#277: The Temple of the Great Jupiter – The Three Investigators March in The Secret of Terror Castle (1964) by Robert Arthur

secret_of_terror_castle

My inability to walk past a secondhand bookshop without at least having a “quick glance inside” recently resulted in me purchasing a stack of the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators titles, books I was aware of but have not previously read.  So buying 22 of them in no way counts as a spontaneous over-commitment, oh no.  Anyway, The Secret of Terror Castle is the first of the series and here are some thoughts on it.

1. There is no reference to Hitchcock’s directorial work

Here’s something that surprised me a little, as Hitch is referred to as a producer but never a director.  I mean, sure, his work around the time of publication — Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963), Marnie (1964), Torn Curtain (1966) — was aimed at an older audience than that of these books, but surely he was known as a director of the likes of North by Northwest (1959) and other such accessible masterpieces.  Failing that, he’d hosted Alfred Hitchcock Presents… on TV for several years prior to this, and an awareness of his physical appearance is one of the plot-crucial points that gets Jupiter Jones and the rest an appointment with him.  To simply refer to him as a “producer” seems weird to me.

2. Anyone can find you in the phone book

Here is the business card the boys are printing at the start of the book:

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So…how do you get in touch with them?  Thankfully phone companies in the late 1960s were lax enough to allow any 13 year-old to get a phone line installed (they have one in Headquarters, and it provides a necessary plot point later on) and list the number publicly; ahhh, privacy, how we take thee for granted…

3. There is evidence of some of the best traditions of the Golden Age…

Without wishing to get into spoilers, the deduction with the lemonade is superb, not only as a piece of observation and ratiocination but also as the exact kind of thing you could believe someone of that age would pick up on.  Equally, there’s some very good clewing with regards things like the sense of unease felt in and around the castle, plus a decent sense of rigour (loosely) applied in the various investigations taken at the castle throughout.

The fake-out with the motives at the end is bloody clever, too, as is that thing done with the members of the gang the Investigators discover there.  To be honest, it’s this particular development come the end that impressed me the most, it’s a very, very clever dodge that plays perfectly into the scheme of the book.  Who knew Young Adult novels from this era were so rock solid on their motives?  The same sort of thing would never have happened to the Famouse Five…

4. …and some of the worst

I can stand a secret passage, nothing wrong with that — I’d probably be disappointed if there wasn’t one in a book of this ilk — but we veer dangerously into ‘a poison previously unknown to science’ territory with the couple of explanations offered up elsewhere, and that impossible ghostly phantom that was seen playing the organ is…well, everyone deserves better than what’s offered up here.

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Sure, there’s the old “but it’s for kids” argument, but that doesn’t really hold any water now, does it.  Robin Stevens showed this stuff can be written intelligently for younger readers, so some standards should be observed.

5. The title is kind of genius, though

The bastardisation of Terrill’s Castle to Terror Castle — it’s just very graceful, innit?  Like, I’m aware it’s a castle that incites feelings of terror and so the name sort of suggest itself, but there’s an elegance in there being another root to the nomenclature that appeals to the language nerd in me.

6. As is the non-nuclear family

Jupiter Jones is an ex-toddler actor who lives in a junkyard with his aunt and uncle and two Teutonic twin brothers…and at no point are we made to feel like this might be something that either will be or needs to be explained.  The early description of him as someone who didn’t like being laughed at and so worked hard to acquire knowledge captures him perfectly, not seeking to make a deal out of his living arrangements where one isn’t necessary.

If anything, this is turned into an element of aspiration: he had free reign to construct his own hideout with multiple secret entrances and a sort of juvenile Bat Cave with a darkroom and heaven alone knows what else…I’m sure we’ll find out more about it as time passes.  But that the nominal outsider is made out to be the lynchpin of the entire enterprise is the kind of idea that I’ve seen a lot of YA fiction strain to achieve with about nine times the effort and half the success that Arthur casually does it here.

7. This could almost be sold as The Young Nero Wolfe Mysteries…

…with Jupe growing up to become Nero and Pete Crenshaw as the young Archie Goodwin.  Maybe it’s just me with a Rex Stout book in the back of my mind, but the way Jupe dispatches his friends to perform certain tasks and make certain observations when he himself is laid up with an injured ankle has an echo of Wolfe’s obscure undertakings for Archie and others at times.

