Monday, 17 October 2022

The Secret Of Phantom Lake, 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 1974 and never reprinted), cover art by Roger Hall
"Step carefully and look behind you - mystery and danger await all who follow The Three Investigators to Phantom Lake."

That's Alfred Hitchcock's warning...

Not only do Pete, Bob and Jupiter hunt lakeside phantoms - thy're also haunted by a ghostly gunfighter.  Not to mention a piano at plays itself and a saloonful of poker-playing miners - invisible ones!

Where will the spooky treasure trail to Phantom Lake lead them next?

You have been warned...

Detail from the back cover of the Armada format a paperback,
art by Peter Archer.  There were no internal illustrations
in the UK editions.
The fifth entry in the series by William Arden, pen name for the prolific thriller writer Dennis Lynds  (his fourth, The Mystery Of The Shrinking House, was published just prior in this in 1972 and I wrote about it here), this is as well plotted and paced as all his books.  There’s some action in the Jones Junkyard (including Jupiter using “Plan One!”), but most of the piece takes place at the Gunn estate, which is well observed and described.  With a haunting visit to Cabrillo Island (where Arden really ramps up the atmosphere - it provides the basis of the hardback artwork) and the diverting trip to Powder Gulch (a ghost town which gives the paperback editions their imagery), the book also makes good use of a trip to Santa Barbara (utilising real locations, I was pleased to discover).

The central mystery - was there actually any treasure and where might Gunn have hidden it? - is well put together and the way the boys unlock the clues is nicely played, though I was amazed at all these businesses that just happened to have one-hundred-year-old documents lying around.  Aunt Matilda and Hans have decent sized roles - the latter participating in a few key scenes  - and Arden makes good use of the Christmas period, with the boys helping their parents/guardians put up the decorations and seeing them all over town, while the season adds a chill to the air.

As well written as always, this has some decent set pieces - especially the Santa Barbara and Cabrillo Island sequences - some nice touches of comedy (there’s a bit where Jupiter runs one way, only to see his compatriots coming the other way) and a mention for Ruxton University (where Dr Barrister, who the boys first met in The Mystery Of The Singing Serpent, works).  Although the ending is perhaps wrapped up a bit too quickly for my liking, this is a solid mystery that works well and gives each of the boys their moment to shine.  I would very much recommend it.
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 1980 and 1982), cover art by Peter Archer
(cover scan of my copy)

There were no internal illustrations for the UK edition which is a shame, since some of the set pieces used in the US hardback edition would have been ably served 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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