Monday, 18 February 2019

The Mystery Of The Stuttering Parrot, 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 1967 and 1971), cover art by Ed Vebell
When eccentric Mr. Silver dies he leaves an extraordinary mystery for The Three Investigators to puzzle out.  A priceless masterpiece has disappeared, and the only clues to its hiding-place lie with seven parrots - who refuse to talk!  

Worse still, Huganay, the international art thief, is hot on the same trail...

illustration from the
Collins/Armada editions, by Roger Hall
At the behest of Alfred Hitchcock (as described at the end of The Secret Of Terror Castle), The Three Investigators are engaged to find the missing parrot of Malcolm Fentriss, an old actor friend of the directors.  Very quickly, they discover that trying to locate Billy Shakespeare - the missing parrot - is going to be a lot more difficult than they originally thought, since it seems to be part of a riddle to find a lost treasure.  Hindered along the way by sinister fat man art dealer Claude Claudius and the international art thief (and gentleman criminal) Huganay, the boys must use all their ingenuity to keep one step ahead, find the lost parrot and uncover the clues to “a piece off the end of the rainbow, with a pot of gold underneath it.”

The second book in the series by Robert Arthur, this was published simultaneously with Terror Castle and, quite literally, follows on directly from it.  With a good, solid opening (as Jupe and Pete make their way through the overgrown garden of Mr Fentriss’ old house) and a decent central mystery, this works well as the plot twists and turns on itself.  The clues and parrots are, essentially, the macguffin (tying in nicely with Hitchcock and Arthur, who edited his anthologies) but the boys’ detective skills are well observed and nicely believable.  Jupiter is a bit more sociable than he was in the first book and, once again, Bob gets waylaid with his job at the library but there’s a nice early appearance by his Dad who, as usual, helps out with one of the clues.

Most of the action takes place in Hollywood, rather than Rocky Beach (though Headquarters features strongly) and the various houses and streets are well used and described.  The climax takes place in an abandoned graveyard in Merita Valley which, coated in coastal fog, makes a terrific location for a great set piece.  The book also features the first use of the Ghost-to-Ghost Hook-up and the term “ramble and scramble”, though I think the latter is used for a slightly different purpose in future stories.

The characterisation is as strong as you would expect from Arthur, both Mr Claudius and Huganay in particular (the latter’s parting comments to Jupiter hint at a mutual respect that would re-surface in The Mystery Of The Screaming Clock and it’s a shame the character wasn’t used by any of the other series writers).  Skinny Norris makes another appearance and Carlos, the little Mexican boy who helps the trio is a sparky, feisty highlight (while it’s mentioned that he later lives with the Joneses he doesn’t appear in any of the other books).  Also typical of Arthur, there’s some great descriptive writing (on approaching the old house: “That isn’t a house I want to approach,” Pete told him.  “It looks like a house full of locked rooms that shouldn’t be opened”) and, combined with the excellent set pieces and nice touches of humour, this is a great read that I’d very much recommend.
Armada format a paperback (printed between 1971 and 1979), cover art by Peter Archer
(cover scan of my copy)
Armada format b paperback (printed between 1980 and 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)

8 comments:

  1. Brill
    Always loved these. Hoping to use narratives to support Kids on Bikes RPG club/lessons at a Secondary School here in Scotland.
    Check out: http://bluetanso.wordpress.com

    Hugh O'Donnell MSc

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    1. Sounds great, hope it goes well! And thanks for commenting.

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  2. Ever thought about creating a 3i series podcast? I'd be happy to co-host (:-)

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  3. bluetanso@googlemail.com if you ever think about a collaboration

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  4. The first one I ever read was The Mystery of the Green Ghost back around 1969. For some reason I never cottoned on to the fact that it was one in a series, but a year or two later, one of my friends was raving about them and it was then the penny dropped when he mentioned Jupiter Jones. I don't know if I've read the full set, but if not, I must've read most of them. I even like the updated ones when the boys were a bit older. Asked about them in Waterstones a few weeks ago, but they're no longer listed, which is a shame as it means that today's kids are missing out. I presume that bookshops no longer stock them (are they still being published?) because Alfred Hitchcock's inclusion dates them, but they're still a great read.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Kid - "Green Ghost" is one of my favourites, with probably the best opening sequence of the series! The books are still published in Germany (new ones are being written) but they haven't been published in English for years, an issue with the rights apparently (plus, as you say, Hitchcock would date them). But I agree, still cracking reads.

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