The Mystery of the Screaming Clock by Robert Arthur

Originally Published in 1964 (this date may well be wrong – Google has it as 1968 but the copyright page of my copy says 64 while Goodreads says 65).

Three Investigators #9
Preceded by The Mystery of the Silver Spider
Followed by The Mystery of the Moaning Cave

The alarm clock went off with the bloodcurdling scream of a woman in mortal terror! Who could have made such a clock – and why?

The Three Investigators immediately set out to discover where the mysterious clock came from. When they come across a run-down house in Hollywood, they find an entire room full of dreadful clocks – and time is running out!

Today’s post will likely feel a little different from my usual style, being as much about the impact this book (and the series) had on me as about its individual or distinctive features.

I was prompted to pick up a copy of this book off my shelf by a conversation I had with some of my colleagues during an online meeting. As an icebreaker we each presented a book that meant a lot to us as a child – my own choice was C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe which was the first book I recall setting out to read entirely by myself.

After the meeting was over though I started thinking about the mystery fiction I had read during those formative, preteen years. In particular, I thought about The Five Find-Outers, The Secret Seven, Joe and Frank Hardy and The Three Investigators. Of those I have the most fond memories of The Three Investigators.

Part of it was, I suspect, that I identified strongly with Jupiter Jones who, like me, was a bit of a know-it-all and somewhat big-boned. I felt far more affinity for Jupiter – a boy who used his brains and reasoning – than the impossibly clean-cut and athletic Hardy brothers or the prim types that filled Enid Blyton’s stories.

The reason I am writing about this title – the ninth in the Three Investigators series – is that it is one of the first I remember reading. I first picked up a copy of this book at a store somewhere in the vicinity of the world’s largest pear drop at Oswaldtwistle Mills in Lancashire (my memory is that it was in a gift shop associated with it but I cannot understand why they would have been selling it). I can only assume it was second-hand as my copy was one of the earlier editions presented by Alfred Hitchcock – a fact that led me to erroneously believe that he had actually written these until I was well into my teen years.

This is a pile of regularly-sized pear drops. The world’s largest pear drop is similar but bigger.
Image by Katie Hopkins – this has been cropped slightly. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence.

I enjoyed those first few volumes enough that I went on to pick up most of those early titles in the series although I was a little baffled by the sudden replacement of Alfred Hitchcock by some interloper by the name of Hector Sebastian. The Paragraph Paperback edition I read recently had been rewritten to feature Mr. Sebastian.

This particular installment in the series involves our intrepid trio of investigating chums finding a strange alarm clock that has been sold to Jupiter’s Uncle Titus as part of a box of junk. The alarm clock gives out a strong shriek when it goes off, leading Jupiter to think that there is a mystery there to be solved. He wants to find out who created the clock and why.

I noted in my response to JJ’s review of this story, this is one of the stories I remember best from the series. In my comment I speculated that this may be as much to do with the setting in which I bought and read it as the material itself – a trip to visit my grandparents. I do however recall shivering at the thought of a screaming alarm clock which perfectly hit the sort of creepy notes that were one of the chief appeals of the series to me (Whispering Mummy and Talking Skull are the other ones I clearly remember).

It soon transpires that this case will take the form of a sort of treasure hunt as the trio work with a teenaged boy to decipher clues that have been left for them. This device is quite a lot of fun, particularly as the clues involve a mix of general knowledge and lateral thinking, making them fair and accessible for an inquisitive preteen.

There is also a pretty surprising amount of action, some of which must have been quite gritty for a book aimed at this audience. Arthur puts several of the boys in pretty serious physical danger at points. While my adult self was confident that the trio would emerge unscathed, I am pretty sure that preteen Aidan would have been firmly perched on the edge of his seat.

Another aspect of this book I recall really finding interesting was the depiction of an aspect of the entertainment industry. In this case it was the idea of having an expert screamer for a radio series. Radio was an obsession of mine at that age (and I still love it) and so that idea really appealed to me.

What I think pleased me most in revisiting the story nearly twenty-five years after first reading it was that I felt it held up pretty well. There are a few far-fetched elements but Arthur pulls everything together very well towards the end, providing a logical explanation and making sense of what has happened and why.

Rereading it took me back to staying in my grandparents’ home in Preston, reading this on a very rainy afternoon while eating Eccles cakes and laying on their sofa. It is funny how a book from childhood can be bound up with so many other memories…

This leads me to wonder if you have any similar titles from childhood (or later) that are so tightly associated with a place or time. I’d love to read some of your own special titles.

The Verdict: To my delight this book held up to my memories of it. It’s a strong case with a great treasure hunt component.

