With a new school year about to start, and Peter F. Hamilton’s 1,152-page epic Pandora’s Star (2004) crushing the peak of Mount TBR, I’m going to take a break from blogging in September. But here’s one last trip with Jupe, Pete, and Bob before I go.
This, the ninth Three Investigators title and the penultimate one to be written by series creator Robert Arthur, displays the full confidence of hokey invention that Arthur has demonstrated with increasing ability since fifth title The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure (1966). Each of these cases has demonstrated a particular genius with how to build an interesting investigation out of something uncommon — parrots speaking famous quotations, mysterious summonses from foreign princes, etc. — but the utilisation of the eponymous screaming clock is possibly the most inventive yet. And, best of all, it doesn’t need to be dressed up in the finery of strange locations donned by previous books The Mystery of the Green Ghost (1965) and The Mystery of the Silver Spider (1967) to varying degrees of success. What unfurls here is compelling, and more than good, enough to occur on the humdrum streets of Rocky Beach, CA.
Wherefore a screaming clock?, you wish to know? Well, therein lies the mystery. Jupe has the clock on line 1, and the mystery is simply why someone would go the effort of making a clock whose alarm was a blood-curdling scream. Though Jupe puts forth an early theory that would have made perfect fodder for the sort of thing Robert Eustace and L.T. Meade were writing seventy years earlier:
“Suppose you wanted to frighten someone badly. Perhaps even scare them to death. So you slipped this clock into their bedroom in place of their regular clock, and the next morning when the alarm went off a fatal heart attack followed. That would certainly be a clever murder plot.”
In the grand tradition of the author telling you, the reader, what a solution could be so you know it’s not that, things here turn out to be far more complex. And when a note that was attached to the clock turns up bearing an obscure hint to some darker — or at least deeper — purpose the boys are off on the hunt for reasons.
From here you’re best discovering the plot on your own, though Arthur reliably gives us another Young Man of the Week to accompany the boys on their quest, as Harry Smith and the very unusual room in the house his mother ‘keeps’ add a layer of intrigue and complication that would not have been previously expected. Two seemingly unrelated issues, shall we say, converge where the screaming clock is concerned, and it’s taken as given the the untangling of one mystery shall provide the key to the other. And in this regard Arthur does an excellent job of tying up threads and offering explanations for the way things are done — since, as is suggested in the narrative, the seriousness of the problem would doubtless simply warrant a quick letter to the police rather than a modified electric alarm clock and an cryptic note that could be deciphered by one, hospital-bound man. Rest assured that, while we once again have a ‘Hitchcock’-penned afterword to fill in a few blanks, all such considerations will be accounted for.
In a change of pace to the out-and-out romp of preceding title …Silver Spider, this case represents a problem investigation, too. The tortuous ends the Three Investigators must go to here in invoking inventive chicanery makes it an especially pleasing experience: a ‘phone company’ ruse that has (unfortunately) now passed into obsolescence, the use of bilingual awareness to link two seemingly unrelated people, even having had to pay attention to information provided earlier once it turns out that everything has ended up as an impasse…there’s a lovely rich seam of intelligent reasoning to add a cerebral appeal in the manner of the best of these books, even if occasionally the self-adopted sobriquet of ‘Investigators’ seems like something of a misnomer (but then ‘The Three Runners Around Hoping for the Best’ wouldn’t exactly inspire confidence, and the business cards would be huge…).
Continuing what seems to be a very slightly more mature tone over the last couple of books, too, we once again get one or more of the boys in a situation where the physical harm risked to them seems a little more elevated than your standard juvenile mystery should attempt — these days, I doubt you’ll find many commissioning editors sitting around going “What mysteries for 10 year-olds need is more scenes of a boy about to be tortured by a man with a blow-torch…” and, honestly, that might be fiction’s loss (don’t worry, even I can’t tell how serious I’m being here). But Arthur has been exceptionally good at not talking down to this audience throughout, confronting such issues as historical relics stolen from their country of origin in The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy (1965), meritocracy and the monarchy in the aforementioned …Silver Spider, and parental responsibility and accountability in The Secret of Skeleton Island (1966). Here, he even casually throws in an attempted South American coup as a key piece of backstory…because why not?!
