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I only recently discovered the "Crimebusters" extension to the original Three Investigators canon. I'm sure that like myself, many readers of the original series wondered how Jupiter, Bob and Pete would turn out as they grew older. Since this series promised to reintroduce the boys as teenagers, and since this first story ("Hot Wheels") is written by one of the original authors, William Arden, I had high hopes that it would be worthwhile.
Unfortunately, early in the book it is already clear that Arden must have lost his touch as he tried to modernize a series that was originally conceived in the early 1960s. The first chapter of the book is filled with makes and models of cars -- a corvair, a Mercedes 450 SL, various VW bugs, and so on. You can feel the formula... boys + cars = an avid readership. But it's such a hackneyed notion, and isn't made any better by the boys referring to their cars as "wheels". I was the same age (17) as the Three Investigators are said to be when this book came out in 1989, and none of my friends ever called their cars "wheels".
Another feature of the original books is that they were, if you'll pardon the phrase, "lily white". That is to say, all the characters had names like Jensen, Roberts, Morton, Wilkins, and Carson, and the only exceptions were stereotypes, like Carlos the Mexican boy from Book 2, and the Chang the Chinese boy from Book 4 (who always referred to anyone in his family as being "honorable.") To Arden's credit, he appears to have tried to have buck this trend by introducing a populace of latinos in this book. Unfortunately, these characters can't escape the stereotyping, either. Here in California we've got plenty of Latinos and I don't think a single one of them has ever called a white person an "Anglo" as all the latinos do in this book. Arden must have seen the movie "La Bamba" circa 1986 and felt that it was the wave of the future, but unfortunately that movie was never representative of Latino culture in California and the book immediately feels dated and false.
Maybe you're thinking that I am nitpicking by pointing out these small flaws. Then how would you react upon learning that all of the Three Investigators now seem to know either Judo or Karate? Arden spends plenty of time describing and naming the exact moves that each of the Investigators performs to disarm or disable opponents. Even Jupiter, never athletic in the original books, is proficient. When Jupiter drums up a plan that he explains to Pete by telling him to "use your Karate on him!" to gain the upper hand, you know that the book is never going to get better.
And it doesn't. Unlike the early books, there are no real red herrings, no misdirection, just a series of unlikely happenings interspersed with clumsy descriptions of the Three Investigators and their girl troubles. Would you believe that brainy Bob, with the gimpy leg, is now "Mr. Cool" who has more girls than he knows what do with? Maybe it's easy enough to believe that Pete is controlled by his girlfriend, but when Jupiter repeatedly begs his friends to help him buy a car, enough is enough. This is the same Jupiter Jones that used to build direction finders and who fixed anything electronic that came his way, but yet he somehow can't drum up enough cash to buy a cheap beater (excuse me... some "wheels") to drive around? It just doesn't make any sense.
If you're a longtime fan of the Three Investigators and want to see how they turned out, I warn you that you will be left with a profound sense of "what could have been" if you read this book. If you're not a longtime fan or wonder what the fuss is all about, then please don't bother to read this book. It might scare you away from reading the original series, and that would be a real crime.