Monday 4 November 2019

The Secret Of Skeleton Island, 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 1968 and 1970), cover art by Roger Hall
The Three Investigators are thrilled when they are invited to star as frogmen in an underwater film - especially as it means a trip to lonely Skeleton Island!

But Jupiter, Pete and Bob soon discover that the island's past hides a sinister secret.  Danger awaits them in the mysterious ocean depths, for the sea-bed is rich not only in fish - but in sunken treasure!

illustration from the Collins/Armada editions,
 by Roger Hall
Sally Farrington tries to complete her turn
on the carousel
Alfred Hitchcock enlists the boys help to travel to Atlantic Bay, on the East Coast, where a production company is having problems finishing off the film they’re working on.  Pete’s dad, a special effects technician, is leading a team on Skeleton Island who are trying to rebuild parts of a long abandoned amusement park, where the climax of the film will take place.  The boys hit trouble as soon as they arrive, stranded on a smaller nearby island called The Hand and, once on the mainland, discover that nothing is quite what it seems.  The local community, suffering with the recent loss of their oyster fishing economy, is struggling and the production company is having problems with theft and treasure hunters.  Then, as Jupiter and the boys delve further, the ghost of a local girl is seen riding a derelict carousel.

The sixth book in the series, this is the first to take place away from Rocky Beach and gets a mention in The Mystery Of The Fiery Eye when, discussing the use of the Rolls, Pete says, “the thirty days ran out while we were back East tangling with the mystery of Skeleton Island”.  By extension, of course, this assumes the events of Skeleton Island take place thirty days after the boys investigate Terror Castle, which made for a very exciting month!  With the relocation there’s no mention of Headquarters and it’s some way into the book before Jupiter gets to show someone the card but Arthur works all this in well, making the disorientation a key part of the first set piece, as the boys are stranded on The Hand group of reefs.

The locations are well realised, from Skeleton Island (which doesn’t feature as much as you’d expect it to) to Fishingport, the town on the mainland where the boys B&B is located.  The Hand is an inspired creation and features a gripping set piece later in the book, a sequence in the underwater cave that is an exercise in tension and suspense.

The use of Fishingport allows Arthur some flashes of social comment, a sad and depressed fishing village decimated by “some tiny red parasite” that has “got into the oysters in this part of the bay”.  Many townsfolk are desperate to find the treasure Captain One-Ear dumped off the island in 1717 as the British closed in on him and one of them is Chris, a young Greek boy who befriends the lads.  Seeking the treasure to raise enough so his sick father can go home for treatment, he’s badly treated by almost every adult in the story - apart from the police chief - but doesn’t let it deter him and he plays a key part in the plot.

Characterisation, as always with Arthur, is very good indeed with the boys all getting a chance to shine, especially Bob and Pete when Jupe is laid low by a cold.  While some of the supporting cast are merely brushstrokes, the stress of the adults - both in the town and on the film - comes out in the dialogue, with most of them (including Mr Crenshaw at times) being generally dismissive of the boys.  Chris is likeable and well-realised, making us root for him before we properly find out the truth of his situation and what the true secret of the island actually is.  And then, of course, there’s the excellent Sally Farrington, forever trying to finish her ride on the carousel, a spooky image (that terrified my sister & I back in 1978) well used in the story and superbly captured by Roger Hall’s illustration.

The Secret Of Skeleton Island is special to me in that, as I wrote about here, it was the book that introduced me to the series (I still have that now-very-beaten-up hardback edition) and was also the final piece of my search to get the first thirty Armada books in format b (as I wrote about here).  With a good pace, suspenseful set pieces and a terrific use of location, this is a cracking read and I highly recommend it.
Armada format a paperback (printed between 1970 and 1979 ), cover art by Peter Archer
(cover scan of my copy)
Armada format b paperback (printed between 1981 and 1983), 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)


  1. I re-read some of the original stories only recently, as well as some of the newer ones where they're older, and I really enjoyed them. I can't remember whether I read it on your blog or not, but I learned somewhere that some of the older books had been reprinted at some stage, with all references to Alfred Hitchcock removed, which I though was a shame. The very first one I ever read in the very late '60s or early '70s was The Mystery of the Green Ghost, which I read again around the mid-'80s. Wow! Nearly 35 years ago. Must dig it out again before another 35 years pass, because I don't know if I'll be around then.

    1. Thanks Kid! The ones from 31 onwards don't feature Hitchcock (as he'd died in real life by then) but when they republished they took him out of the earlier ones. I've never bothered with them.

      Green Ghost is another cracking one!

    2. I always remembered the line about 'the curious case of the dog in the night' from my first reading of Green Ghost - long before I read the Sherlock Holmes story it comes from. Funny how some things stick in the mind.

    3. Absolutely - what I loved about the series was how it led me to look at other things!