Agent Arthur's Mountain Mission

 The story of a lost Usborne Puzzle Adventure

When I was young, I was introduced to the Puzzle Adventure series by Usborne - fun, illustrated books where you would solve part of the mystery on each double page.  I started collecting them.  There were 13 originally, and when I decided to complete my collection many years later I discovered they now totalled 25 in number.  But on the back of the books, where the series titles are numbered, Agent Arthur's Mountain Mission was missing from my collection...

This page is the story of the missing book.

Book Info

The Agent Arthur books in the series have been very popular over the years, being reprinted ever since inception in 1988.  There are currently 5 of them in print - Jungle Journey, Arctic Adventure, Stormy Seas, Desert Challenge and Island Adventure, and the first three have been bound into a compendium.  Martin Oliver wrote the first four and Lesley Sims the final one; all were illustrated by Paddy Mounter.  Agent Arthur's Mountain Mission has the ISBNs 0746014082 (paperback) and 0746014090 (hardback).

The Quest begins...

The story starts in 1996.  As soon as I found out the book existed, and that my nearest city bookstore had no copies, I went to my local library who, after a few weeks, came back and said it was out of print - which was very unusual as it had only gone to press a few months earlier.  They eventually found me a copy through Inter Library Loan - where a library can request a book from any other library in the entire country.  I say "a copy" singular, because there was only one copy in the entirety of the United Kingdom public libraries.

In 2003 I discovered more Puzzle Adventures had been written so decided to complete my collection.  When I got down the list to this book I had considerable difficulty finding it - not just on Alibris and Abebooks, but on the entire Internet, so I did an online search of all the UK County library catalogues I could find - 25 in total, covering 4,500+ libraries. I was only able to find one entry, at the Aberdeenshire library.  After contacting them, it turns out it had been lost or sold a number of years earlier and the catalogue had not been updated.  Was this the copy I had read 7 years earlier?  And how come there is only one copy available in the 4,624 public, 6 national, 750 University and 110 Higher Education libraries in the UK1?

Finding Serendipity

The internet is a valuable resource for finding old books.  One man's junk is another man's treasure, so I began to scour online catalogues, searches and meta-searches (which search multiple sites through one).  I searched regularly between 2003 and 2007 and was unable to find a copy, anywhere, worldwide.

Contact with Usborne

The only option left for me, other than continue my ever-growing booksearches, was to contact Usborne themselves - did they have a few old copies?  Were they planning to republish?  And most importantly, why did it go out of print so quickly when all of the other Puzzle Adventures are still being printed over 20 years later?

2003 e-mails

29 April 2003 E-mails to Usborne in which I converse with Deborah. She says "no plans to republish, here's Fullerton's number, a local bookseller!" 
27 May 2003 E-mails to Blackburn Library having found a listing in the Blackburn library catalogue but with "0 copies available", I e-mail them to find out what that means... 
18 June 2003 E-mails to Usborne in which I converse with Tim. He says "no-one has any copies, except for Martin Oliver who has one, try doing a booksearch!". Then he says "I've passed your request to our Publishing Director". Woohoo!! 
23 September 2003 E-mails to Usborne in which I converse with Sally. She says "It's not on the reprint list". Twice!!  
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Ack!  It looks like there's no getting past Sally!  Curse my weak negotiation skills!
I decided to resort to...

2004 letters

2 March 2004 Letters to Usborne in which I converse with Alice. She: gets the name of the book wrong (twice) and tells me "it's on Amazon!" and to "do a booksearch!" (twice!). 
26 April 2004 Letter to Usborne in which I attempt to converse with the author Martin Oliver through Usborne. But I never got a reply :( 
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2005 letters

4 January 2005 Letters to Usborne in which I converse with Candice. She: actually finds out the real reason as to why it was not reprinted - huzzah! - and it was just as I suspected. She also gives me the number for Fullerton's. Gak! And check out those negotiation skillz!!! "Hi Usborne, free money here!". I then attempt to converse some more with Candice, but get no reply. This letter finally contains the whole story and, ironically, no-one's listening!  
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The evidence

I'm not making it all up!

See, here's the back cover of my edition of The Pyramid Plot as compared to the much later Agent Arthur's Island Adventure:


The Pyramid Plot

Agent Arthur's Island Adventure

Book number 20 has dropped off the Edge of the World! Ahahaha.

A lot has happened since I began my search 6 years ago. I've got married, moved house and had two children. Maybe it's getting up to feed baby at 3AM EVERY MORNING FOR THE LAST SEVEN MONTHS, but I find I now don't waste time pansying around being polite and trying to negotiate to get my point across...

2006 letters

21 March 2006 Letter to Usborne ...which is presumably why I wrote this letter to Usborne in March 2006 
12 September 2006 Letter to Usborne And this one in September, because they didn't reply to the one above, the scamps.  
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But - gah!! - still no reply!! What is wrong with these people?? As it turns out, nothing - the only thing wrong is my approach. Why on earth am I assuming they want to publish this book to make more money? They have enough money as it is. So what is their motivation? Time to put those newly-aquired Negotiation & Influence skills into practice...