Crenshaw, too, is the witty one — stopping just shy of the “Zoinks, Scoob!” sort of cowardice that this could easily devolve into, there’s a doggedness and a trust in the situations he’s sent into that echoes Archie’s faith in Wolfe even as he questions the precise necessity of doing what is done.  The relationship isn’t as abrasive here as it is in Stout’s books, obviously, but they are young and it’s easy to see this evolving over time into that sort of badgering, baiting respect.

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Coming soon…

8. The surrounding world is filled out very cleverly

The hurdle that a lot of YA detective novels must first overcome is making it believable that 13 year-old boys could be allowed to undertake such investigations as these in the first place.  We return to aspiration again in the whole “teenager investigating in an adult’s role” which makes this sort of thing so appealing, and if you’re unable to simply accept that this is going to happen then you’re in the wrong place, Boo.

What I liked about this book was how around that central unlikelihood there were enough wrinkles that felt real so that the whole thing wasn’t simply problems being swept out of their path: Bob Andrews and the cast on his leg (which, again, is there without us needing to know why), the fact that he’s required to work extra shifts at the library o a couple of occasions and so the investigation is held up…little moments like this that don’t serve the plot, but in not serving the plot serve the world itself.

At the beginning of one chapter Andrews is late to a meeting of the Three Investigators because he gets a flat tire on his bike.  It serves no other purpose in the plot that I noticed, but the fact that it happens, is remarked upon, and has some minor effect on the immediate situation without become a plot lynchpin is just the sort of verisimilitude that helps sell the bigger, less likely setting.  You may disagree; if so, feel free to start your own blog and expound on the reasons I’m wrong.

9. I have a new favourite expression

“The room beyond was as black as the inside of an alligator.”

Investigator

Which is also rather apt…

~

In one of those freak coincidences that never happen in real life, TomCat put up a post about a little-known audio dramatisation of this the other day, and you can find his thoughts here.  His thoughts on the book itself, meanwhile, are here…

Now enough with the coincidences — it’s giving me the heebie-jeebies!

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27 thoughts on “#277: The Temple of the Great Jupiter – The Three Investigators March in The Secret of Terror Castle (1964) by Robert Arthur

  1. Ah, I remember reading this one, back when I was the right age for it. And the bit with the feelings of terror genuinely scared me too! I loved this series, with, at times, some really play-along detection. Maybe it’s time it appeared on my blog again…

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  2. Your observation about Jupe and Pete being a young Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin is not just the lingering memory of a recently read Rex Stout novel. If you look at my review of the first book I read in this series, The Secret of Skeleton Island, you’ll see I made the very same observation. Robert Arthur’s incarnation of the three boys tend to evoke, as you also observed, the best and worst of the detective-and pulp fiction.

    When William Arden took over the series, the plots became more consistent and the books written by M.V. Carey have a somewhat different dynamic between Jupe, Pete and Bob. Someone suggested that the boys are (slightly) older in Carey’s stories.

    But to go back to Arthur, you should track down his short story collection, Mysteries and More Mysteries, which was geared at teenage readers, but has some truly wonderful and even classical stories – such as the brilliant locked room mystery known as “The Glass Bridge.”

    By the way, are you going to do a regular review in this series?

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    • I’ve been looking for Mystery and more Mystery for a while now, but so far no joy; one of these days…

      I find it interesting how this carries over so many of the trappings of the Golden Age at a time when, at least in Grown Up Books, they were seen to be going out of vogue. Maybe there was a sense that those ideas were no longer suitable for adults and could be passed down to the next generation. I can imagine someone reading these as an 11 year-old and then coming to Stout and Christie and their ilk and really beaing able to join the dots between them all; that, I think, is a pretty cool heritage to be passing on.

      So, yeah, if they continue in this vein I imagine I will do a semi-regular review of them; I have to justify buying all these books somehow…!

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      • I can imagine someone reading these as an 11 year-old and then coming to Stout and Christie and their ilk and really beaing able to join the dots between them all; that, I think, is a pretty cool heritage to be passing on.

