The Secret of Terror Castle
Review posted March 4, 2014.
Random House, New York, 1964. 179 pages.
This isn't going to be a review so much as an appreciation.
A few weeks ago, I was talking with a co-worker about series mysteries. We both had read the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew, but I never read the Hardy Boys. I said that the really good series was The Three Investigators, and he said he agreed -- he hadn't brought them up because most people haven't heard of them. So then we got to talking about Jupiter Jones and all the cool things about the Three Investigators. I said that my brother had all of them, but he didn't let anyone else read them, so I had to borrow them from my friend Georgette.
Well, the library has recently gotten a new system for ordering Interlibrary Loans, and administration had asked staff to try it out by making some requests. So my co-worker decided to request the first three Three Investigators mysteries. Naturally, I asked if I could read them after him. When he said there might not be enough time in the loan, I said it would be funny if he behaved exactly like my brother. Anyway, when the first book did come in, he finished it well ahead of the due date, and I got to read it, too.
We're both trying to figure out what it is about The Three Investigators that made them so completely cool. The writing is not stellar, though there is a nice habit of closing chapters on a cliff-hanger (or rock slide). But you've got to love a group of kids independently traveling around in a gold-plated Rolls-Royce (which Jupiter won the use of) with an English chauffeur. Jupiter is super smart and outsmarts adults routinely. Their headquarters is fantastic -- an old mobile home hidden in a junkyard, completely surrounded by trash. The entrances are all secret, and involve things like crawling through a tunnel.
Yes, the books are dated. I laughed when the boys discovered the "mobile telephone" in the Rolls-Royce. "One pushes the button and gives the desired number to the operator." They also make their own business cards by fixing an old printing press that came into the junk yard. And the book isn't at all politically correct. Various ethnic groups are represented stereotypically. And there are no girls in the book whatsoever. (But it's true, I loved the books anyway.)
I hadn't remembered that Bob Andrews -- at 13 or 14 years old -- worked in a library. This paragraph on the very first page made me laugh aloud:
"How was the library?" [his mother] asked.
"It was okay," Bob told her. After all, there was never any excitement at the library.
Later on, "Bob had been swamped with work at the library, re-cataloguing all the books. One other helper was out sick, so Bob had been working days and evenings too." My goodness, such responsibility to give a kid!
I like some of the exclamations Pete comes up with: Gleeps! Whiskers! Golly!
I'm not crazy about Skinny Norris, the obligatory bully of the books. Solving mysteries wasn't enough -- there has to be a rival gang, taunting them.
But overall, this book holds up. You've got a spooky setting and clever kids, acting on their own, who get into danger and solve the mystery. Rereading it made me feel like I was twelve years old again.