We also get Alfred Hitchcock himself as something slightly more than simply the means by which plots are started, providing a key piece of the puzzle while also filling in a lovely piece of history that would have been fading from memory at the time of writing and almost entirely unknown to any youngsters fortunate to be reading these books today.
Arthur, though, saves the best for last, with a cameo from a character in an earlier title that is of such undiluted fun I shall not ruin it here. When the going gets tough, and when the case finally reaches its conclusion, there’s a wonderful scene where Police Chief Reynolds wishes to bring the full force of the law down upon this person, and it’s handled with such staggeringly deft aplomb that I had to marvel a little at the brilliance of what Arthur cooks up and serves back. On the back of this, and having recently read some of his short fiction, I’m starting to think that he could well be an under-appreciated genius in the plotting stakes, and my eagerness to track down his Mystery and More Mystery (1966) collection only intensifies with each story of his I encounter. Man, I sure do hope that this series, at least, continues to show the creativity and invention of Arthur when the likes of Dennis Lynds (writing as William Arden) and M.V. Carey take it over.
And so another excellent title from this highly enjoyable series, which has really hit its stride in this last handful of books. Arthur would get just one more case with the boys — The Mystery of the Talking Skull (1969) — before his untimely death at the too-young age of 59. It’s difficult not to feel a little sad at the prospect of the loss of such a talent, but at least he has these wonderful books to be remembered by. It’s sad that they’re possibly a little too dated to really fire the imaginations of young people today, but, for those of us who enjoy such things, these really are a treasure trove of wonderful writing with so much to offer even the interested adults among us. In fact, possibly especially the interested adults among us, since we can close each one with a happy sigh, sit back and lament like all old bores that They Don’t Write ‘Em Like This Any More…
As I continue to work through this series, all past and future reviews of the Three Investigators books can be found here.
Right, I’m off on hiatus for a month, so I’ll see you back here in October for, among other things, a discussion with Brad about Postern of Fate (1973) by Agatha Christie, and a review of Paul Halter’s new novel The Gold Watch (2019). Until then, adieu, adieu…
43 thoughts on “#573: Lamentings Heard i’th’Air in The Mystery of the Screaming Clock (1968) by Robert Arthur”
This is one entry in the series I remember next to nothing about, which I imagine will be more of a reflection on how or when I read it than on the quality of the book itself.
September is always a difficult month, isn’t it? Don’t get too bogged down or stressed and the routine will kick in soon enough again.
I agree, the time and place of reading book has such an impact on what you remember about it. I’m pleased I’ve got this blog as a sort of record of my own reading, because it enables me to put in my reviews certain details that I’m confident will help jiggle a memory back to life if ever I need to go back and jump-start my memory about something (which, as we know, can be a problem for me). This was, in part, why I used to keep such detailed reading records; now, meh, I’m happy to forget something — it’s either not good enough to warrant remembering, or good enough to warrant reading a second (or third or fourth…) time 🙂
I’m hoping September will be relatively calm, but you never know. Plus, I really want to read this Hamilton book, and I’m not going to be able to do that and read and write enough to keep the blog going at the same time. I’m sure a month off will find me enervated and raring to go with more of my shenanigans.
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Hope you have a good month ahead! 😊 I’m looking forward to the resumption of business on the blog. I confess detailed analysis of “Postern” isn’t exactly appealing to me – much as I enjoy your blog as well as Brad’s writing. 😅 A review on “Gold Watch” would definitely be welcomed!
Had hoped to get Gold Watch read and reviewed before the hiatus…but not to be, for various reasons. Perhaps it will be the first review upon my return, eh?
