2

Classics Club #57: ‘The Mystery of the Yellow Room’ by Gaston Leroux ***

The premise of the 57th entry upon my Classics Club list intrigued me immediately: ‘The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1908) is Gaston Leroux’s masterpiece and during his lifetime his most successful book. It is one of the classics of early 20th-century detective fiction. At the heart of the novel is the enigma: how could a murder take place in a locked room, which shows no sign of being entered? The novel is also about the rivalry to solve the case between the detective Frederick Larson, and a young investigative journalist, Rouletabille. Larson finds a suspect who is put on trial, only to have him cleared by Rouletabille, who reveals in the most dramatic fashion the identity of the real murderer.’

Unsurprisingly, the only book of Leroux’s which I had read before picking up The Mystery of the Yellow Room was The Phantom of the Opera, which I enjoyed.  I remember admiring his prose style, so I am unsure as to why it has taken me so long to get around to reading any of his other work.  Despite this, I felt that slotting this novel in to a French holiday was a fitting idea, and so I therefore ensured that I got to it in August.

The novel begins in the following manner: ‘It is not without a certain emotion that I begin to recount here the extraordinary adventures of Joseph Rouletabille.  Down to the present time he had so firmly opposed my doing it that I had come to despair of ever publishing the most curious of police stories of the past fifteen years’.  Our narrator goes on to write, ‘The Yellow Room: who now remembers this affair which caused so much ink to flow fifteen years ago?  Events are so quickly forgotten in Paris…  In truth, I do not know that, in the domain of reality or imagination, one can discover or recall to mind anything comparable, in its mystery, with the natural mystery of The Yellow Room…  You are going to know all; and, without further preamble, I am going to place before your eyes the problem of The Yellow Room as it was placed before the eyes of the entire world on the day following the enactment of the drama at the chateau du Glandier’.

The mystery is recounted as follows; in October 1892, Mathilde Stangerson, the daughter of a respected scientist, is attacked: ‘a desperate clamour broke out in The Yellow Room.  It was the voice of Mademoiselle, crying “murder! -murder! – help!”‘.  The woman is badly wounded, but no other body is found in the room with her: ‘For the problem is this: we know by what way the assassin gained admission, – he entered by the door and hid himself under the bed…  But how did he leave?  How did he escape?  If no trap, no secret door, no hiding place, no opening of any sort is found…  if the ceiling shows no crack, if the floor hides no underground passage, one must really believe in the Devil…’.

Rouletabille is a reporter, who engages our narrator, Sainclair, to help him solve the mystery.  The ‘clues’ which are left behind are traces of large footprints and a bloodied handprint; these are quickly disregarded, ‘for murderers don’t leave traces behind them which tell the truth’.

The Mystery of the Yellow Room is one of the first original locked-room mysteries and, of course, has shades of Sherlock Holmes about it in places.  The first person narrative perspective which Leroux has crafted is engaging from the very beginning, and his writing is often perfectly measured.  Of the now thirty five-year-old Mathilde’s past, for example, he writes the following: ‘twenty years of age, a charming blonde, with blue eyes, milk-white complexion, and radiant with divine health…  One of the most beautiful marriageable girls in either the old or the new world’.

The novel is relatively well plotted, and the story carries through the entirety well; nothing within it feels too drawn out.  The Mystery of the Yellow Room is neither the best, nor the most clever mystery which I have read, but it did hold my interest for the most part.  A few of the sections toward and after the midpoint did feel a little slow to me, and were partially superfluous; these instances did detract from the main intrigue of the tale.  Still, The Mystery of the Yellow Room holds definite appeal for fans of Holmesian mysteries and the like, although it perhaps goes without saying that the protagonists of the novel are nowhere near as memorable, nor as well drawn, as those in the aforementioned.

