The Three Investigators, Forgotten Heroes of Horror?

, ,
The first novel in The Three Investigators mystery series.

Lately I’ve been questioning what got me interested in the horror genre. 

Was it the numerous Alfred Hitchcock suspense films like Rebecca, Rear Window and Vertigo my mother took me to when I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s?

Was it reading collections of ghost stories like The Dynamite Book of Ghosts and Haunted Houses? (It’s still available at Amazon—mint copies start at $130.)

Was it watching a chainsaw wielding maniac dressed up as Santa Claus slaughter my neighbors?

(That’s a joke, folks.)

My interest in horror was doubtless spurned on by all those things. But The Three Investigators also played a role.

Who were The Three Investigators? They were the stars of a series of YA novels published from the mid 1960s to the late 1980s. The stories were derivative of similar youth mystery series like the Hardy Boys  and Nancy Drew, but the Three Investigators’ youthful protagonists—Jupiter “Jupe” Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews—had more flaws, and were filled with more pathos than those earlier characters. (Similar to how Marvel Comics characters of the 1960s like Spider-Man and the Hulk, with their bouts of depression and anger, were blemished compared to the wholesome moral perfection of 1930s-40s DC Comics characters like Superman and the Green Lantern.)

Now, some might raise an eyebrow at the idea the Three Investigators existed adjacent to horror. And it’s true that many entries in the series were more mystery or crime related. But, still… take a look at these titles.

The Secret of Terror Castle 
The Mystery of the Green Ghost
The Mystery of Monster Mountain
The Mystery of the Laughing Shadow 
The Mystery of the Invisible Dog

Take away the preceding “The Secret of/The Mystery of” and they could be splashed across the top of a 1980s horror movie poster. (Eh, maybe not the Invisible Dog.)

Also, contrast these titles with some sample Hardy Boys novels. Hunting for Hidden Gold. The Hooded Hawk Mystery. The Missing Chums. The Missing Chums?! I mean, like go back to squaresville, Daddy-o.

The Mystery of the Green Ghost was the first 3I book I read, somewhere around 3rd grade. I can still mentally summon the creepy cover of a floating emerald ectoplasm tormenting our intrepid youthful heroes. (The ghost was actually an image projected from a high-tech flashlight, if I recall correctly.)

The kickoff novel, The Secret of Terror Castle, was a classic haunted house book. The boys found themselves exploring a decrepit mansion, feeling an unease that grew into, well, all-out terror. (There was a clever explanation for this emotional crescendo.)

I haven’t yet mentioned the 3I book closest to the horror world: The Mystery of the Sinister Scarecrow. For starters, just take a look at that cover.

A scythe wielding maniac menacingly threatens Jupe and the gang (who, admittedly, seem rather blasé about it.) This scarecrow could have been any 80s masked psychopath of the Jason Vorhees/Michael Meyers variety. Without giving too much away, I will say the book had a great twist ending very much in the style of that era’s horror films.

I devoured most of the Three Investigators series from the age of eight to my early teen years. I can remember the excitement of scouring the shelves of the Honolulu Book Company, located in the famed Ala Moana Shopping Center, searching for new installments. 

Eventually, I stopped reading the series, somewhere around The Secret of Shark Reef. But my research for this post (yes, I actually do research!) revealed there were several more entries. (A complete list is here.) There were also a couple of German-made Three Investigators movies released in the 2000s. (Bob Andrews was played by Cameron Monaghan who went on to play one of the brothers in the show Shameless.) I recall catching one on cable around that time, but it didn’t leave much of an impression.

Nowadays, young adult horror is much bloodier, violent, and “grown up”. I read the book Clown in a Cornfield a while back and the body count is high and the severed limbs are plenty (Figuratively at least. I don’t recall if there are actual severed limbs in the novel and I don’t want you to rush off to read it based on false promises.) Nonetheless, I think Jupiter and the 3I boys are due for a revival. Perhaps the series could be retooled for the new era of unapologetic R-rated YA fiction? The Mystery of the Exploding Head? The Secret of the Mangled Only-Fans Model? The Case of the Flesh-Feasting Cannibal?

Stranger things have happened.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *