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Back to the roots

Life after Crimebusters
The world is always full of surprises. First I had to learn that there was no Santa Clause,  then somebody told me Alfred Hitchcock did not invent The Three Investigators. In the 1980ies I had to accept that my fictional childhood buddies had become 17year-old high-school investigators who drove cars and had girlfriends.

In 1993 I found out that the new Three Investigators books were even written by a German writer, since the Americans did not want to go on with the series anymore. I did not like the idea, but I could not resist to read them anyway and thus I bought »Deadly Showdown« by Brigitte Johanna Henkel-Waidhofer.

Made in Germany
Brigitte Johanna Henkel-Waidhofer, better known as BJHW, was the first German Three Investigators writer. 
She tried to combine the concept of Crimebusters with her own interpretation of the three boys and their fictional world, or better their non-fictional world.  »I prefer  those [books] that are based on the real world. I think the real world is so full of excitement that you don’t need any ghosts, spooks and creepy things to create suspense«, said the 43-year-old writer. She has visited nearly all the places she describes and she used to work with maps, when writing her stories. 

»Her books are tour guides rather than detective stories«, some of the German fans criticise her works. »Especially when the boys go for a trip to Europe, BJHW clutters the stories with all the sights they visit in Italy, England, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands. It’s terrible.«

Nevertheless it was BJHW who brought Worthington back to life. She also stopped the habit of showing Jupiter as a ridiculous freak. Thus he looses some weight and goes steady with beautiful Lys de Kerk, who had her first appearance in Fatal Error.
In BJHW’s stories Bob is less of a lady-killer than he had been in Crimebusters. The only person who undergoes only minor changes,  is Pete (He actually never really was an object to change anyway), who remains the enthusiastic sportsman and the loyal friend he has always been.

Unfortunately neither Hans and Konrad, nor Chief Reynolds reappear in her stories. Nevertheless the boys found a reliable friend in Reynolds’ successor, Inspector Cotta. 
The girlfriends (Kelly Madigan, Liz Zapata and Lys de Kerk) suddenly develop a desire to solve cases on their own and even call themselves The Three !!!.

Apart from teenage problems, the development of the feminist movement in Rocky Beach and impressive descriptions of various country sites, BJHW seems to love environmental topics such as endangered forests and air-pollution.  
After the Crimebusters and  Mrs Henkel-Waidhofer’s efforts to  increase the educational level of the series,  the time for another change had come. 

Out of the Dark
Some fans claim that it was André Marx who brought the ideal of the old books back to life. Others think that the new authors (including Marx) just started a new way of writing, that was far better than BJHW’s but that could nonetheless not be compared to the classic series.

Generally the new stories are more or less a mixture of traditional features and modern topics. Together with André Minninger, Ben Nevis and Katharina Fischer, André Marx worked on a transition from the Crimebusters and the BJHW area to contemporary crime fiction for children.

In Terror Castle Jupiter says: »We are prepared to solve any puzzle, riddle, mystery, enigma or conundrum which may be brought to us.«  Marx brings mystery back to The Three Investigators. California again becomes a home of spooks, haunted houses, dead pirates and creative criminals.
Finally, in »The Island of Death« (their 100th case) another important feature of the classics is brought back to the world of the Three Investigators: E. Skinner Norris.

André Minninger, on the other hand, likes to combine modern elements with the traditional mystery concept. Strange mobile phones or vampire games in the Internet are his speciality. (Actually the older fans could not get used to the idea of The Three Investigators using a mobile phone or other recently invented electronic devices).  Minninger also has a real aptitude for the development of interesting characters and complex relationships.
Ben Nevis likes adventures. Thus Jupe, Pete and Bob have to solve their new cases in a space camp in the desert, a creepy castle or in a mysterious valley in the mountains.

Until now, Katharina Fischer has only written two books.  In both stories the boys are faced with difficult riddles. Some fans do not like her way of describing the investigators, since the boys appear rather childlike and naïve.
I have already mentioned the return of E. Skinner Norris, but he is not the only character we meet again: Kapitän Jason, Vladimir Contreras,  Miss Agawam  and last but not least Albert Hitfield  reappear in some of the new stories.

No sex no drugs no alcohol (And by the way: Pete is gay)
BJHW allowed Jupe to smoke one cigarette (he did not like it) and in »Jupiter’s Parents« he is so much taken aback by a surprising message that he orders a whisky-drink. That is about all as far as drugs and alcohol are concerned. 
The sexual part is also reduced as much as possible. The girlfriends do not play an important role any longer.  »As long as they are not necessary for the plot, we avoid them«, says André Minninger who is also engaged in the production of the famous The Three Investigators audio plays.

Sexuality plays a part close to non-existence but at least one character is still bothered by the ups and downs of teenage love-life: Bob Andrews. In Minninger’s book »Message from the Graveyard«, Bob falls in love with a girl named Brenda (who does not love him). Marx also cared for Bob’s love-life and invented Jelena, a very intellectual Russian girl in a wheelchair and Katharina Fischer arranges a romantic friendship between »Records« and a girl who works in a book shop. 
After Marx admitted that he might introduce Jeffrey - a homosexual character- in his new stories, a rumour was spread that Pete might be gay.

Even though the authors generally laugh at such assumptions,  Marx once said with a smile:  »The one thing I could imagine is Pete breaking up with Kelly and falling in love with Jeffrey.«
Eventually it is not only the choice of controversial topics which shows that the series does not play in the 1960ies anymore. The world of The Three Investigators has changed but (at least to my mind) it has made an important step back to the roots without going backwards…

Text by Billy Towne

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