As a child I pretty much lived on a diet of mystery stories. The Famous Five books pulled me in but it was Blyton's Blyton Five Find Outers books that got me hooked and turned me into a seven-year-old addict. These books had mysteries that required proper deduction to reach a solution, whereas it nearly always seemed that Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy tended to just stumbled across the answers to whatever mystery they found themselves sucked into. The Famous Five books were adventure stories, the Five Find Outers books were definitely mystery stories.
As I started to grow out of the Blyton mysteries I discovered two new series: Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, and The Hardy Boys. And again, it was the series that involved proper deduction that had me hook, live and sinker. Not just this, but the Three Investigators themselves seemed far more real to me than the somewhat privileged Hardy brothers: Jupiter Jones, Bob Andrews and Pete Crenshaw were from working class families; they were nearer my age and thus couldn't drive and had to rely on peddle-power, lifts and a chauffeur driven limo (the use of which Jupiter had won in a competition). Apart from the limo, this was pretty damn close to my own personal experiences.
I first discovered these books whilst on a family holiday to the Isle of Wight. Books were big in our household, but as the eldest of (at this point) four money was tight and new books were something of a luxury. However, every year on holiday I was allowed to buy a new book from one of those white vertical display carousels that most beach front shops had outside. By this time I owned and had read and re-read all of those aforementioned Blyton books, and I was drawn to the cover of a book in a series I had not heard of before. That book, which I still own today, was The Mystery of the Green Ghost.
From that moment on I picked up Three Investigators books whenever I could: jumble sales, charity shops, and occasionally the local library (only occasionally because these were books I NEEDED to own, whereas I was never interested in owning/collecting the Hardy Boys books, and so I borrowed these from the library by the car load). With funds tight it took me a looong time to collect them all (or at least what, at the time, I thought was the whole series), and so naturally each book could got read multiple times, and I'm talking well into double figures here.
My hunger for stories featuring action, adventure and mystery was more than satisfied with these books. This was proper mystery solving by kids who, apart from living in California, were very similar to me (or at least, so they seemed to my eight-year-old brain). Jupiter Jones was the brains of the trio; Pete Crenshaw brought physical prowess (and a nervousness that made him seem all the more real); and Bob Andrews was the bookish one, although this came with a talent for research and record-keeping. The three boys had this amazing secret base of operations hidden under the multitude of items in Jupe's Uncle's junkyard, with three secret entrances, cleverly named Green Gate One, Red Gate Rover, and (less imaginatively) Tunnel Two. Inside their hideout they had a printing press, a telephone and a host of other items that were essential for their investigations, and for a good few years I yearned to live in Rocky Beach, California, and be the owner of a 3 Investigators "We Investigate Anything" business card and a coloured piece of chalk.
Sadly, I had to make do with living in middle England, but I made myself one of those cards and I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a piece of chalk as well... and various detective and secret agent manuals, a fingerprint kit, a code making kit (yes, it was my little middle grade obsession, and at that point in my life I was most definitely going to be a detective, or a spy).
The use of Alfred Hitchcock as a character within the books was a stroke of genius. Not only did it work as a method of giving the books a real-world feel, but it also meant that plot threads at the end of every mystery could be explained to the reader when the boys went for their obligatory post-mystery meeting with the famous film director. It also meant for a much greater variety in the mysteries the boys had to solve as Hitchcock could be used as a vehicle to introduce some of the more exotic and out-of-the-ordinary mysteries, that a trio of young boys were unlikely to stumble across on a daily basis. For many years I believed that Hitchcock wrote these books, somehow missing the mention of Robert Arthur, William Arden et al in the credits at the beginning of the books, and I must confess that I was well in to my twenties when, on yet another re-read, I stumbled across the truth. I was gutted and felt cheated (for a few seconds at least), but very quickly settled back down to read a treasured favourite for the umpteenth time.
Some of the mysteries were more complex and 'clever' than others, and it was these ones, often involving some kind of riddle, that I enjoyed the most. Favourite books in the series include The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot, The Mystery of the Screaming Clock and The Mystery of the Dead Man's Riddle. I still like to read them these days, and if I am just going to dip in it is usually one of these three that I will pick up first.
For many years I believed that the series ended at #29, The Mystery of the Sinister Scarecrow. However, with the advent of the internet I eventually discovered that the series ran to 43 books, and although I now own all of them, these latter ones in the series have only been read once, as they do not have the nostalgic magical hold on me that books 1 through to 29 have.
I feel that the books have aged fairly well, although naturally I am totally blinded by nostalgia. Obviously these were days before mobile phones, personal computers and digital cameras and so the 'gadgets' that the three boys used would seem very antiquated to today's readers. However, the mysteries are still pretty damn entertaining, and I personally feel that it is a tragedy that these books are all long out of print. It disappoints me greatly that Blyton's various mystery series that seen multiple reprints and new editions, whilst Jupiter, Bob and Pete are complete strangers to the vast majority of today's young readers.
There just don't seem to be enough mystery series around for middle grade readers these days and, I say bravely, I would even be interested in seeing someone else take over the writing of these, updated to the 21st Century, perhaps with Spielberg in the Hitchcock seat. Although only if the mysteries could remain as clever and intriguing as they always were, and not just become a series of adventure stories, with Famous Five/Hardy Boys right-place/right-time denouements.
by Darren Hartwell, (Book Zone (For Boys) blog