Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, December 21, 2018


The Caligari Complex by Basil Copper (1980)
The Secret of Shark Reef  by "William Arden" [Dennis Lynds] (1979)

Today I have two Forgotten Books for your consideration.  Consider it a Christmas bonus although neither have anything to do with the holiday season.  In fact, that, and the dates of original publications, are the only things remotely the two have in common.

Basil Copper was perhaps best known for his horror short stories and his gothic-like horror novels, but he was also an accomplished mystery writer, penning over fifty novels featuring LA P.I. Mike Faraday.  The Faraday books can be viewed as delightful romps into a crazy alternate world.  First, the author was British and his detective American yet the books make no attempt to write the first person narratives in American English.  So Mike refers to the trunk of his car as the boot, humor is spelled humour, and Britishism abound.  Then there is Faraday himself.  A somewhat crude person who has a surprising knowledge of the finer things in goes into detail describing expensive furniture, decor, and clothing.  (He's admittedly no expert on art but identifies a painting as an original Constable, for example.)  Faraday is an amalgorithm of the tough private eye of the Thirties, forties, and Fifties pulp fiction.  He does very little actual detecting and just hangs around, stirring the pot.  He doesn't wear shoes; he wears size nines.  Women are often called twists and they automatically fall for him immediately, yet they are often untrustworthy.  He refers to himself in the third person -- "You've done it again, Mike [or Michael]."  And he grins more than a Micky Spillane character, sometimes three or four times in a chapter.  Basically, Mike Faraday is a cross between Race Williams and Mike Hammer and, like those two, does not hesitate to kill a bad guy.  And he has a beautiful and smart secretary who makes coffee and comes up with ideas to move the plot along.

In The Caligari Complex Mike is hired by Esau Martin, a "businessman on a fairly large scale who had interests in timber, real estate and marine development."  Martin claims his business is being targeted by something supernatural.  Fires, injuries and accidents have plagued the business and the week before his business parter had committed suicide by jumping off a 200-foot crane, leaving behind a notebook stating that monstrous figure had been haunting him for weeks. After Faraday takes the case the bodies begin to pile up and the key to the mystery seems to be the 1920 German silent horror film The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari.  Make gets knocked out several times (his brain should be absolute mush by this time), escapes death several times, and is seduced by a blonde Swedish knockout named Inga.

Great fun.  Be warned, though:  a little Mike Faraday goes a long way.  I usually space his adventures over months, reading only two or three books a year.

"William Arden" was Dennis Lynds, who, as "Michael Collins," wrote the seminal Dan Fortune PI series.  As 'Arden, Lynds wrote five novels about detective Kane Jackson and continued the juvenile series The Three Investigators (revamped as The 3 Investigators) after the death of creator Robert Arthur.  Arthur had been closely tied to Alfred Hitchcock as the ghost editor of a number of anthologies, created the series as a tie-in to Hitchcock and the books were presented as "Alfred Hitchcock's The Three Investigators" and contained a introduction written by 'Hitchcock."  (Later volumes and reprints dropped the Hitchcock tie-in altogether and had the introductions written by a fictional mystery writer, Hector Sebastian.  Lynds wrote thirteen books in the series, interspersed with books by M. V. Carey, March Brandel, and Kim Platt.  In all there were 43 books in the original series, of which The Secret of Shark Reef  was number 20. 

The Three Investigators are Jupiter Jones, a former child actor billed as "Baby Fatso," who remains rather chunky and has great deductive skills, Pete Crenshaw, the athlete of the trio who dislikes some of the dangerous parts of their adventures, and Bob Andrews, the studious researcher of the group.  Their secret headquarters are hidden in a junkyard owned by Jupiter's aunt and uncle.  Although station in the fictional town of Rocky Beach, California, the boys' adventures often take them far afield.

Bob's father, a reporter, is assigned to cover environmental protests against an offshore oil drilling operation and has taken the three boys with him so they can sea an oil rig first-hand.  The rig, dubbed Shark Reef Number One, is located just outside a reef that (you guessed it) is infested with sharks.  Tempers on both sides of the issue are getting hot and someone has been sabotaging both the rig.  A protester's boat has also been sabotaged by somehow removing some of the fuel so that the boat cannot make it back to shore.  The boys are aided in their investigation by the head enviromental protester, a mystery writer named John Crowe.  ("John Crowe" just happens to be one of Lynds' many pseudonyms, this time for a series of six regional mysteries taking place in a fictional California county.)

The cast includes a pair of hot-headed protesters, the mean-spirited owner of an oil company, the sympathetic manager of the oil rig, a Japanese businessman, a young Japanese gardener, a sunken World War II submarine, sharks (both friendly and hungry), and a supposed hidden treasure,  And at stake are millions of dollars.

Jupiter's junkyard and many of the usual supporting characters in the series are missing from this adventure, but the boys, through quick wit and bravery, are able to clear up the many threads of this mystery.

The Three Investigators still have a large world-wide fan base, despite being juvenile fare.  You can count me among them.

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