Written by William Arden
Based on characters created by Robert Arthur
Published: 1970
This edition: Revised (1984)

Hello, mystery lovers! It’s again my pleasure to introduce the three boys who call themselves The Three Investigators. Their motto is “We Investigate Anything”–and they do just that, sometimes even when no one asks them to. Which is what they did in the strange case of the crooked cat. It all started with an accident-prone carnival, the secret of a stuffed crooked cat . . . but I don’t want to give the story away.

Welcome to #MysteryMay! The Three Investigators in The Secret of the Crooked Cat is yet another member of a long-running mystery series which I have only read one of and got introduced to it in the middle. Fortunately, middle-grade book series, especially mysteries, have no problem creating stand-alone stories that allow you to jump in at any point and not feel lost.

Jupiter (“Jupe”) Jones. Pete Crenshaw, and Bob Andrews are members of their own investigating club and have helped the police solve many crimes in the Los Angeles area. They may be young, but they are resourceful, curious, and tenacious. This particular mystery occurs when a carnival plagued with a run of bad luck comes to town. The Three Investigators meet and become friends with a boy from the carnival named Andy, when they witness a man trying to steal a stuffed cat prize from Andy’s booth. The puzzles start mounting as the boys learn more and more about strange accidents happening, which threaten to close the carnival for good. Wanting to help their new friend (and unable to pass up a good mystery), the Three Investigators start poking around… and find far more than they’d bargained for, including escaped lions, a human fly, layers of disguise, and a chase through a creepy, abandoned amusement park that still haunts me.

The nice thing about books like The Secret of the Crooked Cat is that they don’t beat around the bush. The first chapter introduces the boys, establishes a baseline normality, and the seeds of the mystery all at once, but in an organic fashion. By the end of the first chapter, the thief tries to steal the crooked cat. Every chapter ends on a cliffhanger, rather like the Flash Gordon serials, so that you can’t wait to turn the page and find out what happens next. The story emphasizes the importance of deduction and logical thinking, research at the library, looking for clues and putting pieces together. They even throw in some gadgets which may be a little much for the average 14-year-old to create, but isn’t out of the realm of possibility for a young genius with access to a junkyard like Jupe.

I kind of wish I’d had access to more of The Three Investigator books growing up. I found this single volume at a book sale and while I’ve managed to gather a few more over the years, all were read much later and thus didn’t leave quite the same impact as their search for a certain stuffed and crooked cat.