Monday, 31 January 2022

The Mystery Of The Laughing Shadow, 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 1970 and never reprinted), cover art by Roger Hall
Slowly the massive gate swung open on creaking hinges.  The boys froze.  Suddenly, as if from nowhere, a grotesque, humpbacked shadow towered over them, its head jerking wildly.  Then an evil laugh shattered the night…

A tiny Mexican statue and an ancient message written in blood put The Three Investigators on the track of the priceless Chumash treasure hoard, lost in the mountains for two hundred years.  In a desperate race against time, Jupe, Pete and Bob battle to find the jewels…

illustration from the Collins Hardback edition (there
are no illustrations in the paperbacks).
Jupe & Bob hide from the Yaquali Indians at the
Vegetarian Society House, the sequence right before
the one shown on the format a paperback cover.
Bob Andrews and Pete Crenshaw are on their way home from a day spent in the mountains and, as they pass the old Sandow Estate, hear someone call for help.  After investigating, they find a small gold statuette then see “a tall, twisted, humpbacked shadow with a beaky nose and small jerky head.  It utters a wild, shattering laugh.”  Terrified, they race back to Rocky Beach but when they tell Jupe the next day, they realise neither of them heard exactly the same thing.  When a young Englishman, Ted Sandow, calls at the Junkyard offering Uncle Titus to rummage through some old barns, it seems as though the boys were seen and some people are very keen to get their hands on the statuette - or what was inside it.

The first official entry in the series by William Arden (the pen-name of prolific mystery writer Dennis Lynds) even though he'd already written the excellent The Mystery Of The Moaning Cave (credited to Robert Arthur), this proved the boys were in safe hands, with his assured style working just as well here.

The central concept - the laughing shadow - is a good gimmick but little more than that, similar to how The Mystery Of The Flaming Footprints captures the imagination but doesn’t really sell the story.  This features kidnapped Yaquali Indians, suspicious Englishmen and the long-lost treasure of Magnus Verde, the Chumash Hoard and is great fun.  Arden sets up some decent set pieces and gives the lads different things to do, allowing them to show their strengths all the way through the piece.  As with Moaning Cave, Arden makes great use of the Californian mountains, with plenty of action taking places on hills and in box canyons, creating a wonderful sense of bleakness to them.

Alfred Hitchcock has a decent part to play - setting the boys on the path to finding out about the Chumash Hoard - as do Aunt Matilda and Uncle Titus.  Worthington makes a welcome return and it’s always nice to see Mr Andrews (we even get a cameo from a sleepy Mrs Andrews).  As well written as you'd expect, with some gripping action sequences, this also has a nice line in humour.  One of the key supporting characters, Mr Harris, runs the Rocky Beach Vegetarian Society who operate from a fantastic Gothic house on Las Palmas Street ('It was the last house on the block, located right on the edge of town. The dry brown mountains came straight down to the road on the other side.').  After an incident there, Jupe asks, “Could one one of your assistants have told them?”  “No,” Harris tells him, “they’re old friends and staunch vegetarians.”

Good fun, told with wit and pace, this is very much recommended.
Armada format a paperback (printed between 1973 and 1980), cover art by Peter Archer
(cover scan of my copy)
Armada format b paperback (printed between 1982 and 1984), cover art by Peter Archer
(cover scan of my copy)

The internal illustrations for the UK edition were drawn by Roger Hall, though they only appeared in the hardback edition for some reason.

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


  1. They're great books, sure enough. A goodly number of years ago it was possible to buy 3-in-1 paperbacks of this series, of which I have around a half-dozen or so. Trouble is, you just don't see them anywhere now. If the stories are ever republished, I just hope they don't edit out Alfred Hitchcock's presence in an attempt to update them. I'll have to keep a lookout for some more to add to my far-too meagre collection.

    1. Thanks Kid. I got a few of the 3-in-1 editions too and they were all Hitchcock though as I understand it, there was a fresh run through (maybe just in the US) where Hector Sebastien replaced him from the very beginning. I haven't read any of them.

    2. I've got some Hector Sebastian stories, but the Investigators are a few years older in them, and there's nothing that specifically suggests that the earlier tales with AH are to be disregarded. That said, what you say may be so, but I haven't read any 'old' stories where HS has replaced AH.

    3. I've avoided them. The books you mention are the Crimebusters, I think - I read them once and that was more than enough for me.