Saturday, August 15, 2009

Skeleton Island- Two Spins on the Same Title...

"The Secret of Skeleton Island". Sounds creepy, atmospheric, and definitely worth reading. If it was the 1930's and 40's, it could be a great B movie from Universal, or even better, a 15 chapter serial. In reality, it is the title found in not one but two classic children's book series! Both Ken Holt and the Three Investigators solved the secret at Skeleton Island, and did so a mere sixteen years from each other.

In 1949, Ken Holt and Sandy Allen solved the first Skeleton Island secret. The Ken Holt series was published by Grosset and Dunlap and written by Sam and Beryl Epstein using the pen name of Bruce Campbell. "The Secret of Skeleton Island" is the premiere volume in the series, and is full of action and suspense. The Epstein's create a world that will remind one of the film-noir output of Hollywood in the late 40's and early 50's. Crooks are mean and nasty, families are innocent and cohesive, and the good guys relentlessly pursue evil until the bad guys have been brought to justice.

Ken Holt's Skeleton Island is the site of a fancy resort and country club. It got its name because someone once dug up a skeleton presumably of one of the pirates that frequented the tiny island. Ken and Sandy are looking for Ken's missing father, Richard Holt of the Global News Agency. Their journey takes them from Ken's Prep School to the bustling city of New York, and soon enough to exciting adventures on Skeleton Island itself.

I just recently re-read this book, and if you have not read it, do so. It does a great job introducing readers to the new series, and the Epsteins are wonderful writers. The suspenseful, ominous mood prevalent throughout the book is proof of the talent of these two gifted people. Many consider the Ken Holt series the best of the children's book series published. I have read 4 of the 18 books in the series and have never been disappointed. I would go as far as to say that it rivals any adult mystery series currently on the market today. I was fortunate to find a first printing of this book. The inside flap features a synopsis of this and the second title in the series, "The Riddle of the Stone Elephant". The back flap features the first six Rick Brant titles, and the back lists to the 28th title of the Hardy Boys series. Whether you find a first printing, or a reading copy, pick this one up and read it! Classic series book reading at it's best!

Seventeen years later, author Robert Arthur visited a Skeleton Island found in Atlantic Bay located in the southeast coast of the United States. Another pirate hangout, this one also features an abandoned amusement park, and rumors of buried pirate treasure. The Three Investigators series was a book series created by Robert Arthur and published by Random House. Arthur was looking to create a children's series similar to the Hardy Boys, but wanted the series to highlight good writing, something he felt was lacking in other series of the era. The series consists of 43 titles in the original series. Arthur penned ten of the first eleven titles in the series, and achieved his goal of a well written series before his death in May of 1969. Jupiter, Pete and Bob's adventures were the envy of many boy book readers of the 1960's, myself included.

The Three Investigators title rivals the Ken Holt entry when it comes to danger and excitement. It's a roller coaster ride that has one surprising thrill after the other. The element of an abandoned amusement park is an inspired piece of creativity. A phantom ghost is rumored to return periodically to the Merry-Go-Round that was the scene of her untimely demise years before. The carousel comes to life whenever the ghost decides to attempt to finish her deadly ride. The park is being readied for a movie, and Alfred Hitchcock, a recurring character in the original series, sends the boys to solve the mystery so that the film can finish production.

Though lighter in tone than the Holt adventure, this book rivals it's predecessor. Arthur spins a compelling mystery of ghosts, criminals, pirate doubloons and creepy happenings. Danger abounds, and the sinister mood that Arthur creates leaps off of every page. Though you may figure out the secret before the end of the book, you may not know every surprise that the ending brings. Again I was fortunate to find a first printing of this title. The back of the book features the first six titles, listing to itself. In addition, know that the first printing incorrectly lists the first book title as "The Mystery of Terror Castle". The real title? "The Secret of Terror Castle". This is a great read, and the Three Investigators evoke a sense of nostalgia for a time of innocence that makes the whole series worth collecting and reading.

Anyone know of other book series that share similar titles? Are they worth reading as these two are?

1 comment:

  1. Hugh McAlister and John Blaine both wrote books called SEA GOLD. Seth Smolinske already pointed on the Three Investigators yahoo group that the 3I series and the books by Leo Edwards feature titles involving a WHISPERING MUMMY and a STUTTERING PARROT. Off the top of my head I'm not familiar with other shared titles.

    David Baumann