Not available on shelves = no-one can buy it = low sales = not viable for reprint = not available on shelves = aaaaarrrggggghhhhh!!! 

2006 e-mails

2 October 2006 E-mail to Usborne Back to the drawing board, and "soliciting their values". An e-mail to discover what it is that Usborne find important in a book.  
16 November 2006 Letter to Usborne ...and then a letter in November after no response... 
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The Mystery solved

And then, out of the blue at the end of 2008, I receieved an e-mail...
And with renewed interest in the whole thing, I was able to get in contact with the author Martin Oliver, the illustrator Paddy Mounter, and top people at Usborne to ascertain the viability of a publishing...

2009 e-mails

27 April 2009 E-mail from Paddy Mounter I found the illustrator Paddy Mounter! 
27 April 2009 E-mails from Martin Oliver I found the author Martin Oliver! 
21 May 2009 E-mails to Usborne Publishing and Usborne say they won't be making the book :( 
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So that's it, the mystery is solved!

Fan interest

I've had e-mails from people in the USA reading this page, and elsewhere in the world outside of the UK. If you enjoyed the Usborne Puzzle Adventure series you might like to:

Let me know if you decide to help out!

If you need to, please contact me: burnsflippergooglemail dot com.

Other Puzzle Adventure oddities

The Pyramid Plot

At the end of The Pyramid Plot by Justin Somper, it poses two questions:
"There is a deliberate mistake in one picture in this book. Can you spot it?"

The deliberate mistake is on page 35 - the wrong window pane is broken. Compare it to the picture of the outside of the room on page 23.

"And there's one unsolved mystery. Who do you think began translating the papyrus found inside the broken pot on page 13?"

Here's my thoughts.

First off, we have Cipher A which was in the broken vase, and Cipher B which was written on Duncan's notepad, which he copied from a cipher that Iona found amidst the same treasure that the vase was in. They use different hieroglyphs so they are two separate ciphers.

Next, we have multiple treasures and it's ambiguous which ones are being talked about - there's the treasure found when excavating the original villa (Treasure A), and there's the treasure found buried in the antechamber underground (Treasure B) - not counting the real treasure hidden behind the underground wall. Iona must have found Cipher B in Treasure A, since that is what led her to dig up Treasure B. Curiously, when she found Cipher B, the pictures indicate it was already partially translated into English. Since we are told Treasure A was buried for 4000 years, and the last person to see it was Klepto Maniak, this indicates a hidden part of the mystery...namely that the only person who could have started translating it into English and then rebury it is most likely Inigo Outicombe, the Victorian archaeologist. He must have found Treasure A, started decoding both the ciphers, deciphered the text in the pyramid and then deliberately sealed off the descending passage after he had been in and out. Maybe he solved the enigma and then sealed everything off to protect the real treasure.

Or, when Cipher A was found in Treasure A when Iona's team unearthed it when building the original villa, someone partially decoded it then hid it in the vase. Iona says she found Cipher B...maybe she found and started translating Cipher A too...

Interestingly, Iona signs off her letters with the symbol of an eye, which appears in two places - marking the secret passage in the pyramid...and in Cipher A...

Let me know what you think - burnsflippergooglemail dot com.

I tweeted the author Justin Somper asking if I'd got it right, and he replied with...

"Now that would be telling, wouldn't it? ;-)"

Maybe we'll never know!

Four other "missing" books

Usborne Puzzle Adventure fan Furqaan Yusaf did some major sleuthing and managed to unearth some more "missing" books listed on Amazon.

There are multiple listings for each book, with publication dates 1996-1998 and with 96-130 pages, and are sometimes listed as being in the "Usborne Adventure" series.

Agent Arthur To The Rescue / On The Run

Agent Arthur To The Rescue / On The Run covert art 
"There is no rest for Agent Arthur when he is called back to the agency from his holiday in the tropics. Arthur''s powers are needed to help sort out the bunglings of the 2 new recruits to the Action Agency."

Escape From Eagle Mountain

Escape From Eagle Mountain

"In this action-packed story Anna''s month in Sylvania turns into a nightmare when she finds herself trapped in a web of intrigue. She must outwit the Knights of Lamotte, find the talisman and return it to its rightful owners before it is too late."

Silent Snow

Silent Snow cover art
Silent Snow cover art
"This is the latest title in the Adventure Library series of full length fiction packed with action and intrigue. Agent Arthur is called back from his long earned holiday to help sort out the bungling of the two newest recruits to the Action Agency."

The Silent Snow pages on Amazon have different cover art, which gives us a clue...

Prisoners on Skull Island

Prisoners On Skull Island cover art
"In this story Tom and Lucy soon find themselves drawn into a web of intrigue after arriving at Snoring-on -Sea. A treasure map, an old myth and a dial hold the secret to Skull Island, but can Tom and Lucy rescue the people locked in time?"

It was "Skull Island" which tipped me off to what has happened here, because I actually own this book! But it's not an Usborne Puzzle Adventure, it's one of the Usborne Adventure series which are short novels.  It looks like they had the idea to write longer adventure books and had some cover art made before the books were written/published, and the cover artist did it in the style of a Puzzle Adventure rather than the more older-oriented Adventure series.