Friday, 9 September 2016

Forgotten Book - The Mystery of the Yellow Room

Is The Mystery of the Yellow Room a forgotten book? That's very debatable. It was once a bestseller, one of the most famous crime stories of the early years of the 20th century, and it remains much admired by many fans of the locked room mystery. But the author, Gaston Leroux, is now much better remembered as the author of The Phantom of the Opera - thanks to the Midas touch of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The Mystery of the Yellow Room was first published in 1907, and translated into English the following year. It made an instant impression, as did its very youthful hero, Joseph Rouletabille, a newspaper reporter with unquenchable self-belief and a penchant for sleuthing. The story is told by his friend Sanclair, who fulfils the Dr Watson role of bewildered admirer of the brilliant maverick detective.

A young woman called Mathilde Stangerson, daughter of a scientific genius, is overheard in a pavilion in the park attached to the Stangersons' chateau. It is clear that she is in terror as a result of being attacked, but she is inside the locked Yellow Room, and by the time rescuers break in, she is seriously injured, and there is no sign of how her assailant could have escaped.

Rouletabille can't resist getting involved, and pitting his wits against those of the capable cop who is assigned to the case - "the great Fred". The style is breathless and melodramatic, and there are plenty of twists and turns. It's a period piece, of course, but in its day, this story was highly influential. Agatha Christie talked about it in her autobiography and John Dickson Carr was another fan. Whether it counts as "fair play" detection is arguable, but I enjoyed rereading it after a gap of many years.

And I had a very pleasurable reason for re-reading it-too  it is to form part of a trio of locked room classics to be sumptuously reissued by the Folio Society. And I've written an introduction to the set of books. More about this in due course.

1 comment:

Jerry House said...

Long ago in my high school French class, we had to read a very truncated version of this book and it was a painful experience. It took me years to overcome my aversion to Leroux.