Saturday, 10 December 2016

The Mystery of the Moaning Cave, 1969

“Aaaaaahhhh—ooooooooooooo—00000—oo!”

The eerie moan rolled out across the valley in the twilight.


My copy of the book.
These are the best opening lines I have read so far this year. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought the lines belonged to a horror or fantasy novel.

The Mystery of the Moaning Cave is the tenth book in the original 43-book ‘The Three Investigators’ series and one unpublished title. Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews—who operate out of a house trailer inside a salvage yard in Rocky Beach, California—come to the Crooked Y Ranch on a vacation. The ranch, owned by the Daltons and located near Santa Carla along the Pacific coast, is straight out of a Western novel minus the crooked foreman and rustlers.

Instead of enjoying their holiday and working as ranch hands, the plucky investigators find themselves in the thick of an exciting adventure-mystery—investigating the source of a moaning sound coming from one of the caves in the belly of Devil Mountain.

The sheriff has made no headway in the case. Locals believe the eerie sounds are coming from legendary bandit El Diablo’s cave. Worse still, the people, including a historian and friend of the Daltons, think that Diablo must be alive. Never mind if that makes him almost a hundred years old.

Jupiter, Pete and Bob explore Devil Mountain in Moaning Valley with little more than flashlights and get more than they’d bargained for. The boys lose their way inside dark caverns, get ambushed and walled in, meet two shady old prospectors and a mysterious stranger with an eye patch, stumble upon a secret naval exercise, and finally confront the bandit himself.

So, what—or who—is making the moaning sound? Is it man-made or is it a natural occurrence? Or is it linked to the old diamond mine inside the mountain? 

The Mystery of the Moaning Cave is packed with suspense and surprises, and some tense moments. Although targeted at young readers, it can sit well alongside adult crime and mystery fiction. While the characters of the three investigators are amateurish, in the mould of Frank and Joe Hardy, they look for clues, take undue risks, and pursue the case like seasoned detectives. Jupiter’s “logical mind,” Pete’s “athletic skills,” and Bob’s “research and data keeping” eventually helps them solve the mystery of the Moaning Valley.

In terms of style and story, there are obvious parallels with the Hardy Boys, which I enjoyed reading in school. The book held up for me even after more than three decades because I didn’t think of it as YA fiction. I read it like I’d any other mystery. There is often a thin line between YA fiction and adult fiction.


Source: Wikipedia
About the author

My Armada (later Fontana Books) edition of the tenth novel says The Mystery of the Moaning Cave was written by Robert Arthur Jr (1909-1969), who created the series and wrote many of the early stories. But Arthur wrote only books 1 to 9 and 11. So there is some confusion. He believed using a celebrity name, like Hitchcock, would help popularise the series among young adults. Most of the novels involve baffling events and strange phenomena.

According to Wikipedia, Arthur wrote crime and speculative fiction, and was also known for his work with The Mysterious Traveler, a radio series (and a magazine and a comic book). He was honoured twice by the Mystery Writers of America with an Edgar Award for Best Radio Drama. He also wrote scripts for television, such as The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock's TV show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Arthur has also written short stories and has been credited with editing collections attributed to Alfred Hitchcock.

20 comments:

  1. How interesting, Prashant. I wondered if these books were good for adults too. I have #11, The Mystery of the Talking Skull, and I will have to try it out.

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    1. Tracy, I thought I'd have outgrown these books. Apparently not, for I enjoyed it. Last year, I read a Hardy Boys and it held up as well.

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  2. I haven't heard of this series. Maybe I saw a couple volumes in my teens, but I doubt that I will be reading any of them.

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    1. Oscar, I doubt I'll read another one so soon. I read this for old times. I grew up on a diet of The Three Investigators, the Hardy Boys, and Just Williams.

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  3. Prashant – I don’t know this series, but its author, Robert Arthur, Jr., lived what today sounds like a romanticized ideal of a writer’s life: making his home in 1930s Greenwich Village and knocking out stories for the pulps.

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    1. Elgin, The Three Investigators, along with the Hardy Boys, were immensely popular in my school days. My friends and I would take turns reading each title we borrowed from the private circulating library. I'm not familiar with Robert Arthur's other writing. However, I intend to look up his short stories.

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  4. I loved the Three Investigator series, finding it better than the more poplar Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I still remember the mysteries of the Terror Castle and Screaming Clock. Skeleton Island was a great favourite too. After reading your post I feel like revisiting them.

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    1. Neer, some of my friends preferred The Three Investigators to the Hardy Boys. Although I was in the Frank and Joe Hardy camp, I preferred the narrative style of the Investigators. The stories were tightly written.

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  5. After The Hardy Boys, I began reading this series and enjoyed it quite a bit as a teen. Nice backstory here I didn't know. Thanks, Prashant.

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    1. Thank you, David. It was a fun read. Unlike Harry Potter, nobody got hurt or died in the YA fiction from our generation.

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  6. Oh, I loved these books as a kid. Such great titles. Our library had more of these than the Hardy Boys so this was my go to YA mystery series.

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    1. Charles, I agree about the titles. However, I read more Hardy Boys than The Three Investigators. I grew up wanting to be a detective.

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  7. What a great beginning to a book, Prashant - you're right about that. And I love it when series appeal to young people, and draw them into reading.

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    1. Margot, thank you. When I look back now, I realise how much this and other YA books shaped my language. They made for such happy reading."

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  8. "My Armada (later Fontana Books) edition of the tenth novel says The Mystery of the Moaning Cave was written by Robert Arthur Jr..."
    This is incorrect. This story was written by William Arden (real name Dennis Lynds)

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    1. Well, Santosh, my edition (pictured above) clearly says, "Text by Robert Arthur." I know he didn't write this adventure, the tenth in the series. Hence, I did not credit him in my review and, in fact, mentioned the discrepancy in my note on the author.

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  9. I used to love these as a kid and I reckon I had the same editions here in the UK - happy days! Thanks Prashant.

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    1. Me too, Sergio, though I was partial to the Hardy Boys and their friends. I read them as a kid too and remember thinking these were the only books around.

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  10. Don't know the books, but I do remember Armada books! And having Hitchcock involved was a good idea, it certainly catches the attention.

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    1. Moira, a celebrity name helped make these YA novels popular. In fact, I remember thinking early on that Hitchcock actually wrote the stories.

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