Purchase from The Book Depository

4

Spooky Halloween Reads (Part One – Classics)

Halloween is merely one week away and what better way is there to get into the spooky mood than read some spooky books 🙂 In preparation, I have made a compilation of some of my favourite classic books to read during Halloween. Here are my choices:

1. The Complete Stories and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe132314

“The unabridged Edgar Allan Poe contains all of Poe’s classic tales and most haunting poems – presented, for the first time, in the order he originally wrote them. This complete collection of Poe’s versatile genius lets you share his journeys into the wondrous and macabre that have entertained and fascinated readers for generations. Not a word has been deleted!”

the-turn-of-the-screw-and-other-stories 2. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

“A very young woman’s first job: governess for two weirdly beautiful, strangely distant,  oddly silent children, Miles and Flora, at a forlorn estate. An estate haunted by a  beckoning evil. Half-seen figures who glare from dark towers and dusty windows- silent,  foul phantoms who, day by day, night by night, come closer, ever closer. With growing  horror, the helpless governess realizes the fiendish creatures want the children, seeking  to corrupt their bodies, possess their minds, own their souls. But worse-much worse- the  governess discovers that Miles and Flora have no terror of the lurking evil. For they want  the walking dead as badly as the dead want them.”

3. Dracula by Bram Stokerdracula-cover

“When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula with the purchase of a London house, he makes horrifying discoveries about his client and his castle. Soon afterwards, a number of disturbing incidents unfold in England: an unmanned ship is wrecked at Whitby; strange puncture marks appear on a young woman’s neck; and the inmate of a lunatic asylum raves about the imminent arrival of his ‘Master’. In the ensuing battle of wits between the sinister Count Dracula and a determined group of adversaries, Bram Stoker created a masterpiece of the horror genre, probing deeply into questions of human identity and sanity, and illuminating dark corners of Victorian sexuality and desire.”

frankenstein-cover 4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

“Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only eighteen. At once a  Gothic thriller, a passionate romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of  science, Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein.  Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation  upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts  but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. Tormented  by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a  campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.
 Frankenstein, an instant bestseller and an important ancestor of both the horror and  science fiction genres, not only tells a terrifying story, but also raises profound, disturbing questions about the very nature of life and the place of humankind within the cosmos: What does it mean to be human? What responsibilities do we have to each other? How far can we go in tampering with Nature? In our age, filled with news of organ donation genetic engineering, and bio-terrorism, these questions are more relevant than ever.”

5. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Lerouxgaston-leroux-1

“First published in French as a serial in 1909, “The Phantom of the Opera” is a riveting story that revolves around the young, Swedish Christine Daaé. Her father, a famous musician, dies, and she is raised in the Paris Opera House with his dying promise of a protective angel of music to guide her. After a time at the opera house, she begins hearing a voice, who eventually teaches her how to sing beautifully. All goes well until Christine’s childhood friend Raoul comes to visit his parents, who are patrons of the opera, and he sees Christine when she begins successfully singing on the stage. The voice, who is the deformed, murderous ‘ghost’ of the opera house named Erik, however, grows violent in his terrible jealousy, until Christine suddenly disappears. The phantom is in love, but it can only spell disaster. Leroux’s work, with characters ranging from the spoiled prima donna Carlotta to the mysterious Persian from Erik’s past, has been immortalized by memorable adaptations. Despite this, it remains a remarkable piece of Gothic horror literature in and of itself, deeper and darker than any version that follows.”

legend-of-sleepy-hollow6. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

” “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is a story by Washington Irving written while he was living  in Birmingham, England. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is among the earliest examples of  American fiction still read today. The story is set circa 1790 in the Dutch settlement of  Tarry Town (based on Tarrytown, New York), in a secluded glen called Sleepy Hollow. It  tells the story of Ichabod Crane, who is a lean, lanky, and extremely superstitious  schoolmaster from Connecticut, who competes with Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt,  the town rowdy, for the hand of 18-year-old Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter and sole child  of a wealthy farmer, Baltus Van Tassel. As Crane leaves a party he attended at the Van  Tassel home on an autumn night, he is pursued by the Headless Horseman, who is supposedly the ghost of a Hessian trooper who had his head shot off by a stray cannonball during “some nameless battle” of the American Revolutionary War, and who “rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head.”

7. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson9780141389509

“Few Victorian mysteries are more haunting, sinister and profound than Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It is when Mr. Utterson, a dry London lawyer, peruses the last will of his old friend Henry Jekyll that his suspicions are aroused. What is the relationship between upright, respectable Dr. Jekyll and the evil Edward Hyde? Who murdered the distinguished MP, Sir Danvers? So begins Stevenson’s spine-tingling horror story, the story of Dr. Jekyll’s infernal alter ego, and of a hunt throughout the nocturnal streets of London that culminates in some dreadful revelations.”

What are your favourite spooky classic reads? 🙂