Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The Mystery Of The Flaming Footprints, by M. V. Carey

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).

This year, I decided to read through some of the books that I'd missed on that second read-through, without any intention of posting reviews but, as is often the way, it didn't quite work out like that.  So here's an additional review...
Collins Hardback First Edition (printed in 1972 and never reprinted), cover art by Roger Hall
Jupiter stared into the kitchen where three weird green flames leaped and flickered without a wisp of smoke.

"It's the Potter", murmured Hans, the German boy.  "He's come back to haunt the house."

"Impossible!" Jupe said hotly.  But there, burnt into the linoleum, were three ghostly footprints...

Collins Hardback Second Edition
(printed between 1974 and 1978)
cover scan of my copy
Jupiter Jones is helping his Aunt Mathilda at the Jones Junkyard when local eccentric The Potter - all white hair, thick beard and flowing robes - drives in.  He’s looking for some furniture for house-guests but, when another car with mysterious occupants arrives, he disappears.  His visitors - Mrs Eloise Dobson and her son Tom - then arrive and Jupiter helps them to move in to The Potter’s house (having already been mistaken for a cat burglar).  It isn’t long before the Dobson’s and Jupiter witness the unearthly phenomenon of the flaming footprints and, combined with two new occupants at the long deserted Hilltop House and a mysterious (and jaunty) fisherman, he realises it’s time for The Three Investigators to step in.  

This was the debut entry in the series for M. V. Carey and, in general, it works well.  Sticking very close to home (it never leaves Rocky Beach and a lot of action takes place in the Jones Junkyard), it has some nice flashes of humour and features Headquarters a lot, something Carey wouldn’t do often with future books.  There’s plenty of room for Aunt Mathilda, who comes across well and although Pete and Bob don’t appear until chapter 4, the boys have some good interplay and there’s even a cameo role for Worthington.

The Potter is actually Alexis Kerenov, friend to the Azimov’s who once ruled the small European country of Lapathia.  Following a coup, Kerenov escaped, took up pottery (and adopted a new surname) and started a family.  But every year, he places an ad in all the major US newspapers, requesting his old friend Nicholas Azimov gets in touch.  This year, that ad was spotted by Farrier, the jaunty fisherman and also Mr Demetrieff from the Lapathian Board of Trade, who brings in the feared General Kaluk.

The tone of the piece works well, the mystery is solved piece-by-piece by Jupiter and everything slots neatly into place.  The Dobsons are good characters - strong and vibrant - and contrast nicely with Kaluk, whilst the attitude of police officer Haines, who is called to the house and knows Jupiter, is amusing.  Oddly enough though, Chief Reynolds is grouchy all the time, especially to the First Investigator, which doesn't feel right.  The story has a wonderful sense of atmosphere that is maintained throughout and Carey uses her locations - the Junkyard, the Seabreeze Inn, the Potters house and Hilltop House - to great effect.

As well written as you’d expect from M. V. Carey, this has some smart set pieces though it does get a little bogged down with Lapathian political history at times and I found the central conceit - the flaming footprints themselves - to be a real macguffin.  The lead characters don’t understand what they are and the origin of them is only briefly sketched in but I suppose they provide the supernatural hook the series wanted (and “The Disappearing Artisan” probably wouldn’t have worked so well).  Otherwise this has a quick pace, a smart plot, a terrific atmosphere and the boys bounce off each other well.  A good read, this is great fun and I highly recommend it.
Armada format b paperback (printed in 1982, reprinted in 1983), cover art by Peter Archer
(it's the same cover art as used by the format a paperback, printed between 1974 and 1980)
cover scan of my copy

There were no internal illustrations for 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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