Tuesday, December 4, 2012
The Secret of Terror Castle (Three Investigators #1)
Random House, 1964
The three investigators are Bob Andrews, Pete Crenshaw, and Jupiter Jones, all of whom live in Rocky Beach, California. Jupiter Jones entered a contest to guess the number of beans in a jar and win the chance to have a private chauffeur and a gold Rolls Royce sedan to ride around in at any time of the day or night for 30 whole days. Pete and Jupiter have been printing business cards for the boys. They say “The Three Investigators: We Investigate Anything.” Jupiter is first investigator, Peter is second investigator, and Bob is in charge of records and research. Jupiter says that they've been discussing the idea of starting an investigation agency and now that he has use of the Rolls Royce they have the freedom to seek mystery wherever they can find it.
Jupiter informs the boys that there is a case that they could easily solve that they have not been engaged to do so yet. The famous English director Reginald Clarke is looking for a real haunted house for his next picture. Pete's father had heard about it at the studio where he is a special-effects expert. Jupiter thinks the boys can investigate the local haunted house, Terror Castle, and find out if it is really haunted or not. The publicity of the case will launch their careers.
Bob researches the history of Terror Castle. It's located in Black Canyon and was originally called Terrill’s Castle because it was built by actor Stephen Terrill. He used to act in all kinds of horror movies. Stephen was known throughout the world as the man with the million faces. Unfortunately, when talking pictures were invented people discovered that he had a squeaky high-pitched voice and a lisp. He had to stop making movies. He sent away all the servants and even his best friend, his business manager Jonathan Rex. Eventually he stopped answering the telephone and mail and shut himself up in his castle.
One day a wrecked car was discovered about 25 miles north of Hollywood. The police traced the license plate to a car that belonged to Stephen. They didn't find a body, but he could've washed away at high tide into the ocean. When the police went to investigate the castle the door was wide open and no one was around. They found a note on the library table that said, “Though the world will never see me alive again, my spirit will never leave this place. The castle will be forever more accursed.” It was signed by Stephen. The police never found a trace of him.
It turned out that Stephen owned the bank a lot of money and when they sent men out to collect his possessions the men refused to finish the job because of weird feelings they got while in the castle. The bank tried to sell the castle but they could find no one who wanted to live in it much less buy it. One real estate agent went there to spend a whole night but he ran out at midnight very, very frightened. Eventually several other people tried to spend a night in the castle. A movie star that lasted until midnight claimed to see a blue phantom and a fog of fear. There also was a family of five who moved in because the bank offered them free rent for a year, but they were never heard from again as they disappeared the first night they were there. Eventually rumors started about distinct groans and a misty figure walking on the stairs. Sometimes there were screams, weird music, and a shimmery blue blob playing the organ that was called the Blue Phantom. Eventually the bank decided they would never be able to sell the place, so they closed off the road and let the castle just sit there. For more than 20 years there's been no record of anyone who's managed to spend an entire night there.
Jupiter and the boys decide to make a preliminary visit to Terror Castle with a camera and a tape recorder to see if they can figure out if it is haunted. In the beginning the boys feel a vague uneasiness that is followed by a sense of nervousness which eventually progresses to sheer terror. Jupiter thinks it is interesting that the boys didn’t actually see or hear anything that could frighten them yet they felt frightened. Later that night, the boys get a phantom phone call warning them to stay away from the castle. The boys decide their next line of action is to talk to Stephen’s only friend, Jonathan.
Jonathan tells the boys that there could be two possibilities for the haunting. While he believes Stephen would be a friendly ghost, there is the issue of Stephen's car being found at the foot of the cliff. He says that in life his mission was to scare people but once he lost his star quality and people were laughing at him might he not be determined after death to resume terrorizing them? The second possibility could be that because Stephen sent all over the world for materials from various building supposedly to be haunted in order to construct his castle that quite possibly the materials could have brought along a mean ghost.
Meanwhile, Jupiter, who has twisted his ankle during investigations, receives an eerie message from a gypsy. His Aunt Mathilda says an old Gypsy woman came to the door and in her “awful, broken accent” she said that she had a warning for him. The woman said Jupiter was to avoid the letters T. C. or anybody with those initials. His accident was caused by TC and TC would bring more harm if Jupiter didn't avoid TC. The boys easily understand that this must stand for Terror Castle. Pete and Bob want to heed the warning, but Jupiter says that these warnings add a new mystery to the case. No one else who ever investigated Terror Castle ever received warnings to stay away. Jupiter believes that they must be closer to the solution of the mystery then they even realize.
Pete and Bob eventually go back to the castle to investigate further. They encounter a few scary moments, but they all are false alarms. As they get lost and are forced to go down a set of stairs they did not come up they begin to hear faint, weird organ music. They know that they have to follow it because the front door is near the projection room. They reach a door and upon opening it discover they are in the projection room. Near the pipe organ is a blue glow hanging about four feet off the ground. It is the Blue Phantom! They run out of the house in fear.
