The Three Investigators #11: The Mystery of the Talking Skull by Robert Arthur (1969; revised, 1984)
The Three Investigators -- Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw, and Bob Andrews -- are boys living in Rocky Beach, a small town located near Los Angeles. Their headquarters, a small trailer hidden by piles of junk, are in a salvage yard owned by Jupiter's aunt and uncle. (What's cool is that they enter their headquarters though a two-foot wide pipe tunnel which leads to the floor of the trailer. And the trailer contains their investigating equipment.)
The series began as part of Random House's "Alfred Hitchcock" line. Hitchcock would supposedly write a small introduction to each book and would be referenced in the text. As time went on and thirty books in the series were published, Hitchcock was replaced in revised and future editions with Hector Sebastian, mystery author. There were 43 books in the original series, created by Robert Arthur. Arthur, who ghosted edited many of the Hitchcock anthologies (both adult and juvenile) wrote ten books in the series, numbers 1-9 and this book, number 11. Thirteen additional books were written by Dennis Lynds under his "William Arden" pseudonym. Later authors were M. V. Carey and Marc Brandel. The series then morphed into The Crimebusters. (I suppose the marketing department thought this name would resonate better with their YA audience,) There were eleven Crimebusters books, written by "Arden," Brandel, G. H. Stone, William McCay, Peter Legaris, and Megan and H. William Stine. The Three Investigators also appeared in four "Find-Your-Fate" bod-oks, written by the Stines, Carey, and Rose Estes. Also published was The Three Investigators' Book of Mystery Puzzles, written by Barbara McCall. In addition to all the above, a 44th book in the original series and two additional books in the Crimebusters series were evidently written and never published. At least two books were made into movies, but a planned television show apparently never made it off the ground.
And then there's the fan fiction. Oh, yeah, These three kids have their own fan sites and newsletters and whatnot. There are a lot of Three Investigator aficionados out there.
What about the talking skull?
Jupiter reads about an upcoming auction of unclaimed luggage from several area hotels. He attends the auction with Pete and Bob and decides to bid on a beat-up, old locked trunk, which he buys for one dollar. After the auction, an old woman offers him twenty-five, then thirty dollars for the trunk. Jupiter refuses and takes the trunk back to the salvage yard where he hopes to open the trunk without damaging the lock. That night, burglars enter the salvage yard in an attempt to steal the trunk. The following day, a magician named Maximilian the Mystic offers Jupiter a hundred dollars for the trunk. The trunk, it seems, had been the property of another magician, The Great Gulliver, who had disappeared six years ago. Jupiter still does not want to sell.
Finally the boys manage to get the trunk open. It contains costumes, some magician props, and a skull. The skull was from Gulliver's greatest trick; supposedly it talked. The boys didn't believe this until they heard the skull sneeze.
The mystery deepens when the skull talks to Jupiter that night. A dying convict, a missing $50,000, a hidden letter, a band of Gypsies complete with a fortune teller, a gang of thugs, a smooth con man, a disappearing house, and a magician's trunk that keeps disappearing and reappearing add to the mystery.
This is only book in the series that I've read, but it's easy to see why they were popular. Written in an easy style, The Mystery of the Talking Skull moves along quickly with enough McGuffins to fill a magician's trunk. There's no real violence. And Jupiter, although he's the brains of the trio (Pete is the brawn and Bob is the researcher), is a dim bulb at times, allowing the young reader to stay ahead of him now and then. Everything is explained and tied up in a neat little bow by book's end.
This is not the greatest kid's series to come down the pike, but it seems to be a fairly good one. I'll probably read the others by Arthur and, maybe, the ones by Dennis Lynds.
You can decide for yourself. The link below will get you to the first chapter.