15 thoughts on “The Mystery of the Screaming Clock by Robert Arthur

  1. Delighted that this held up for you — encountering these books as an adult I can see the impact such stories would’ve had on my young mind. Doubtless it would have pushed me into detective fiction much sooner and I’d be even deeper down the rabbit hole I now find myself in 🙂

    I only have the one Arthur title left now, and then the series is in the hands of Denis Lynds and M.V. Carey…and, man, I feel a little sad about that, no matter how damn fabulous the books might turn out to be. Arthur set this series up beautifully, no wonder it’s endured in the minds of so many people worldwide.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am curious whether I read any of the later titles. None of the covers or titles jump out at me as familiar though it is possible that when I start to read one it may all come flooding back to me.

      I assume that Talking Skull is the last one for you. If my memory holds up then at least his final contribution was one of the series’ highs.


  2. I don’t know why, but I always feel bad when people ask if you have any books that are, as you say, so tightly associated with a place or time. Principally because I don’t and I feel like I should! Because it sounds so wonderful to have memories like that. I could probably come up with a list of books I really enjoyed when I was younger, but there wouldn’t any strong memories of when or where I read them.
    But thumbs up for your C S Lewis choice. That will have been one of the books I read when I was younger, but I didn’t read the series as a whole until a few years ago, which I actually got a lot out of.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t have many of those memories and almost all of them are associated with places I didn’t go often.
      C.S. Lewis certainly meant a lot to me growing up. While I picked The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe though I was probably most fond of A Horse and His Boy and Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I really responded to the adventure elements at that age!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Glad you liked it! Like JJ, I tumbled down this rabbit hole way too late, but can now see how it would have impacted me as a child and appreciate how it indoctrinated tons of children to become mystery readers. Did I say indoctrinate again? What I meant to say was, uhm, inspired. Yeah, that’s the word. The series inspired children to pick up writers like Doyle and Christie.

    “This leads me to wonder if you have any similar titles from childhood (or later) that are so tightly associated with a place or time. I’d love to read some of your own special titles.”

    Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story is inextricably linked to my childhood and an all-time favorite, which very likely exerted some influence on my taste in detective stories later on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had been a little worried that revisiting it would damage a childhood memory so I was really relieved it held up so well! I never read The Neverending Story but I know my wife was very fond of it growing up. I will have to check out a copy.


  4. I was a great fan of the 3 Investigators too and one of my childhood reading memories is associated with them. I was in the last year of primary school, a few weeks before Christmas 1979, and I’d had to have a small operation on my foot. It wasn’t anything all that major but it meant I was off school for maybe 2 weeks before the holidays and a week or two after. During that time I recall reading and having a wonderful time with The Secret of Skeleton Island.

    Again, connected to time off school, I remember in the winter of 1982, January or February but I can’t be sure which, there was major snowfall and I was off for a week as the roads were impassible. I was reading the novelization of Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen as the flakes were drifting past the windows and the atmosphere just felt perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for sharing those memories Colin. I can imagine that books like these would have helped that recuperation period go a bit faster.

      Those Target novels were fab, weren’t they? I wish I had read them as a preteen but I didn’t get into Who until I was 17 just as the DVDs started to come out. I can only imagine reading the Abominable Snowmen in those conditions must have made it even more atmospheric!


  5. Aidan, thanks for another great post including the wonderful time / place association. I remember clearly as a child having my mother take me to a garage sale years ago … saying I could buy only two books from a used set of Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew or Three Investigator books. I carefully chose from the latter and proudly owned Stuttering Parrot and Fiery Eye. I also remember my ten year old self in amazement on the sofa at home reading both 🙂

    Those set a lifetime joy reading reading detective fiction. I have found so many great titles by reading your blog as well as those from JJ, Tomcat, Kate, Laurie, Puzzle Doctor, John, Martin, Ben, Dan, etc. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Scott. I have some great memories of trips to bookshops and the local library and taking forever, carefully weighing up the pros and cons of each choice. Sounds like you made some great ones (I have fond memories of reading Stuttering Parrot too though I don’t recall much of the plot of that one)!

      It’s fantastic that these books can stay with us the way they obviously do. What excites me most is knowing that my own kid is getting to the age where we can start to read some of these kinds of stories together. I am looking forward to seeing what her favorites turn out to be (and whether any of mine will appeal to her).


  6. I read too fast to be able to pinpoint reading to particular times and locations.

    I love all the Chronicles of Narnia – any chance we could find seven of us to look back at our favourite book from the series? I’d be particularly interested to get’s Kate take having read most of them as an adult.

    If you haven’t come across it, I thoroughly recommend “Planet Narnia” by Michael Ward, which lays out a well-reasoned theory about the underlying scheme that underpins the series. There was a TV programme about it and You Tube has a number of versions of his lecture on the subject.

    In terms of memorable childhood read, “Run for Your Life” by David Line (as I found much later a pseudonym of Lionel Davidson who wrote adult thrillers such as “Kolymsky Heights”) is a kids’ thriller containing genuine menace which I found terrifying.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am more than happy to write about Narnia if others want to take part. This year is the 70th anniversary of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe being published so that sort of a project feels timely.

      I’ve not read Planet Narnia or seen the TV series but I will seek it out! Thanks so much for the recommendation.


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