corpse that is the centrepiece and key stone of this book left an indelible impression in the mind of this reader.

    7 DEAD MAN'S RIDDLE - Not a favourite of mine, for reasons I could never really articulate. However, I now realise I found the characters of the Percivals a little too pantomime-ripe for my tastes, and the Billy Towne sidekick irritated the heck out of me.

    8 CROOKED CAT - A good-old fashioned tale of a bank robber trying to recover his ill-gotten windfall. Throw in a series of disfigured and disturbing stuffed cats, a misfiring
    carnival, and an abandoned amusement park -- with a tunnel of love that is nothing but -- and the story in in no way by-the-numbers fare. A cracking good read.

    9 DANCING DEVIL - Haven't read this one for over two decades! However, my twelve-year-old self was less than impressed, despite the excellent opening chapters, and the great historical touches that Dennis Lynds always brought to his books.

    10 HAUNTED MIRROR - In my list, this would've clocked a much higher position, seeing as it is once again Mary Carey at the peak of her powers. My only criticism is maybe the unveiling of the 'ghost' comes a little too early in the story, vaporising a chunk of the tension in the process. However the dénouement in the warehouse is still gripping and impactful. Just what DID Gómez see in the mirror?!?

    1. Excellent, thanks for this Ian. I never knew that about "Singing Serpent" and there's plenty here to supplement what I did.

  2. I'm so glad I stumbled upon this top 10 list!

    The Three Investigators are a really big thing in Germany (where I'm from). There's the books, of course, but what made them even more famous are the German audio plays.
    The stories were so popular that the series was continued by German writers (actually, there's still new books and audio plays coming out, like, two times a year!).
    Nowadays there's even "live" shows and tours, w/ the audio play voice actors reading the stories live on stage in front of as many as 14.000 (yep, 14 thousand!) people. It's that famous. Most shows sell out really quick.

    I've always wondered if there were English audio plays (sadly not, I know, except for the 2 existing British episodes...) and if these stories were as popular in the US as they are in Germany.

    I know they're not as huge in the US as they are in Germany, but finding your list made me happy. B/c it shows there's still people around in the that care about the series.

    Btw, most of your top 10 are in my own top 10 as well. Especially The Invisible Dog - my all time favorite (I have the German 1st edition book, the first edition audio play cassette, the vinyl, the US first edition book, the special collectors CD - yeah, it *really* is my favorite part!), next to The Whispering Mummy, The Haunted Ghost and The Green Ghost and many, many more.

    1. Thanks for this J, good to hear from you. I was aware that the series had continued in Germany but not that it was so popular, that's incredible (I'm envious!). Have you been to any shows?

    2. Not yet!

      In the beginning they adapted they brought the original stories to the stage, later they began developing new stories solely for the stage. Frankly, I haven't been much into the most new stories, so chances would be high that I wouldn't like the show b/c I might not like the story.

      There's quite a few soccer centered episodes. while I really don't like soccer, the authors must feel like it's a thing that's really popular w/ Germans. I wouldn't want to risk being bored to death by a soccer related show...

      We're at story #189 (well, w/ the audio plays, so the books should be at #191 or #192 already), I stopped reading/listening at around #130.
      Altogether, at some point the stories just felt too alien, b/c over time they got more and more modern... like using computers, cellphones the internet and so on. Doesn't feel right to me. Oh well, modern times and all.

      Anyway, here's a short youtube clip w/ scenes from the Mystery of the Screaming Clock live tour. (in case the link won't show, here's the video ID, just search for it on youtube: =2E43hhEHTpk)

      Those are the original voice actors who've been starring as the Three Investigators since the beginning in 1979! First on vinyl, later cassette tapes, now CDs and MP3!

      They're reenacting a scene in a phone box, that's why they're squished together like that. You can see parts of the audience in some scenes. It's mostly older people (like me) in their 30s or 40s who've been listening to the stories since they were kids.

      The last minute or so of the video is that same scene from the original audio play.

    3. I know what you mean - I've got up to about book 38 in the original US series, but never re-read any of them beyond 30 (ie, the last with Hitchcock).

      Unfortunately, that YouTube link says the video is restricted in the UK :(

  3. Terror Castle is one of my favorites. That and Moaning Cave.

  4. hey. alfread hitchcock is one of favorite mysteries series.all the books of mysteries are unique.thanks for sharing the mysterious stories and mysterious places.

  5. Interesting choices. Mine are dominated by Robert Arthur's stories:
    1/ Dead Man's Riddle
    2/ Stuttering Parrot
    3/ Fiery Eye
    4/ Skeleton Island
    5/ Screaming Clock
    6/ Laughing Shadow
    7/ Green Ghost
    8/ Crooked Cat
    9/ Terror Castle
    10/ Flaming Footprints

    Just outside top 10: Whispering Mummy, Talking Skull, Deadly Double, Singing Serpent, Magic Circle, Two Toed Pigeon.

  6. Wow - great site and awesome to find other three investigator fans. My top 10 are all early ones

    1 - Stuttering parrot - great clues and villains and an empathy for new immigrants

    2 - Skeleton Island - mysterious from the start and great characters

    3 - Laughing Shadow - intriguing mystery and some very scary moments

    4 - Whispering Mummy - well thought through and logical.

    5 - Screaming Clock - another with clues to follow and of course the brilliant Hugany

    6 - Vanishing Treasure - amazing use of midgets and awesome story

    7 - Terror Castle - the introductory novel and a great first mystery

    8 - Flaming Footprints - great characters and deductions

    9 - Talking Skull - a bit creepy but brilliant twist

    10 - Singing Serpent - nice to have a girl involved and a wonderful story

    1. Thanks for your comment and that's a great list!