Having recently written my first review of a mystery aimed at children, namely Death In The Devil’s Den, I was inspired to dive into the internet and find a copy of the books that turned me on to “proper” mysteries in the first place – namely The Three Investigators.
In this outing, our three heroes are helping out a Mrs Darnley, a slightly-mad collector who has filled her house with mirrors. Her prize piece is the so-called Goblin Mirror, a two metre high looking glass, that is attracting attention for all the wrong reasons. Firstly, a disreputable foreigner wants to buy it and won’t take no for an answer. Second, a mysterious black-clad thief is found in the room with the mirror – which is far too large to steal. Oh, and how could I forget, thirdly, the ghost of the long-dead magician who created the mirror has been sighted, both inside the mirror… and roaming the house as well. Can our three heroes get to the bottom of things? And, more importantly, did my memory cheat when I remembered this series so fondly?
Phew. The memory didn’t cheat. It’s always a relief when something you really enjoyed when you’re young turns out to be disappointing when viewed through adult eyes – for example, a fair proportion of Doctor Who post mid-Tom Baker (thank goodness for Big Finish!) – and this didn’t disappoint. Well, it sort of did, but I’ll explain that in a minute.
As a bit of history, the series ran from 1964 to 1987, initially written by a single author, Robert Arthur, but thereafter a number of other writers shared writing duties. During his lifetime, there were introductions and epilogues “written” by Alfred Hitchcock – the epilogue usually involved the boys explaining the solution of the mystery, but following his death, he was replaced by a new character, Hector Sebastian. At this point, the authors managed to get their names of the covers, and it was at this point that I realised a) there was more than one author and b) the books by M V Carey were generally my favourites. Hence my choice of this one – one by M V Carey and one that I couldn’t remember much about.
So, our three heroes, Jupiter (brainy and overweight – my hero!), Pete (basically the action hero role) and Bob (who’s really good at looking things up in the library), are drawn into the case when Jupiter’s uncle delivers a mirror to the house and cue shenanigans.
It’s a shortish book – it’s for kids, after all – and I’ve got very mixed feelings about it. First of all, it’s a great read, with the action (apart from one section) positively zipping along. But on the other hand, it’s a dreadful mystery.
The notion of how the ghost appears in the mirror (and, despite one version of the cover, never steps out of the mirror) is the obvious one – although to be fair, Jupiter spots it almost immediately – even though I’m not convinced it would work convincingly at all, and how the ghost vanishes from the room requires a locked room cheat. After the ghost stuff is mostly resolved, the action turns to the burglar and some international politics (rather dull, I’m afraid) and the only real mystery to be resolved it what is interesting about the mirror – which is quite clever, but you are never really encouraged to consider it as a reader and the solution has dated somewhat and a modern reader probably won’t know what SPOILER is.
But… despite the massive problems with the plot – the reason why the “ghost” is there is pretty weak as well – I really enjoyed the book. It was a fun, nostalgic read, and I’ll be returning to Jupiter, Pete and Bob as soon as I get some more books in the series delivered (and New Author August is out of the way). So, not the best book to start the series with, but if you’re already a converted, you’ll probably enjoy it.