Monday 15 November 2021

The Mystery Of The Shrinking House, 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).

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 in 1973 and never reprinted), cover art by Roger Hall
The Three Investigators followed the winding path.  All at once, a loud chilling scream echoed through the jungle vegetation.  It sounded again - directly in front of them!

Jupiter parted some thick leaves.  In a small clearing crouched a huge spotted cat.

“A leopard!” Jupiter said.  “Run!”

A voice spoke sharply from behind them.

“So!  I’ve caught you.  Don’t try to get away.”

They whirled to see a big, bear-like man.  In his hand was a gleaming spear…

The boys are on a buying trip with Uncle Titus, visiting the home of Professor Carswell and his son Hal, who are looking to sell the few belongings of their recently deceased tenant, Joshua Cameron, who died owing them money.  Cameron was an artist and among his possessions are twenty paintings, all showing his cottage, though it changes size in each one (looked at in order, the cottage appears to shrink, hence the title).  Jupiter thinks he spots someone and the boys end up chasing the intruder through the canyon, though he escapes in a car.  After Uncle Titus has managed to sell all of Cameron’s goods (including the paintings), the boys are contacted by the Countess and her estate manager, Armand Marchal.  It seems she is Cameron’s much younger sister, though they’ve been estranged for a while and she’s keen to have something to remember her brother by.  On the trail of the missing paintings which may - or may not - lead to riches, the boys encounter DeGroot, a mysterious Dutch art dealer and have run ins with Skinny Norris, with more villains popping up as the hunt intensifies.

The fourth book in the series by William Arden (the pen name of thriller writer Dennis Lynds) after a break of two years (he wrote The Mystery Of The Moaning Cave (1968) whilst creator Robert Arthur was still alive, then continued the series with The Mystery Of The Laughing Shadow (1969) and The Secret Of The Crooked Cat (1970)), this is as tightly plotted and well paced as all his books.  Arden makes good use of the canyon and gully around the Carswell property, while Cameron’s cottage is cracking location for some nicely done ‘in peril’ sequences.  There’s also a cleverly constructed ‘locked room’ mystery mid-way through at the studio of artist Maxwell James (who supplies the leopard seen on the paperback art).  Headquarters is used sparingly although, following an uncharacteristic slip by Jupiter, the Junkyard hosts an amusing scene where it’s over-run with local kids trying to help as part of the Ghost-to-Ghost hook-up.

The central mystery - the story behind the paintings and how they might lead to treasure - is well handled, if occasionally dry but having said that, the logic of it works perfectly and it plays out nicely, with Jupe putting the clues together well (and Hitchcock matching him in the deductions later).  The boys all have a clear role to play, the supporting characters are well-rounded and serve a purpose and it’s always fun to have Uncle Titus involved.  The Hitchcock intro is odd though, with the master director suddenly having an attitude similar to the one he had on The Secret Of Terror Castle.

As well written as we’ve come to expect from William Arden, this has some smart set pieces and also what I hope are some nice little in-jokes.  I really want Professor Carswell to be a nod to Night Of The Demon while one of Cameron’s bric-a-brac items was sold to a Mrs Leary who lives on Rojas Street (Rojas was the main villain from The Mystery Of The Silver Spider).  A solid plot, a great sense of location and some nice interplay with the boys, this is an entertaining read that I’d very much recommend.
Armada format a paperback (printed between 1976 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)

There were no internal illustrations for the UK edition, more's the pity - the US had some and I'd like to have seen Roger Hall's take on them.

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


  1. I can't remember offhand whether I've read The Shrinking House or not, I'll have to check through which stories I have. Did they ever sort out the copyright issues surrounding the series? I'd love to see some new stories.

    1. No, I think there are still major issues though the series is clattering along in Germany (well over 100 books in their series now)