Friday, January 8, 2016

Gaston Leroux’s Mystery of the Yellow Room by Beverly Stark 1908

Gaston Leroux’s The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Beverly Stark 1908

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[Ed. The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux, is one of the first locked-room mystery crime fiction novels. This novel, written by the same person who created the "Phantom of the Opera" is reportedly on of the best 'locked-room' mysteries written during the 1900's, and inspired Agatha Christie to write her first book. The sleuth is a young journalist named Joseph Rouletabille, who uses reasoning and logic to solve the crime of the scientist's daughter who is the victim of an attempted murder that takes place in a room with bars on the windows, a double-locked door, making it impossible for the perpetrator to have committed the crime and escaped. In a 1935 novel, John Dickson Carr, the master of locked-room mysteries, declared the Yellow Room Mystery to be the 'best detective tale ever written.' it was voted the third best locked room mystery of all time.]

Beverly Stark: Gaston Leroux’s The Mystery of the Yellow Room, which while running serially in L’Illustration of Paris, made a profound impression on even sated readers of this kind of fiction, has been translated into English, and is being exploited as the “most extraordinary detective story of recent years.” With full recognition of the merits of the tale, the present reviewer begs leave to say that it is nothing of the sort. To deserve such a verdict, a tale must be complete in every phase. The Mystery of the Yellow Room has all but one thing. It fails to carry entire conviction. M. Leroux fiings before the reader the most baffling of problems; in the person of Joseph Rouletabille he introduces an entertaining individuality; the story throughout keeps one in a constant state of suspense; yet at the very end one begins to doubt the author's sincerity, and to feel that in his desire for a new sensation, he has gone a step beyond legitimate bounds.

There is not a doubt that M. Leroux, in writing three-quarters of his tale, had the American physician, Arthur Rance, in mind as the assassin. When readers of the serial began guessing too close, he threw aside his original explanation, to find a new one and a new culprit. In doing this he, in a measure, transgressed. Suppose, for example, that Gaboriau's Monsieur Lecoq should have taken it into his head to fasten one of the crimes he was investigating on Pére Tirauclair; or that the author of The Hound of the Baskervilles, when the story as a serial was drawing to a close, should have be— come exasperated because too many readers were guessing Stapleton, and brought about a complete surprise by having Sherlock Holmes turn suddenly on Watson, with an accusing finger, and a “thou art the man!"

However, this one fault of The Mystery of the Yellow Room should not be allowed to obscure its many and obvious merits. It is one of those tales which are essentially serials, and which are constructed, first of all, with a view to keeping the reader keyed up from instalment to instalment. Regarded as such, no one can wonder at its great value to the journal in which it first appeared. There is never a dull paragraph: beginning with a mystery of the very first order, it introduces surprise after surprise, and no sooner has a reader made the slightest surmise as to the real facts. than he is confronted with some new and baffling complication which serves utterly to upset his theory.

As for Joseph Rouletabille, the precocious young reporter of the Epoque, who unravels the sinister mystery, it is too early to say whether he is destined to take a great place among the detectives of fiction. His creator has intimated that there are more stories to tell of his prowess; but just at present he seems a trifle shadowy and vague. Certainly there is not enough to justify that line in the narrative to the effect that the case won him the reputation of being the "greatest detective in the world."

There is one little touch in The Mystery of the Yellow Room which it is to be feared that many readers have overlooked. It throws a light on Joseph Rouletabille's ancestry, and will explain his singular forbearance at the end of the story, and the allusions to "the perfume of the lady in black."

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