Top positive review
A true classic and a real treat
13 October 2018
The Mystery of the Yellow Room was a book I had heard of but never read - a short story in the 'Foreign Bodies' collection from the British Library which I read recently pastiched it to a certain extent and so I decided it was time to visit the original. The book itself is a beautiful addition to The Detective Club Series and with review quotes on the dust jacket from Hercule Poirot and Gideon Fell you know you are in for a treat.
I hadn't remembered that both Poirot and Fell had referred to the book in their own cannons. I know that nods and winks to other authors were common among members of the Detection Club during the Golden Age but I had not realised that both Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr had acknowledged Gaston Leroux so effusively.
The Introduction by John Curran is interesting and sets the scene for the masterful locked room mystery which follows. A woman is brutally assaulted in her bedroom which is locked from the inside and has sealed windows. Four people are present when the door is broken down and yet no one else is there.
The story is told by a trainee lawyer called M. Sainclair who plays Watson to the brilliant (and very young) journalist - Joseph Rouletabille. Having persuaded the father of the assaulted woman and the police - in the figure of top detective Frederic Larsan - to let them conduct their own investigation they proceed to do so with eventual success.
To say too much more about the story would ruin it but it is a beautifully written and wholly fair mystery which any enthusiast for classic crime should enjoy. Rouletabille is, like most detective characters, quite keen on keeping his cards close to his chest until the final dénouement but his sidekick (and our narrator) is quite tolerant of it, much more so than Watson or Hastings ever was.
Rouletabille refers several times during the story to 'The Perfume of the Lady in Black' - so much so that at one point M. Sainclair tells us that this has no relevance to the story which we are being told. Leroux wrote several novels featuring Rouletabille - as the second is called 'The Perfume of the Lady in Black' he was no doubt seeding the next book for his readers - a very modern habit! It would be nice if these later stories were made available in English.
My only criticism is that the criminal was consistently referred to throughout the book as the murderer. As Mlle Stangerson, the lady who was attacked, survives the assault this is a somewhat inaccurate term and I found it a bit grating... That aside this is a real treat to be savoured, not for nothing was it voted the third best locked room mystery of all time. Highly recommended.