There has been at least one in every generation of my family: a Reader. Not someone who merely enjoys reading, but one who lives for those moments of every day that are spent with a book. One who is at a loss without something to read. One who often has a hard time stepping out of a book and back into the real world that needs us. One who might have a hard time choosing between a new book and oxygen if ever forced to choose.
My grandmother and mother were like that. In my generation, it is my cousin Beckie and me; two of our other cousins married women who read as much as we do, so I am surprised the next generation of our family didn’t emerge from the womb with ISBN numbers stamped on their foreheads.
Mom used to forbid certain books as a sure-fire way of getting me to read them, so I often read things that were probably a bit too mature for me. However, my favorite books were always those that were part of a series, because I found comfort in slipping back into the familiar worlds created by my favorite authors.
The Hardy Boys. The Bobbsey Twins. The Happy Hollisters. Trixie Belden. I also loved mysteries and puzzles, so these books grabbed me like no others. I devoured the books, snapping up every one I could find at libraries and garage sales. When other little girls my age were asking Santa for Barbie Dolls, I begged him to bring me the newest adventure of the fictional characters I had begun to think of as my friends.
I was seven or eight years old when I discovered Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators and was introduced to a new set of fictional friends. Unlike the other “kid detectives” I read about, these guys weren’t siblings. There was no sibling rivalry, no parents stepping in to help solve the case, no repulsively cute younger brothers or sisters in constant need of a rescue. No romance, no melodrama. Just three friends solving mysteries with a touch of the supernatural, and of course, Hitch himself was there to give me the tiniest glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, these guys were real.
The series was created by Robert Arthur, beginning with The Secret of Terror Castle in 1964. William Arden (Dennis Lynds) joined the fun in 1968 with The Mystery of the Moaning Cave. After Arthur’s death in 1969, Arden was joined by Nick West (Kin Platt) and M.V. (Mary Virginia) Carey, with Marc Brandel jumping in near the series’ end.
Hitchcock made an appearance in each book, introducing the boys and giving hints of the tale we were about to read. In some books, he became part of the story by introducing them to clients or giving them information to help solve the case, but he usually disappeared until the final scene, when the boys would sit in his office and wrap up any loose ends.
Hitchcock’s death in 1980 was devastating to the series, but the character of Hector Sebastian was introduced in The Mystery of the Scar-Faced Beggar, and Sebastian took over the introductions and closing scene of every book after that. Many fans felt that this marked the beginning of the downhill slide in quality of the books. Later “updated” issues of the early books replaced Hitchcock with a fictional Hollywood director named Reginald Clarke.
The First Investigator was Jupiter Jones, described as being very smart and very logical. He was stubborn and level-headed, and often used long words that confused his friends. He was a former child actor who sometimes “played dumb” as a way of getting suspects to talk. But he was also a realistic and somewhat sympathetic character who sometimes made mistakes and even admitted to being stumped from time to time. He was stocky and unathletic, but never portrayed as a stereotypical fat kid or arrogant genius.
Pete Crenshaw was the Second Investigator, and my favorite character. He was the athletic one, the one who struggled most to understand the complexities of a case, but once again the various authors avoided stereotyping him. He was never a dumb jock. And while he had most of the series’ funny lines, he was never portrayed as a cowardly comic relief character. Pete may have complained about facing danger, but he was almost always the one to take the biggest risks and the first to place himself between his friends and danger.
Bob Andrews, the Records and Research member of the team, was Everyman. He was the most down-to-earth, relatable character of the three. While Jupe and Pete both followed their instincts and hunches, Bob was usually the one who showed the most common sense, often voicing the questions that we readers were asking. Many of the most memorable scenes of the series were told from Bob’s point of view, which makes sense as his character was given the task of recording all of their cases to hand over to Hitchcock (later Sebastian and Clarke).
Bob wore a leg brace for the first few books in the series, having broken his leg in a fall during some pre-series adventure. He was described as being small and slight, but he never quite crossed that line into being frail or needing protection. There were a few references to his leg injury for a while, but the character was allowed to recover enough to keep up with his friends as the series moved on. From the start, his handicap established him as the quiet observer, although he could always be counted on for a snappy comeback or a bit of sarcasm.
Even the secondary characters were memorable, but none ever quite stole the spotlight from the boys. There was Worthington, the British chauffer who drove them around in the gold-plated Rolls-Royce (believe it or not, it really makes sense in the context of the books). Hans and Konrad, the Bavarian brothers who worked for Jupe’s Uncle Titus while spouting some rally embarrassing Pidgin English that would never be allowed in a book published today. And Uncle Titus himself, the former circus performer who owned the Jones Salvage Yard that Jupe called home. Titus’ wife, Aunt Mathilda, who spent her days putting the boys to work, is still a fan favorite, although Allie Jamison will always be my personal favorite of all secondary characters. She appeared in The Mystery of the Singing Serpent and The Mystery of Death Trap Mine and very nearly took over each time; I was always disappointed that M.V. Carey never spun her off into her own series.
The books were deliberately vague about the boys’ exact age. The older I got as I read the books, the older I imagined them to be. We were told that Jupiter took advanced classes and was therefore ahead of the other two in school, and we knew that their rival, Skinny Norris, was able to get his Driver’s License in another state, so it was a pretty safe guess that they were supposed to be around fourteen or fifteen years old.
I read and re-read those books, right up until the series ended in 1987 with book #43, The Mystery of the Cranky Collector. Random House tried to revive the series with the dreadful Three Investigators Crimebusters reboot and a few equally terrible Find Your Fate books, and then my old friends limped off into obscurity.
I found out later that they actually limped off to Germany, where the series blossomed in ways that it never did here in America. There were new books, radio broadcasts, and even two really odd movies that bore very little resemblance to the books.
2014 is the fiftieth anniversary of the Three Investigators, and we fans are still a pretty loyal group. We have a Facebook page and several websites, most notably The Three Investigators U.S. Editions Collector Site. There are fanfiction writers creating new adventures of our favorite trio, and of course there are constant discussions about the possibility of reviving the series. It probably won’t happen, thanks to the tangled mess of rights and ownership between the publisher, authors, and Robert Arthur’s family. But we can still dream.
My nieces and nephews grew up on R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books, and my older children have enjoyed everything from The Magic Tree House to Percy Jackson. I’ve tried to get my youngest nephew interested in The Enigma Club, although he still prefers Encyclopedia Brown or Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I wish there was a modern-day Three Investigators series for all of them, but I’m sure they will all look back on their own favorites with the same fondness that my friends and I feel for Jupe, Pete and Bob.
What about you? What were some of your favorite young adult series books when you were a kid, and which ones would you like to see revived?