Sunday, 11 July 2010

Rouletabille Rendezvous

The Mystery of the Yellow Room 1907.
By Gaston Leroux.
Wordsworth Editions.
ISBN: 9781840226478

Three years before he wrote his more famous (in this country) The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux wrote The Mystery of the Yellow Room, being the first in the series of novels to feature his youthful detective Joseph Rouletabille.

Now I’ve been wanting to read some of the original adventures of Rouletabille for some time because I’ve recently been inadvertently reading a lot of modern-written short stories which have pitted Leroux’s detective against other famous literary creations (see Blackcoat Press’ “Tales of the Shadowmen” series), so I was absolutely delighted to find that one of my favourite publishers (Wordsworth Editions) have made the first novel available at their usual modest price of £2.99

It will come as no surprise to readers of such tales that Rouletabille was conceived as Leroux’s answer to Arthur Conan Doyles great literary sleuth Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allan Poe’s brilliant detective creation C. Auguste Dupin. It may, however, surprise some readers that this character is easily the equal of these other two creations and I was pleased to find that The Mystery of the Yellow Room is a truly excellent read.

It’s basically a locked room style mystery, with all the unfortunate pitfalls that the years since when this was written have brought to this particular sub-genre of detective fiction. So straight away the structure of the story wears on its sleeve Leroux’s debt/homage to Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue but I’m telling you now... there are no convenient monkeys involved at the solution to this particular problem at the end of the game (actually, the best “Locked Room” story I’ve read in years would be Stieg Larrson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo... where a whole island becomes the “locked room”!).

I found the novel in general to be a fascinating and entertaining page turner and, surprisingly, not nearly as pulpy and as exploitative of lurid detail as his later novel, The Phantom of the Opera. This one really did feel like a “classic” as opposed to a cheap yarn! There is much to recommend in this one with the one caveat that I might make being that, given that modern audiences have been exposed to this style of literature a lot, you will probably find yourself arriving at the exact nature of the solution a lot quicker than the characters in the novel do. This is not to say that you will be able to unravel the specifics of the answer to the problem presented here in any great detail... but you will probably be able to fairly quickly “eliminate the impossible” and arrive at the nature of the specifics of the crime... if not the specific details of the crime itself.

A great novel and, if detective fiction is your thing, then certainly a necessary purchase if you haven’t already read this one.

For other great Wordsworth Editions... check out their website here...

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