Tuesday, September 13, 2011

alfred hitchcock and the three investigators

On a recent trip to the local library with my daughter I was browsing the teen section while she was picking out books and DVDs, and ran across a blast from my past, The Secret of the Crooked Cat.

When I was 8 my dad gave me my first Nancy Drew (The Spider Sapphire Mystery), and I sped through them, getting most of the books through the local library or our bookmobile in the summertime, which is also where I discovered a few years later the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series.


Similar in style to Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, the illustrated mysteries follow three teenage boys as the solve mysteries, mostly with a supernatural angle. I didn't realize it at the time I was reading them as a kid, but the plots share a lot of similarities to Scooby Doo. As I breezed through The Secret of the Crooked Cat there was even a line at the end,
The robber snarled, "Go to the devil, Carson! All of you! I'd have gotten away except for those stupid kids!"
Oh well. Not exactly high literature, but they were fun to read (and re-visit). I liked the hero, Jupiter Jones, and his friends, who were basically a bunch of misfits who happened to be super-smart. Talk about revenge of the nerds.



Jupiter is overweight, an ex-child star, and an orphan (his parents were killed in a car accident) who lives with his Aunt Mathilda and his uncle, Titus Jones, who runs a junkyard — a very handy place for Jupiter to find bits and parts to use to create all sorts of fabulous gadgets to employ in his investigations. He is called the First Investigator, and doesn't let his friends forget that. It became quite annoying actually, while reading the book as an adult, as the boys refer to each other as "First," "Second," and "Records" quite frequently.

Second Investigator Pete Crenshaw is athletic and resourceful. Jupiter may be the idea man, but Pete usually puts them into action. He and "Records and Research," Bob Andrews, make up the composite Doctor Watson to Jupiter's Sherlock Holmes. They are also reader stand-ins, reacting to the crime at hand as any kid might. Jupiter's eccentricities set him apart from even the normal super-smart geeky kid.

The Three Investigators books were a fun diversion, filling the mystery novel gap between Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie, who I discovered one day after raiding my mom's bookcase, looking for something new to read. I was soon devouring The Hollow, The Moving Finger and The Labours of Hercules.

I also loved the Hitchcock connection with The Three Investigators. My parents were big fans of the slow-speaking, brilliant British director and I had already seen The Birds and North By Northwest as well as Alfred Hitchcock Presents on television. Some of the episodes are still indelibly etched on my brain, such as Lamb to the Slaughter, written by Roald Dahl, which had my grandmother in stitches about the clever murder weapon, Ambrose Bierce's Civil War story The Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge, and the scary and paranoiac Revenge.



Another Hitchcock for Young Readers selection, right next to The Secret of the Crooked Cat, was Alfred Hitchcock's Supernatural Tales of Terror and Suspense. This is a short story anthology, aimed at an older teen audience than The Three Investigators series. I was pleasantly surprised at how absolutely creepy the stories were, and completely enjoyable for adults, too. Among the 10 authors featured are  Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, The Lady in the Lake) with a very sinister story, "The Bronze Door," as well as Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley), and Muriel Spark (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie).

The short stories include:

1. "The Triumph of Death," by H. Russell Wakefield - A creepy old lady, Miss Pendleham, lives with her companion Amelia in an Elizabethan-era house that may be haunted by dangerous ghosts, who may also be Miss Pendleham's ancestors.
2. "The Strange Valley," by T.V. Olsen - Three Sioux Indians see a strange creature in the valley of the Little Big Horn in the middle of the night.
3. "The Christmas Spirit," by Dorothy B. Bennett - A nurse discovers that what modern medicine can do may pale in comparison to a preserved bat wing charm.
4. "The Bronze Door," by Raymond Chandler - A man purchases an antique door that may help him remove some current pests from his life.
5. "Slip Stream," by Sheila Hodgson - Did the pilot and co-pilot really see something on the runway?
6. "The Quest for 'Blank Claveringi,'" by Patricia Highsmith - A scientist is eager to determine if there are indeed giant man-eating snails on a remote tropical island. He should probably think twice about that.
7. "Miss Pinkerton's Apocalypse," by Muriel Spark - an actual flying saucer, Spode, according to Miss Pinkerton, causes some brief but amusing panic.
8. "The Reunion After Three Hundred Years," by Alexis Tolstoy (Vampires - Stories of the Supernatural) - an old woman tells her grandchildren about her romantic past and her brush with some very unpleasant ghosts.
9. "The Attic Express," by Alex Hamilton - A man becomes very obssessed with his model train set.
10. "The Pram," by A.W. Bennett - A policeman tells the story of an undertaker who had no respect for the dead.
11. "Mr. Ash's Studio," by H. Russell Wakefield - A writer of ghost stories discovers that his latest inspiration, a mysterious painting and art studio, may be closer to is subject matter than he was hoping for.

I'm hoping that on our next library trip I'll find some more of these anthologies. Not only is it a fun bit of reading nostalgia, but a rediscovery of the short suspense and horror story, something which I haven't indulged in for quite some time. Thanks, Hitch.

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