        Exactly! You have to wonder how many children, who read this series during their formative years, moved on to straight detective-fiction and how The Three Investigators might have influenced their taste in detective stories. I imagine a good portion of them became fans of Stout, Wolfe and Goodwin.

        So this series might have done more, than we can possibly realize or appreciate, to preserve (and cultivate) an audience for the traditional detective story in the post-WWII era.

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        • As someone who did this backwards — getting t these after the classics that no doubt played a role in inspiring them — I can only think how much fun it’d be if I was in my early teens again and had been reading these for a few years only to stumble upon an early Stout or mid-period Christie…

          Man, some people have all the luck…

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I read lots and lots of these as a kid but remember nothing of them! As for ‘producer’ he was by then his own producer and it was considered a more important function I would say – still is in fact. Not more creative but more powerful.

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    • Oh, sure, I know Hitchcock had virtual god-like command over every aspect of his films by now and had done for several years, but for a YA series saying he’s a famous director just seems a slightly more easily appreciated concept. Maybe the man himself wanted to be known as a producer; I guess his health was starting to fail by the this point and there would have been a focus on what he saw himself currently doing rather than what he had done in the past.

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  4. I’m sure that at some point Hitchcock read a lot of GAD fiction, but he felt rather strongly that these elements made for lackluster films. His movies are loaded with surprises, but there are very few actual whodunnits, and the inverted tales are skewed to focus on the innocent folks (Suspicion, Frenzy.)

    But his enjoyment of classic mysteries comes to the fore in the juvenile books he lent his name to. I refer back to Alfred Hitchcock’s Solve-Them-Yourself Mysteries, which I reviewed. Like Sergio, I read some of these, liked them, and forgot about them. I had my own gateway drugs, as TomCat described: Encyclopedia Brown and The Hardy Boys, but THB never really embraced GAD tropes like these books did. Even at the age of nine or ten, I could somehow grasp that, and Agatha Christie awaited me at eleven or twelve.

    Ah, childhood days . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    • By comparison, I read some Nancy Drew about age 10 or 11 and then skewed off into, er, Tom Clancy (don’t ask) and all manner of round the houses holy-hell-how-are-you-picking-these-books before finally stubling over Christie at 17.

      I almost feel like I did it backwards — putting away adultish things as a child and discovering the joys of childish things as an adult…still, I’d rather be reading Chrisite, Berkeley, Carr, Crofts, Brand, Afford, Berrow, Vindry, Penny, Lorac, etc. now than Clancy and Crichton, so it’s not like this was a bad thing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Long after I had firmly established my predilection for GAD, I found my Tom Clancy in the form of Robert Ludlum. That’s as macho as my reading ever got. (Well, there’s Hammett . . . ) Ludlum’s so manly that he manages to turn out a book a year still – long after his death.

        I am sitting here with a coffee struggling over one of those unreliable narrator thrillers that the Puzzle Doctor recommended. It has caused me to suffer from a huge reading block! I feel like I haven’t blogged in weeks. And yet I feel I must power through this before I can turn to more reliable authors! Pray for me!

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        • Hey, hey, hey, for all Ludlum’s faults and tropes — there’s a drinking game in his books to rival the one Noah wrote for GAD novels — he’s nowhere near as bad as Clancy. Clancy had a Michael Bay-grade hard-on for the US Military-Industrial complex with good ol’ USA fine men and women riskin’ their lives against the back-stabbin’ Ruskies and their untrustworthy Ruskie ways. Ludlum at least traded in greay areas and admitted the foolishness of many of the endeavours that his US spymasters undertook. Plus, he was a damn fine author who could — much like JDC — turn a plot in the space of a sentence.

          I will not have the man dragged down to the common level of a Clancy or a Brad Thor. He was a writer of fine, intelligent thrillers — perhaps at times it may have seemed like thriller, singular, I’ll admit — and there’s a much plot construction in The Matarese Circle or The Bourne Identity as there is in the best of Christie and Rhode and Crofts.

