Friday, 27 July 2012

'The Mystery of the Yellow Room' by Gaston Leroux (1907)

Synopsis: When Mademoiselle Strangerson (the daughter of a famous scientist) is viciously attacked in her own bedroom, the public is shocked and appalled. Who would try to kill her? And how did the attacker enter and escape the room when it was watched and firmly bolted and locked from the inside? The brilliant young journalist Joseph Rouletabille decides that he wants to investigate this case and is aided by his trusty sidekick Sinclair, a barrister and the book's narrator. Rouletabille quickly clashes with a rival detective, the famous Frederic Larsan, because Larsan makes it clear that he suspects the culprit is Mademoiselle Strangerson's fiancĂ© Robert Darzac. Can Rouletabille prove Darzac's innocence and work out how the attack took place?

Gaston Leroux is most famous these days for being the author of The Phantom of the Opera. But besides writing that book, Leroux was a journalist and a prolific writer of detective fiction. The most famous of these novels is The Mystery of the Yellow Room, a book which is widely regarded as being one of the best locked room mysteries ever written. The locked room mystery is a sub-genre of crime fiction in which a crime is committed, in a locked room, under almost impossible circumstances, but has nevertheless occurred. Edgar Allan Poe is single-handedly credited with inventing this sub-genre with his story The Murders of the Rue Morgue, and Arthur Conan Doyle tried his hand at it as well with the Sherlock Holmes story The Speckled Band (one of my favourite Sherlock Holmes stories). The crime author John Dickson Carr loved The Mystery of the Yellow Room and Agatha Christie was a big fan as well. Apparently this book inspired her to write her very first mystery novel!

The Mystery of the Yellow Room is the first of Leroux's books to feature Joseph Rouletabille and a very interesting character he is too. For one thing, he's actually a newspaper reporter who just so happens to solve crimes in his spare time. And he's an 18 year old boy-genius. As you can imagine his biggest problem is usually trying to get people to take him seriously. Rouletabille is incredibly intelligent but he's still a teenager so he has mood swings, can be quite impulsive, and is extremely enthusiastic about everything.

The Mystery of the Yellow Room is an excellent book and I was very impressed with it. It's entertaining, well-paced, fun, lively and really clever. If, like me, you love Phantom of the Opera and good old-fashioned detective stories then I would definitely recommend that you give this book a try. Rouletabille may not be as fascinating as Erik or Sherlock Holmes but he's still a great character nevertheless and I'm sure that I'll read some of the other Joseph Rouletabille books at some point. It's a shame that this book isn't more famous. It was very well-regarded in Leroux's lifetime but is sadly underrated now. Someone should get Andrew Lloyd Webber to do a musical adaptation!

Rating: 4.5/5

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