And, hey, c’mon — if anyone can make Postern of Fate interesting it’s Brad. I may just stand back and give him free rein to do whatever he likes…
If you’re interested, my review of The Gold Watch is coming next month. I have already read it, but couldn’t cram my review into this month.
“I may just stand back and give him free rein to do whatever he likes…”
Good! I want Brad to give a month-long lecture on your blog about early period Ellery Queen.
I’m very interested in your thoughts, but I may have to leave off them until I’ve read the book myself. So if I’m not around to comment on them quickly, please just be patient with me!
Also, I have another modern impossible crime novel that I don’t think you’ve read, so expect that in October, too. Man, October’s already sounding like a busy month; I sure do hope there’s time to fit all this stuff in…
It’s funny – this is one of the stories I have a somewhat better memory of. As you and Colin say, context is probably everything. I remember reading it on a rainy day while on holiday in Preston. Remember it being very good too!
It’s difficult not to enjoy, like the best of these (well, like the series as a whole, let’s be honest). I’m on a bit of a run with my personal fixations — two months of self-published stuff in close succession, three Three Investigators books in as many months — and wondering just how I’m going to maintain the rotation of everything else I’ve setup here. Haven’t done any Minor Felonies in a while, need to resurrect the Criminous Alphabet…hell, the upcoming month off might just be spent plotting out the next five years.
I jest, of course. It’ll be the next eight years.
Lol – I love setting up plans. The difference is I very rarely if ever actually follow through on them!
I’m so bad at following through on my plans, I have to actively plan not to follow through on them just to create a paradox that threat a to engulf the universe. That’s the level of motivation I need sometimes 😁
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“Man, I sure do hope that this series, at least, continues to show the creativity and invention of Arthur when the likes of Dennis Lynds (writing as William Arden) and M.V. Carey take it over.”
Don’t worry. Arden took good care of Jupe, Pete and Bob. The Mystery of the Shrinking House, The Mystery of the Dead Man’s Riddle and The Mystery of the Headless Horse are as good as any of Arthur’s original novels. Carey also wrote the boys quite well, but they’re obviously a little older in her books and she has the tendency to incorporate the supernatural (e.g. The Mystery of the Invisible Dog). The Mystery of Death Trap Mine was pretty good though with the boys coming across an actual body in a mine shaft.
Anyway, thanks for reminding me that I need to return to this series and enjoy your time away from the blog.
Arden/Lynds was Arthur’s own preference to continue the series, correct? So it’s to be hoped that there was something about him or his writing that inspired confidence he’d do a good job. It would be weird, and doubtless disconnecting for the fans, if someone were to take over and spin off in a very different direction either plot- or quality-wise.
The transition is something I’m excited about and sort of dreading at the same time; because we can all think of a continuation that’s been highly-praised in certain circles and which we individually despise… 😀
Arthur handpicked Lynds as his successor and have always wondered if his pseudonym, “William Arden,” was an acknowledgment that Lynds was the “warden” of Jupe, Pete and Bob. This would make Arthur one of the few writers who ensured his literary children were left provided for.
“It would be weird, and doubtless disconnecting for the fans, if someone were to take over and spin off in a very different direction either plot- or quality-wise.”
I’ve mostly read the novels written by Arthur and Arden, but, character-wise, the series seems pretty consistent and suspect Arthur may have left a writer’s bible for the series. Plot-wise, the first thirty novels, up until the 1979 The Secret of Shark Reef, are widely praised, but better read, life-long fans of the series are less thrilled with the last thirteen novels from the 1980s. So we still have more than enough good material to burn through.
Don’t worry about Arden. He was more than worthy of carrying on the series and wrote some of the best books in the series (see my previous comment). However, I can make no guarantees that you’ll like Carey, but would like to read your take on The Mystery of the Invisible Dog. It’s a very different kind of Three Investigators story.
If you refer to the “Crimebusters” series, then yes, they were nowhere near as good as the previous series. As for the novels that were published after Hitchcock passed away and therefore introduced fictional writer Hector Sebastian in Hitchcock’s role, I think they’re a mixed bag, but there are still quite a few stories that are definitely up to par.
