Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The Mystery Of The Deadly Double, by William Arden

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 1979 and never re-printed), cover art by Roger Hall
Before the boys could move, two men leapt out of the Mercedes and grabbed Jupiter.  "If you want to see your friend again, don't follow us!" one of them shouted.  Next moment they had thrust him into their car and were speeding down the highway...

Pete and Bob are baffled when Jupiter is kidnapped.  What could be the motive?  Soon tehy realise that they are caught up in a deadly political struggle, the victims of a strange mistake.  Jupiter Jones has a double...

Illustration from the Collins/Armada editions,
by Roger Hall
The Three Investigators are on their way to a day-out at Magic Mountain when the Rolls (with Worthington at the wheel) is forced off the road and Jupiter is kidnapped by two men “with strange British accents”.  Thanks to Bob & Pete’s quick thinking, the police quickly close in on the kidnappers who end up fleeing empty-handed.  After coverage in the local news, the boys are approached by two members of the Nanda Trade Mission, who reveal that Sir Roger Carew (the liberal Prime Minister of Nanda, an African nation) is preparing to make it an independent country with a majority rule.  White extremists don’t want this to happen and have formulated a plan to kidnap Ian, Sir Rogers’ son, to force him to back down on his plans.  The kidnappers made a mistake because Ian, who has been missnig for a while, looks exactly like Jupiter (with one slight difference, which is cleverly revealed)…

This is the ninth entry in the series by William Arden (Dennis Lynds), following “The Mystery Of The Headless Horse” and it’s great fun.  There are plenty of clues dropped early on - Pete’s lunch goes missing in the first chapter, Jupe’s old clothes disappear and Aunt Mathilda complains that someone is raiding the fridge (Jupe protesting his innocence is amusing) - and the set-up is nicely played.  The kidnapping is a well-staged set-piece, as is Jupe’s first rescue and although the whole book hinges on a big coincidence (I won’t spoil it, but location is key), it doesn’t feel at all contrived.

Nanda is well portrayed with a good sense of history and represented by Gordon MacKenzie and Adam Ndula of the Trade Mission, who make it clear that brotherhood goes beyond skin colour.  There are nice nods to the anti-apartheid movement and the extremists, though not overly racist (this is, after all, a kids book from 1978), are clearly in the wrong.  Even better, one of the characters (again, I won’t spoil it) becomes a hissable villain at one point which makes Jupe’s victory over them all the better.

Set around Rocky Beach (with a quick trip to Hollywood and downtown LA), this makes good use of its locations and the characterisation is well realised, though Ian tends to speak a bit like an over-excited public schoolboy at times (“I say!”).  The boys work well together, there are some nice humorous moments (Pete’s sandwich, especially, plus Jupe making up a plan for them to get the most out of the Magic Mountain rides, which the other two dismiss) and it’s up to Bob & Pete to save the day, which they do.  The hook itself isn’t a secret (there’re two Jupes on the cover of the paperback) though the title isn’t made clear until Alfred Hitchcock himself explains it - “What could be more deadly, more nightmarish, more horrible, than the knowledge that there are actually two Jupiter Joneses in this poor suffering world!  A deadly double indeed!”  One other quick point to make is that Aunt Mathilda and Uncle Titus’ house is described in other books (and I wish I could remember which ones now) as being a small cottage but here, in the hardback artwork at least, is much larger (and reminds me of the Bates house from “Psycho”).

Good fun, with a whip-crack pace that doesn’t let up, this is very much recommended.
Armada format b paperback (first printed in 1982, last reprinted in 1984), 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)

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