The Attraction of T3I

What made The Three Investigators such a likable series among its fans? Almost every reader has their opinions, but below are some of my personal observations about what kept drawing me back to the stories time and again.

The Alfred Hitchcock Connection
The adventures of the Three Investigators were unique in that they had a real-life mentor with a national and international reputation already. Alfred Hitchcock was widely known for suspense and storytelling in his movies and other books; so a built-in audience of fans was just waiting for something else to read.

One added bonus of having Hitchcock as a mentor was that it gave a good opportunity for the authors to tie up loose ends at the end of each story in a way that did not seem too out of place. In many mystery stories, the resolution at the end of the story can be awkward because all the clues have to be explained, and their relevance to the solution has to be justified. It can be quite a challenge. By giving the boys an opportunity to talk to Hitchcock, Robert Arthur set up an excellent vehicle to end each story with all the information we readers needed to understand how things were pieced together.

Excellent personality distinctions among Jupe, Pete, and Bob
As discussed in the characters section, Robert Arthur designed the characters of the Three Investigators to have a common interest in puzzle-solving, but then he gave them each unique personalities that made them readily distinguishable from each other. This made the characters more memorable, and I find that it is easier for me to remember plot lines and even character lines from the earlier books because of these distinctions.

In the later books, one of the weaknesses was that it was no longer easy to distinguish among the boys. Jupiter always solved the mystery, of course, but Bob and Pete blended together more often than not so that it almost did not matter which character was in a particular scene.

Some of the funniest moments in the series occur in the early books when Pete and Jupe would go back and forth at each other (in jest) about whether there was danger involved in a particular action. Jupiter would be ready to charge ahead while Pete was worried about ghosts or werewolves or whatever particular danger might be lurking. Bob was game to try to solve the mystery too, but he was also more cautious than Jupiter though not usually as fearful as Pete.

Then, too, there is the creative side of Jupiter Jones, who is able to take junk from the salvage yard and turn it into equipment that every well-prepared detective should have. I for one never grew tired of watching Jupe come up with some new invention that was needed to solve a case, from the See-All and walkie-talkies in "Whispering Mummy" to the metal detector in "Fiery Eye" to the special non-washable ointment in "Invisible Dog."

Elements that kids love (secret hideouts, secret rooms, tunnels, etc.)
Robert Arthur knew what kids liked, and he tried to deliver it. What kid hasn't dreamed of their own hideout where they could go to escape the adult-filled world? What kid doesn't like the idea of tunnels, secret doors, and gadgets that give them an edge over their friends? Robert Arthur wove all these elements into his stories, and I believe that was one reason why Headquarters for the Three Investigators was such an integral part of his stories. In two of the Arthur stories, the boys were away from the Salvage Yard ("Skeleton Island" and "Silver Spider"), yet Robert Arthur tried to keep the readers interested by introducing caves at Skeleton Island and the underground sewers (tunnels) in Varania.

The emphasis on these elements continued for a few stories after his death, but it's obvious that as the series wore on, these elements gradually moved out of the picture. Headquarters was an occasional stopping place in later stories and sometimes there was no mention whatever of the place. The absence of these elements made the Investigators seem more like the common teen detectives instead of the unique characters that they were.

Good suspense and storytelling
As discussed in the authors section, Robert Arthur in particular was skilled at crafting a story. He had a strong ability to set up a scene so that the events seemed to flow naturally, and his descriptions of places and events were unparalleled.

Mary Carey and William Arden also had their strong stories in which they were especially successful in laying out a strong storyline. William Arden's work in "Phantom Lake" is excellent, giving the reader a strong sense of being in the story, feeling the December weather, and seeing the events unfold. Mary Carey also shined in stories such as "Invisible Dog," where it is easy for the reader to lose themselves in the story as they're reading the chapters.

Generally, the better stories were those that involved fewer plot points and plenty of detail. In all of the excellent examples listed, one day (or night) in the investigation could take several chapters to complete, giving ample time for the reader to understand what was happening while the author built up to the climax of the mystery. A good example of this is "Vanishing Treasure" where the night of captivity for Jupe and Pete takes almost a third of the book. In contrast, those stories where so much time elapsed in only a couple of pages resulted in losing the readers, and the stories weren't as enjoyable.

Of course, strong depictions of the villains helped as well. One of the best "villains" in the stories is Huganay/Hugenay, who appears in both "Stuttering Parrot" and "Screaming Clock." He's the kind of criminal that is known to be dangerous but is so interesting at the same time that the reader almost applauds when he escapes at the end of "Screaming Clock."

Clever mysteries with good thought processes
The authors of The Three Investigators stories usually tried to write the stories (like any good mystery writer) so that the clues were present throughout the story for the reader to take part in the mystery. Probably the most rewarding stories were those where many clues are revealed at the beginning of the story in a message and then the boys would spend the majority of the book trying to make sense of them (e.g., "Stuttering Parrot," "Fiery Eye," "Dead Man's Riddle"). By the end of the book, the reader has mulled over the secret message quite a bit and has a lot of excitement about finally seeing the solution.

Good illustrations that complement the text
In many of the books, the role of the illustrators was almost as important as that of the authors because the two worked together to combine the description of events with the internal illustrations to convey a particular visual image to the reader. At the present, it is rare to find a mystery series that has solid storytelling with a flair for description coupled with high-quality illustrations to aid in the visualization process. In its heyday, the Three Investigators had both. Terror Castle would not have seemed nearly as spooky without Harry Kane's illustrations (reading the revised keyhole edition proves that to me), and Monster Mountain would not have felt so wide and natural without the excellent artwork of Jack Hearne.