Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Three Investigators Series Summary

I have always heard that the first 30 titles in the Three Investigators series are better than the last 13 titles.  As I began reading the books, I wondered if that was really true.  I knew there was something to it, but sometimes readers react negatively to change, particularly for the people who were reading the books when they were first published.

#29 was the first book published only in a softcover trade edition, so I wondered if that was part of the reason for readers not liking it as much.  #30 was the last book with Alfred Hitchcock.  I know of people who refuse to consider any book past #30 as part of the series since none of them have Alfred Hitchcock in them.  So I wondered if that could be it.

Those feelings don't affect me since I did not read the books when they were new.  Furthermore, I always look past the format at the actual content. I wondered if I would like the books better.  Surely I would like the books.  Surely the books didn't get worse automatically as soon as they switched to softcover only and as soon as Hitchcock disappeared.  Surely not.

I soon learned that they did indeed get worse, although not immediately, at least with respect to the softcover books.  I liked #29 just fine.  It's not the very best but is still a good Three Investigators book.  I found #30 to be boring for most of the book.  #31 caught my interest faster, but the book was very uneven.  It was alternatively good and bad, switching back and forth between good parts and bad parts for the entire book.

I loved #32.  #33 was convoluted and boring at times.  #34 was very boring and the first book that I completely disliked.  So, yes, the books went downhill fast.  They did get better, however, past #34, so the series is still good after #34, although not quite as good as the earlier books.

Here is how I rank the books according to how much I enjoyed reading them.

Very good or outstanding books:  #1-29, 32, 35-38, 40

Not quite as good:  #30, 31, 39, 41, 42, 43

Mediocre or bad:  #33, 34

I want to address the main series authors and how I feel about them.  The core group of Three Investigators collectors considers Robert Arthur the best writer of the series.  My impression is that he is considered the best author by far.  I am not part of the core group of collectors since I only read the books recently, and my opinion does not quite match up with theirs.

I like the books of Robert Arthur, William Arden, and M. V. Carey just about equally.  I think most of the books by all three writers are excellent.  I have to say, though, I like many of the books by Arden and Carey more than I do most of the ones by Arthur.  There, I said it.  That may make some longtime collectors cringe, but that's how I reacted to the books.

The Arthur books are great, and as I mentioned, I like them about as much as the ones by Arden and Carey.  However, once I had read past the Arthur books and had read at least one book by each of Arden and Carey, I always checked the title page to see which of the two had written the book.  That told me what to expect.  I noticed that I felt greater delight when I saw Carey's name, because I really enjoyed the spooky elements of her books.

This means that Carey gets the edge, so I like the Carey books the best by a narrow margin, followed by the Arden books and then the Arthur books.  It's very close between the three.  If I were to rank the authors' books on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give Carey a 10, Arden a 9.5, and Arthur a 9.  All three authors did great, except for those few higher-numbered books that missed the mark.  For those books, I blame the editors since the authors had been great up to that point.

Of course, Arthur created the series; for without him, Arden and Carey would not have written so many great stories for us.  We owe a lot to Robert Arthur.

A small number of books were written by Nick West and Marc Brandel.  I greatly enjoyed those books, but there are not enough of them for me to rank those two authors quite as high as the other three.

I mentioned awhile back that I like this series a lot.  At that time, I stated that this series would end up ranking between third and seventh on my list of favorite series.  Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden always must occupy the first two positions since those are the two that I read as a child.  Judy Bolton used to be third, but Beverly Gray took third place after I read those books.  Beverly Gray has been securely in third place for a decade.

But no longer.  By the time I read #41 in the Three Investigators series, I decided that it would rank third after Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, moving Beverly Gray down to fourth place.  That is significant.

It's amazing that I have ignored this series for 20 years, selling each one that came into my possession.  I never considered reading them.  I didn't think I would like them.  I'm not sure why, except that I tend not to like boys' series books very much.  I like the Hardy Boys books, but not a great deal, primarily because of all the horseplay and boys' type activities.  I enjoyed reading Ken Holt, but the books got on my nerves the further I read.  That's because Ken and Sandy were always getting captured, and their escape was always described in painstaking detail, which was torturous reading for me.  The Ken Holt books are lauded for their realism, but the realism was too much for me.

Since the Three Investigators is a boys' series, I had preconceived ideas that caused me to ignore the books.  After I found a nearly complete set of #1-28 locally in a single purchase, I read the first two books to make sure.  I liked them enough to decide to read the books at a later date.  Reading these books this summer was a special treat.

The Three Investigators series does not read like the typical boys' series.  Early in my reviews, I mentioned that the series is more like Trixie Belden than any other series I have read.  I stand by that opinion.  Trixie Belden is a girls' series, but the Bob-Whites' activities fit both genders.  The same is true of the Three Investigators.  All of their activities could just as easily have been performed by girls.  There are only rare exceptions to this, like when Pete rides his bicycle with both Bob and Jupe perched on the handlebars.  Most girls would not have the strength to carry three people on a bicycle.  Otherwise, the Three Investigators could just as easily have been Trixie, Honey, and Di.  All of their activities would still have been plausible.

These days I try not to assure people that they will like a certain series.  I have noticed that some books that I really like are disliked by others, while books I hate are loved by others.  I didn't find Ken Holt quite as good as everyone promised.  Oh, the books are very good, but they are not strictly to my taste.  So even the best boys' series ever is not one of my favorites.

If you tend to like the same books I do, like a variety of series, or like Trixie Belden, then please consider reading one or two of these books to see whether you would like them.  I can't guarantee you'll like them, but don't make the mistake I did in ignoring the Three Investigators series for 20 years. You never know... the Three Investigators could end up becoming one of your very favorite series, just like what happened to me.

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