Pete and Jupiter go back to the house once more and see an apparition of a woman. She is dressed in long flowing robes and has a rope tied around her neck. She must be the ghost of the woman who had hung herself to avoid marrying a man she did not marry. They shine a flashlight light on her and she vanishes. In her place is a mirror. This is an interesting discovery as behind it is a door that leads to dark passageway. Jupiter soon comes to the conclusion that Terror Castle is indeed haunted but not by a ghost—it is haunted by a man who is very much alive. They boys get caught off guard by two men “dressed in the flowing burnooses of Arabs.”
The boys are thrown into a dungeon cell. The gypsy appears to Jupiter and tells him that he should have heeded her warning and that they are smuggling valuables from the Orient, mostly pearls, and use the old castle as their headquarters. After a while, Bob and the chauffer decide to go into the house looking for Pete and Jupiter. They rescue the boys. Jupiter takes them to Jonathan’s house where the whole secret comes out—Jonathan is Stephen! Back when he started his movie career his shyness and his lisp made it very difficult to handle business affairs properly. He hated talking to people and couldn't argue for his rights. So he decided to create the character of Jonathan to be his business manager. The manner in which Jonathan talked hid his lisp and he also could look menacing so he had no difficulty dealing with anyone. Since no one wanted to buy the house from the bank, Stephen thought he would have enough time to try to save up money to buy it himself.
The boys tell Reginald about what Steven’s plans are. First, he will reappear as the long-lost movie star and move back into the castle. This news will appear in many stories in the newspapers. He will then open the castle to the public for an admission fee and show his old (thought to be lost) horror movies in his private projection room. Meanwhile, Reginald has some information that might be of interest to the boys. One of his associates, Hector Sebastian, happens to be writing a script for mystery film. A friend of his lost his parrot and the police have been no help. He wonders if maybe the boys could help. Of course there is one little thing unusual about this case—the parrot stutters.
Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research
One of the most interesting things about this series doesn’t even have anything to do with the actual series itself. It has to do with its titling. This series of 43 books is one of the most expensive series to collect. You can see one original hardcover with a dust jacket go for $75 on eBay while a hodgepodge hardcover and softcover reprint collection of 13 titles at most go for $400+ on eBay. This series is what I like to call the most illogical of the expensive series books to collect. The only reason why they go for such exorbitant prices is because the author, Robert Arthur, thought that putting Alfred Hitchcock’s name on the front cover would get readers to gravitate toward the series. Even though they were later reprinted sans Hitchcock’s name, most people try to sell the books as “Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators” and get tons of money from the Hitchcock element alone. It’s crazy. I was luckily able to get a nearly complete collection of the paperback run (I wanted the uniformity) for $157 from a Canadian fellow. That right there was the cost of buying two hardcovers! This has been my most expensive addition to my series book collection but was well worth it in my opinion because of how hard it is to find these books at a decent price.
The Three Investigators is mostly filled with physical descriptions. Bob Andrews is small and wiry, is the nerd among the boys, and has an adventurous spirit. Pete Crenshaw is tall and muscular and is the most athletic of the three. Jupiter is well, fat, thought the narrator acknowledges that he will be nice and call him stocky instead. As a small child, Jupiter appeared in a television series called the Wee Rogues playing the unfortunate role of Baby Fatso. He was reputed to have been so precocious and adorable that he made millions laugh and this has left him with a deep aversion to being ridiculed. In order to have himself taken seriously as he got older, he studied furiously. From the time he could read, he studied everything available to him.
Bob has a part-time job at the library and his mother is described as brown-haired and slender. Jupiter lives with his aunt and uncle. His Aunt Mathilda is described as “a large woman, who really ran the business. She had a big heart, and was endlessly good-natured, but when she saw a boy around she had only one idea: put him to work!” They employ Hans and Konrad, two Bavarians, each about 6'4” and very blonde. The boys’ nemesis is Skinny Norris. He is described as a tall, thin youth with a long nose. Skinner thinks that he is super intelligent and special because can drive his own car. However, most of the boys and girls in town ignore him. His usual followers tag around because of his liberal spending and the parties he gives. Jonathan Rex is a very tall, bald man with ferocious looking eyes and a long, ugly scar on his neck.
Lastly, another interesting description is off the Rolls Royce which almost takes on a role of a character itself. It is described as being a antique vintage model “ with huge headlights like snare drums and a tremendously long hood. The body was square and boxlike. But all the trimmings—even the bumpers—were gold plated.” The black body shone which such a deep luster it was almost a mirror. “The Rolls-Royce is the most expensive regular production model car in the world. This one was originally built for rich Arabian Sheik for luxurious tastes.”
Fancy for a time period when automobiles where just now becoming common household items.