Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"We Investigate Anything"

Jupiter, Pete, and BobI’m at that halfway point between birth and death—a place I’ll call middle age if I live to be 90—and I sometimes feel a need to revisit my childhood, but only the warm, fuzzy parts. Since I was nicknamed Boo Radley by my siblings because I liked to read and therefore never left the house much, this would include rereading a lot of books. Lately I’ve been thinking about Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw, and Bob Andrews, teen friends who call themselves The Three Investigators, and whose motto is: "We Investigate Anything." If you’re in your thirties or forties and liked reading as a child, then you might have been lucky enough to come across these books.

The Three Investigators Mystery Series was created by Robert Arthur Jr. in 1964. Between 1964 and 1987, there were 59 books published in the U.S.: 43 original titles; the Book of Mystery Puzzles (1982); four Find-Your-Fate books (1985-1987); and 11 titles in a spin-off series called The 3 Investigators Crimebusters (1989-1990). The first 30 titles were affiliated with Alfred Hitchcock, who was paid for name recognition and served as a mentor for the boys, offering an introduction and a conclusion to the story. He was replaced by a new mentor character named Hector Sebastian in the last 13 original books.

When I was enjoying them back in the '70s, I had no idea they were so popular around the world. They have been published in more languages than any other U.S. juvenile series. They are especially popular in Germany, where the series—known as Die drei Fragezeichen, or The Three Question Marks—lives on with dozens of new titles and several spin-off series. Many of these have been translated into English. The Germans also recorded taped radio dramas of the stories, turning the actors who read them into rock stars who packed stadiums when they toured. My box of T3I hardbacks sat in my mother's attic for decades, until someone decided they were junk and discarded them. This bums me out because I would have loved to pass them down to my son.

The Three Investigators are: 1) Jupiter "Jupe" Jones - a pudgy boy with an affinity for Hawaiian shirts who heads up the firm and has a brilliant mind for observation and deduction. He's precise and intelligent and doesn't have a modest bone in his body. Jupiter lives with his AA T3I illustration by Harry Kaneunt Mathilda and Uncle Titus near their family business, the Jones Salvage Yard, where many a mystery has been solved at their junkyard club house or using cast offs from his uncle's business. 2) Peter "Pete" Crenshaw - an athlete who doesn't jump into danger on a whim, but is always there to offer some brawn when he needs to. His father is an f/x man in the movie business who comes in handy when trying to play a trick on a culprit. Pete's good at stakeouts and shadowing people. 3) Robert "Bob" Andrews - a studious boy with glasses who's great at, you guessed it, researching clues in dusty libraries. In the early books he's hampered by a leg brace from a tumble down a hill, until it's removed at the end of The Whispering Mummy. Along with these three, there is a large cast of colorful characters, including some great hometown villains that make trouble for the boys. Skinny Norris, a boy near their own age, especially enjoys throwing a wrench into their investigations.

There is so much wonderful history to this series, and if you'd like to learn more, check out the fan sites T3I Reader's Site , The Three Investigators U.S. Editions Collectors Site, and The Life and Art of Harry Kane, the first of many illustrators to bring the boys and their world to life. It is believed that boys read fewer books than girls, and the way to get boys interested in reading is to hand them adventure books likely to pique their interest, such as Holes by Louis Sachar, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, and Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. And I would definitely add The Three Investigators to that list—it's good, clean fun where the boys aren't up to anything they shouldn't be except solving mysteries.

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