Day: April 23, 2020

Gaston Leroux (1868 – 1927)

gaston-leroux

Gaston Louis Alfred Leroux was a French journalist and author of detective fiction. In the English-speaking world, he is best known for writing the novel The Phantom of the Opera (Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, 1910), which has been made into several film and stage productions of the same name, such as the 1925 film starring Lon Chaney, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical. It was also the basis of the 1990 novel Phantom by Susan Kay. Leroux went to school in Normandy and studied law in Paris, graduating in 1889. He inherited millions of francs and lived wildly until he nearly reached bankruptcy. Then in 1890, he began working as a court reporter and theater critic for L’Écho de Paris. His most important journalism came when he began working as an international correspondent for the Paris newspaper Le Matin. In 1905 he was present at and covered the Russian Revolution. Another case he was present at involved the investigation and deep coverage of an opera house in Paris, later to become a ballet house. The basement consisted of a cell that held prisoners in the Paris Commune, which were the rulers of Paris through much of the Franco-Prussian war. He suddenly left journalism in 1907, and began writing fiction. In 1909, he and Arthur Bernède formed their own film company, Société des Cinéromans to simultaneously publish novels and turn them into films. He first wrote a mystery novel entitled Le mystère de la chambre jaune (1908; The Mystery of the Yellow Room), starring the amateur detective Joseph Rouletabille. Leroux’s contribution to French detective fiction is considered a parallel to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s in the United Kingdom and Edgar Allan Poe’s in America. Leroux died in Nice on April 15, 1927, of a urinary tract infection. (Source: Goodreads)

Some of Leroux’s works, in both French and English, can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg.

The Adventures of Joseph Rouletabille: Le mystère de la chambre jaune (1907) aka The Mystery of the Yellow Room; Le parfum de la dame en noir (1908) aka The Perfume of the Lady in Black; Rouletabille chez le tsar (1912) aka The Secret of the Night; Le château noir (1914); Les étranges noces de Rouletabille (1914); