Monday, March 19, 2012

The Mystery of the Yellow Room: Review

Synopsis: A series of inexplicable events involving Mademoiselle Stangerson, her father, and their household pit the famous detective Frederic Larsan against the amazing young journalist Joseph Rouletabille. Mlle. Stangerson is attacked one evening after she has retired to bed. She has firmly locked and bolted the door behind her. Not too long after, there are cries of "Murder!' and gun shots and the sound of a scuffle--but no one can get in to help her. When her father and a servant manage to break in the door, they find her badly hurt and bleeding--but there is no one else in the room! And the only other means of escape is a window that is closed and barred--fastened on the inside as well.

Both Larsan and Rouletabille (aided by his trusty side-kick & the main narrator of the piece, Sinclair--a young barrister) are hot on the trail, looking for clues inside and out. Larsan quickly fastens on Mlle. Stangerson's fiance, Robert Darzac, as the culprit. But Rouletabille disagrees. There are further attacks, another mysterious disappearance of the villain and eventually a murder before Rouletabille provides the murder in a last-minute deposition to the court. A court all set to find Robert Darzac guilty!

The Mystery of the Yellow Room
by Gaston Leroux is hailed as one of the first locked room crime novels. It has been named by some as the third best locked room mystery of all time. John Dickson Carr, master of the locked room and impossible crime himself, has sung its praises. And it is credited with inspiring Agatha Christie to try her hand at her very first mystery. So--what do I, a mere book-blogger, have to say about it? Well, it's a decent mystery. It's got some interesting elements. But I can't say that it knocked my socks off--it may have done so a hundred years ago. But I've read too many more recent novels for that. I see other detectives and stories in it. There is the shadow of Holmes--the intelligent, rational amateur taking on the established detective. There is the scrambling of the Holmes-like detective all over the scene of the crime--making patterns of footprints. There is the insistence (of Larsan) that the assailant was not wounded in the hand, but was bleeding from the nose (reminiscent of A Study in Scarlet). There is the echo of Lord Peter Wimsey--rushing into the court room at the eleventh hour to save an innocent man (Clouds of Witness, anyone?). And, yes, I suppose I should say that Wimsey reminds me of Rouletabille and not the other way 'round. But, you see, I read Sayers first. And, truth be told, I find Lord Peter to be a much more engaging character than Joseph Rouletabille.

The book starts out strong. Leroux sets up everything very nicely--explaining how our narrator and Rouletabille become involved in the mystery. The descriptions of the attack on Mlle. Stangerson, the mystery of the locked room and the investigations immediately following are wonderful. In fact, everything perks along quite nicely until Leroux abandons Sinclair as our narrator for a time and presents certain events through the lens of Rouletabille's journal entries. Rouletabille's voice does not ring true in those entries and the switch in narrative voice was a bit jarring. And when our familiar narrator picks up again, the rhythm never quite gets back on track.

One last quibble--although the explanation given for the locked room does work--it seems a bit contrived. As if Leroux had painted himself into a corner and he couldn't provide a more clever explanation. I don't think John Dickson Carr would have resorted to such a convenient solution.
Over all, a quite decent mystery from the time period. I would have liked to have liked the characters more...that would have pushed this three star outing into the four star range.

Favorite Quote:

Coincidences are the worst enemies to truth. (Rouletabille, p. 87)


Peggy Ann said...

Yours is the second review I've seen that isn't too hot on this book. I think I am going to remove it from my to read list.

Debbie Rodgers said...

This is on my Kindle to be read - and will fulfill the 'yellow' category in your colors challenge, so I'm going to read it anyway. Thanks for the review!

Rishi Arora said...

totally in agreement with you, this one is overrated.