There were three main writers in this series, Arthur and Arden who were fairly similar in their writing style, and Carey who often featured supernatural themes and vacillated between taking them seriously and allowing them to stand unchallenged.
There are also two minor writers, Nick West, who wrote two novels that JJ should be reaching fairly soon in his reading, and Marc Brandels, who wrote three novels during the Hector Sebastian years. West’s two offerings are all right, though the first one is almost a carbon copy of a previous 3I novel. The second is more original. Brandels is also a bit up and down. In his case, I think he managed to insert interesting things into his novels but didn’t manage to maintain that quality for an entire novel in any of his offerings.
(The Crimebusters series introduced a number of other authors, including the wife of Dennis Lynds/William Arden.)
I…w…this is the first I’ve heard of the Crimebusters series — I had no idea there’d been a Nancy Drewish reboot, though I guess I shouldn’t be surprised (anyone equally in the dark can follow this link for information).
So did the German language continuations of the series carry on from the Crimbusters or from the original series? Anyone? I’m in no way committing to reading these, but it’s sort of fascinating to find that there are more books in English after The Mystery of the Cranky Collector (1987), which I’d assumed was where everything wrapped up. Man, the history of this collection just gets richer and denser the more you look into it.
I haven’t read any of the German continuation stories, but according to Wikipedia they seem to take both series into their continuity. Whether the boys are younger or older teens in them, I don’t know.
Wow, that sounds…confusing. I’ll admit to being very curious how the authors managed to hop around the inevitable inconsistencies between the two distinct, yet linked, series that had preceded the endeavour.
But, well, they obviously did a good job, because as I understand it the German originals run into quite a large number of books.
I was referring to the 1980s novels from the original series, but I’m aware of the Crimebuster series and have no interest in reading them. From what I read, the reboot completely destroyed the characters, particular Bob, who was transformed from a bookish teen to the cool, handsome kid who gets all the girls and most of the plots just sound weird – like they were trying too hard to bring them into the modern era. There are stories that involve computer viruses, CD piracy, paintball and one of the books even creates conflict between the three friends. So not really inviting, if you’re still in the middle of Arthur and Arden.
You might like to know there’s another spin-off, the Find-Your-Fate series, which are choose-your-own-adventure novels. Honestly, The Case of the Weeping Coffin actually sounds like it could be fun.
Well, since The Mystery of the Invisible Dog is #23 in the series, you have a mere 14 books to wait to find out what I think of it…so, sometime in 2023, I’d estimate…
always wondered if his pseudonym, “William Arden,” was an acknowledgment that Lynds was the “warden” of Jupe, Pete and Bob.
I love this; I do so hope it was intended in this way.
I just had a snoop around the internet, and it seems that your theory on “William Arden = warden” is wrong, unfortunately.
From an interview with Dennis Lynds:
MM: You wrote under the pseudonym “William Arden” just to not confuse your adult audience: Or was that a restriction imposed on you by Random House?
DL: Well, a certain amount of hubris, I’m afraid (Lynds was going to be for my ‘literary’ work), plus suggestions from my publishers. You see, Arden was one of my many pseudonyms at the time. At one point I had two series going with Dodd, Mead, two with Random House, and one with Bobbs-Merrill. William Arden was my second pseudonym (the first was Michael Collins). We were living in Montecito at the time and the Arden milk truck came by every day. So, okay, I decided to be “William Arden” for my second Dodd, Mead adult series. And that was about the time Bob Arthur approached me to do TTI, so I decided to use Arden on that series too.
The whole interview is here: https://www.threeinvestigatorsbooks.com/Lynds1.html. Do read it, it’s quite interesting.
See, Christian, this is why you don’t get invited to the parties we throw. Man, what a buzzkill.
