Friday, 9 January 2015

Forgotten Book - At the Villa Rose

At the Villa Rose is the name of a very good blog, run by Xavier Lechard. It derives its name from my Forgotten Book for today, the 1910 mystery novel written by A.E.W. Mason, which I've just re-read after very many years. And the book is as enjoyable and thought-provoking as Xavier's blog.

I was first introduced to Mason, and his detective Inspector Hanaud, when I was a schoolboy. I used to borrow from the local library titles in a Hodder series, edited by Michael Gilbert, which reprinted classics of mystery and adventure. It was through this series that I first came across Anthony Berkeley's Trial and Error, and Raymond Postgate's Verdict of Twelve. Two masterpieces. In other words, Michael Gilbert had excellent taste, and was a man whose judgment could be trusted.

I can't recall now much of what Gilbert had to say about Mason, but I do remember that he admired The House of the Arrow very much, and although that is, I think, a better book than At the Villa Rose, both are of a high calibre. It's worth noting that At the Villa Rose was published in 1910, before the "Golden Age" got under way, but it boasts a great version of the Holmes-Watson pairing in Hanaud and Julius Ricardo, and a clever plot, with numerous neat touches, plus a classy, cosmopolitan setting.

Mason based the story on a real life murder case, but he injected imagination into the true crime scenario. Where he erred, I think, was in revealing the solution too soon. Too much of the latter part of the book is devoted to explanation. This was a structural weakness absent from The House of the Arrow. All the same, At the Villa Rose is great fun, and Hanaud a truly appealing example of "the Great Detective."


dfordoom said...

I quite enjoyed his much later (1928) mystery The Prisoner in the Opal as well. Have you read that one?

Philip Amos said...

Aaah. I remember At the Villa Rose with great pleasure. Mason was a rather remarkable man -- politician, soldier, Intelligence operative, novelist, playwright -- and that he could weave a fine tale is in part indicated by the fact that six of his works were adapted for the screen. Villa Rose was so three times, House of the Arrow four times, but in another genre and most famously perhaps, The Four Feathers seven times, far most successfully in 1939 with Ralph Richardson. Fire over England has been filmed only once, but that film is something of a classic of its type, with a great performance by Flora Robson as Elizabeth I. I join you in recommending Mason most highly, Martin. A great choice.

Martin Edwards said...

I haven't read The Prisoner in the Opal, but I do have a copy, so hope to get round to it before long.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Philip. I've never read a bio of Mason, but I agree, from what I know, he had an amazing life. I've not seen Fire over England.