          Though, yes, I would agree that only Tupac Shakur has him rivalled for posthumous output…

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        • I read them all – all the real Ludlums at least – so I clearly liked them, despite the formula and the tendency to have characters expostulate in CAPITAL LETTERS or italics! My first (and favorite) was The Chancellor Manuscript, but I enjoyed them all.

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        • Oh, yeah, the plot hasn’t really started until you get a Madness! — that’s like the starting klaxon.

          Dammit, this is making me want to read a Ludlum novel…

          Liked by 1 person

        • From memory, Ludlum wasn’t the worst by any means and wrote some pretty addictive books. Speaking of thrillers you feel you need to power through, I started (and please don’t ask why) James Patterson’s NYPD RED yesterday. It really is utter pap but I hate abandoning anything once I’ve started. One plus is I’ve read almost 200 pages already so it shouldn’t take too long to finish!

          Liked by 1 person

        • The Bourne Identity is the best thriller ever written, no question, and there are another seven or eight Ludlums that run it fairly close. As for you and Pattterson, well, we all need a bit of a decompress at times — he’s not my pace, but then I’m a massive Matthew Reilly fan and don’t care who knows it!

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  5. I read every one of these books (well the first 30 or so anyway, the ones which featured Hitch in the intros and briefly in the text) back in the day. In fact, I still have them boxed up, mostly Collins hardback editions I think.
    Anyway, I adored them – like some of the best genre fiction, the whole microcosm existing in the books was just so fabulously attractive to me – the characters, how they all related to each other, the setting – and then the mysteries themselves were frequently quite solid and really drew you in. It’s great you’re discovering these and I’ve no doubt you’ll have a fine time going through them – I’m often tempted to haul out my own old collection and delve back in again.

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    • There are so many different sets of books that I find myself thinking “Aw, damn, Id love to read those form the beginning…”, so when an opportunity like this presents itself I’m almost genetically predetermined to jump on it. Even if they turn out to be disappointing, I’m of the preference of at least knowing I was disappointed than never getting to find out…

      So, well, expect much more of me going “Hey, here’s a thing I’ve always wanted to work through in order…” in the future: these books, the Doug Selby and Cool and Lam books by ESG…and, well, some others to come…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Excellent, go for it. I quite agree that if you don’t try some of this stuff out, then you’ll never know if you’ve been missing out on something worthwhile. And if it does disappoint, well so what.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yeah, I’m always a little baffled when people respond to a long-awaited book with a sort of semi-offended “Well, it wasn’t as good as I’d been hoping…” — great, then lower your expectations or be more realistic. At least you know what it’s like now! It’s precisely this attitude which has lead to me not holding back on perceived classics: get ’em read and find out what you think it’s only as good as you decide it is once you’ve processed what goes on between the covers!

          But, I run the risk of getting carried away, so shall cease here.

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  6. I had the full set of these books when I was a kid as somewhat of a hand-me down from my father. I don’t remember much detail about them other than they were the mystery books that I really liked; significantly stronger than The Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown, etc. There were elements that felt much more like I was reading an adult book, although these were still firmly in the realm of young-adult. Thanks for stirring some long forgotten memories.

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  7. QUOTE: “we veer dangerously into ‘a poison previously unknown to science’ territory with the couple of explanations offered up elsewhere” /QUOTE

    ^^^ If this is an allusion to Infrasound as the reason for the palpable feelings of terror experienced by all visitors to the castle, I’ll think you’ll find that it’s anchored firmly in sound scientific fact. I’d even go so far as to say this plot device is the most clever and savvy element of the entire plot.

    https://magazine.engineerjobs.com/2013/haunt-house-infrasound.htm

    However, I do agree the true nature of the phantom organist is somewhat of an anticlimax!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, sure; this isn’t actually the part I’m referring to — I had no problem with this, having spent a lot of my youth playing around with church organs and low resonance vibrations and all that…it’s the associated *thing* (‘ware spoilers and all…) that is, essentially, “and here’s a poison that has that exact effect — how convenient!” 🙂

      I really appreciate the link, too — many thanks for that.

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  8. Pingback: #289: The Literary Allusion That Wasn’t – Use of the Flying, Dying Message in The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot (1964) by Robert Arthur | The Invisible Event

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