Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Mystery Of The Headless Horse

The boys help out a school-friend, Diego Alvaro and stumble across a centuries old mystery, involving a missing, jewel encrusted sword, encountering bush-fire, sinister cowboys and savage dogs along the way. Briskly told and very well constructed, as with all Arden stories, this suffered for me in that the location - which was key - had to be explained at length and it felt dry and uninvolving. It also hinges on the fact that the mystery is solved, essentially, by the weather, with mudslides showing the way. There was a lot to like - especially that the boys are helped out by Prof Marcus Moriarty, a nice link back to the Sherlock Holmes connections of the earlier Arthur-written books - and the atmosphere is good (especially the rain and chill in the air), but I found myself distracted and unable to picture the scene properly for a lot of the outdoor stuff. Recommended, nonetheless, but not prime Arden.


  1. When I first read this yarn as an eager 10-year-old, back in 1992, I was incredibly disappointed to discover that the title had virtually nothing to do with the story itself - talk about false advertising! Having expecting a supernatural tale in the style of 'Terror Castle' or 'Green Ghost', I felt a little short-changed to find out that 'Headless Horse' was nothing of the sort.

    Having said that, when revisiting the story again recently, I knew what to expect this time around and enjoyed the book a great deal more as a result. However, the over-complicated descriptions of the landscape adjoining the Alvaro Ranch still befuddled me. Why, I thought, didn't the publisher include a map as a frontispiece, perhaps?

    So, I decided to make my own! Based on the detailed descriptions in the book, here is the layout of the terrain surrounding the Alvaro and Norris ranches:

  2. Hi Ian

    I had exactly the same thing with the title. I saw it advertised in Crunch comic and it was freshly published when I first got to it and I thought it was the coolest title ever.

    Brilliant work on the map, that's fantastic. I really did find it held back some of my enjoyment of this.

  3. Nice job on the site Mark and on the map Ian!

  4. Thanks, Dan, I appreciate you dropping by!

  5. Thanks Dan and Mark for your positive feedback: here are some of the key excerpts from the story I used to draw the map:

    The only error I'm aware of, is that the shack is in the wrong place; as far as I can recall, it's supposed to be to the left of the road leads to the west from the fork.

  6. Also worth a look, are the illustrations that appeared in the French edition:

  7. I read this book recently for the first time since 1978 and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was good to see old Skinny get his comeuppance, being bundled off to military school. The story was quite interesting too, a good read, although nowhere near a classic. Seven out of ten.

  8. Yes, agree on the complicated geographic explanations.

    My memory tells me that this was the most exhilarating epilogue of all the books. It's been at least 25 years since I read them!