Me and my facts are having so much more fun than you and your Fake News party! 😉
And in that spirit, that interview above also confirms that Lynds/Arden was hardly “hand-picked” as successor by Robert Arthur. He just asked his contacts if they knew someone who was available and Lynds was suggested. A tantalizing fact is that it could have been Bill Pronzini instead, since he belonged to the same stable of authors!
As someone who is no fan of Pronzini, I can only say “Thank heavens!”
Listen to all of you prattling on about The Gold Watch as if, up till now, it has escaped everyone’s notice – even though I, who henceforth will be referred to as “Mr. What-Am-I-Chopped-Liver?”, posted a review within a week after its publication. A review, I’ll have you know, that Mr. Pugmire HIMSELF added to the LRI site. But don’t even think about it; I’ll just sit here in the dark.
Hardly a day goes by that I don’t contemplate writing a mystery for young adults, something that celebrates the foundations of GAD writing but might be a little more relevant to young people. It’s the latter aspect that trips me up, and if I’m going to be honest, I just want to write old-fashioned mysteries. But the Three Investigators, along with the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, we’re hardly “relevant” to modern readers: they were simply corking good adventures. Hmm . . . so if I drop the search for relevance and write the kind of book I myself would want to read, one of these days you might all be discussing MY title . . .
JJ, I hope the month off brings you much pleasure. Having finished the third week of the new school year myself, I haven’t been able to read much, let alone write. But I did take a “genre break”! I’m two thirds through the second book of a YA dystopian trilogy and am thoroughly enjoying the world-building and fast-paced plot. Best of all, the third book comes out in a month or so; no Winds of Winter travesty for me! Enjoy your 11,394+ page sci fi excursion. See you on the other side. I’ve already pegged sixteen similarities between Postern if Fate and The American Gun Mystery for us to discuss. 🙂
These days, it seems “YA dystopian trilogy” is a pleonasm — save yourself a few keystrokes next time 😆
We all harbour the ream of writing a detective novel, don’t we? Steve and I have written the introductions to some…now it’s up to someone else to take the next step, I feel.
The idea was floated a while back of a sort of Bloggers’ Floating Admiral, IIRC. That might be fun. Or absolutely awful. There’s no middle ground there in my mind.
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Since many of those “Floating Admirals” sold on the basis of authorial fandom and not because of much inherent quality, I venture to say that any attempt at this sort of thing would be read by six people. (My mother would only read my chapter.)
But it would sure be fun!
Are you implying that we’re not, like, super-famous with loads of fans? Would I have to resort to my pen name of Leonardo D. Caprio to generate enough interest, then?
Hope the hiatus goes well. I cheated and crammed six books in at the end of August that I didn’t get round to reviewing, so that’ll keep the blog ticking over until the new term clicks in.
I’ve always been rather partial to the Carey titles – they were the ones that I remembered as being whodunits rather than adventures, but I’ll honest, the memory has cheated when I’ve dived back in. Which reminds me, I must dive back in soon.
Good forward planning — I wish I was that organised. I seem to vaccilate wildly between “Oh, man, I’m writing this now and it won’t get posted for another four weeks” and “Holy crap I need to finish this and get it posted immediately” — my last five or six posts have all fallen into the latter category, where I’ve finished typing and posted the very instant (hence all the typos I keep finding, because there was not time to proofread anything… 😂).
One of these days I’ll get the balance right. And, hey, coming back in October means I’m right in time for Brian Flynn, eh? Very excited about that.
Enjoy your time away from the blog.
Glad to see that you continue to enjoy these 3I stories. I agree with you that Arthur was hitting his stride with these stories, and you can take comfort in the fact that his final 3I story is also a great one.
Heeey, good news. It does feel like he’s leaving behind a good blueprint for the sorts of books he wants these to be. I’d love to know if he passed any future plot ideas onto Arden or Carey — not that it matters, of course, but given how secure Arthur has become in the writing of these now, you can’t help but wonder what he would have done with the series if he’d had more time.
