Monday, July 14, 2014

Murder at the Villa Rose: Review

The Murder at the Villa Rose (1910) opens at the gaming tables of Monte Carlo with a young, handsome Englishman in the process of breaking the bank. Our focal point for the scene, Julius Ricardo, is an observer in Monte Carlo and sees a beautiful, young woman in distress in the gardens. It soon becomes apparent that she had been losing heavily. It is also apparent that she has connections with the Englishman, Harry Wethermill, as she throws her lot in with his at the table. Unfortunately, her bad luck seems to carry over to him and they leave losers, but also most evidently young people in love.

The next we hear of Miss Celia is in connection with her sponsor, Madame Dauvray. Madame Dauvray has been found strangled to death at the Villa Rose and her maid Hélène Vauquier left tied up and chloroformed in her bed. The safe which was said to be full of jewels has been looted and Madame Dauvray's bedroom ransacked. And Miss Celia has vanished. The story Hélène tells makes it very black indeed for the missing girl and the police are ready to believe that Celia was an accomplice to the robbery if not the murderer herself. But Wethermill refuses to accept the official version and begs Ricardo to help him convince Inspector Hanaud, "the cleverest of the French detectives," to take up the case. Hanaud agrees, but only after telling Wethermill, "I will take up this case. But I shall follow it to the end now, be the consequences bitter as death to you." The end will be bitter indeed...for someone.

Although Hanaud is a member of the official police force, he is very Holmes-like in his immense vanity and tendency to keep clues close to his chest--and one clue in particular that would make it much easier for the reader to begin unravel the true meaning of the events of Madame Dauvray's last night. Even when the narrative draws our attention to specific clues (the settee and its cushions, for example), Hanaud manages to play a bit of sleight-of-hand to distract us from the true meaning--all the better to display his brilliance in the explanation at the end. Ricardo plays Watson to Hanaud--slightly dim and making all the wrong inferences from the facts as presented.

One very distinctive element to this early detective novel is the inversion of the mystery--not at the beginning, but at the midpoint. The first half of the novel follows Hanaud as he tracks down clues and finally runs the criminals to earth. By the middle of the story, we all know who did it! The remainder of the novel gives us the details of the crime in the words of one of the primary participants and Hanaud's explanation of how he managed to discern the truth.

This is good look at a turn-of-the-century detective novel. There are surprises in store and a nifty bit of misdirection when it comes to the killer. I guessed half of the solution but not all, which made for a satisfying reveal. The wrap-up is rather long and drawn-out...rating this a  ★★★ and 1/2 rather than a four-star effort.

This fulfills the "Place" square on Golden Vintage Bingo card and gives me my third Golden Bingo.


Ryan said...

I think I would enjoy the flow of this one.

fredamans said...

Sounds like a good-paced novel. Great review!