JJ — I can’t speak for anyone else, but I thought Mystery and More Mystery to be quite a worthwhile addition to my personal library. I didn’t get to it through the Three Investigators (though I did read them — in French — in grade school), but rather through Mr. Arthur’s editorship of Alfred Hitchcock’s Haunted Houseful… then cast my net farther and farther, becoming in the process, if not an Arthur completist, then certainly a fervent admirer of his writing and talent as an anthologist. Thanks for the personable, insightful reviews!
Good to know — given that I really enjoyed the two non-3I stories of Arthur’s that I read the other month, I had become fairly convinced it would be a good collection…all I need to do now is find a copy (or, y’know, someone could reprint it 😬).
I was surprised to see just how much stuff he’d written, too, and I commend your work in tracking down as much of it as you can. Perhaps at some future point you could do for Arthur as Richard Simms had done for Arthur Porges and release his stories in a series of themed collections. Because if no-one else is willing to, someone really should.
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JJ– speaking of Mr. Arthur, I recently wrote a post in praise of one of his lesser-known anthologies from the Sixties, “A Red Skelton in Your Closet”. Check it out if you have a minute or two: https://whosouttherecomics.wordpress.com/2019/09/30/halloween-countdown-iii-day-1/
Thanks for this — the range of stuff Arthur was involved in is quite staggering. He was the James Patterson of his day, except that a) he wrote superbly and b) everyone seems to look back on Arthur’s work with genuine enthusiasm 🙂
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If it hasn’t been mentioned here, Artur himself was a writer for radio (like “The Mysterious Traveler”) and knew his stuff when the book delves into radio. I’ve been an Arthur fan since the early 70s when I stumbled across “Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly gallery” in the school library. Ghost-edited” (ha-ha) by Arthur it includes three of his stories. I got the first two Three Investigators books about 1971 for Christmas and still have them. I probably became a writer myself due to the early influence or Mr. Arthur and other excellent storytellers. And now I am 59 myself…
Given that I have only one Arthur T3I book left, I’m hoping to dig out his other work — including some of the Alfred Hitchcock stuff he wrote. The couple of short stories of his that I’ve read were very enjoyable, and I’m always on the lookout for his Mystery and More Mystery collection. If it means I have the opportunity to veer into his radio work, so be it…!
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Some of his fantasy/horror stories are in “Ghosts and More Ghosts.” He edited “Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery” which includes his funny story “The Haunted Trailer” which he didn’t include in “Ghosts and…” A few years ago there was talk about a new collection of Arthur’s mysteries, but the editors and the Arthur estate could not agree on a price! There are plenty of Arthur’s uncollected mysteries in the various anthologies he edited for Hitchcock, and these are inexpensive and easy to find! (Try Amazon.)
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Pingback: The Mystery of the Screaming Clock by Robert Arthur – Mysteries Ahoy!
When I started Screaming Clock I realized I rememered more of it than I did some of the others. It’s a nice turn back to a more investigatory (is that a word?) plot with good clues and puzzles. I agree with you that all the strands of the mystery come together in a very satisfying way, reminiscent of the solution of Terror Castle for me.
Though this story stays local, I didn’t remark Skinny Norris’ absence until after I finished the book.
I love this one. It’s a toss-up between this and Vanishing Treasure for my favourite Arthur title in this series.
I do not miss Skinny Norris. May he be forever banished to the Shadow Realm.
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Skinny and his friends being scared out of their wits and running pell-mell from Terror Castle in the first book was amusing. But since that joke can’t just be repeated in every book, there really was nothing worthwhile to be done with the character except to serve as wrench thrown into the works. There are much more interesting ways to accomplish that.
Agreed; it’s far more interesting seeing the Investigators not being freaked out by the sorts of things that would have sent them scurrying in earlier books. It doesn’t always work — that they’d be spooked by the dragon in The Mystery of the Coughing Dragon is a stretch too far — but getting even a vague sense of them growing is far more interesting that jamming in Skinny Norris falling for simple tricks every single time.
Thankfully I’ve not seen him for a while, so even if he does reappear I’m hopefully it won’t be as a series regular.
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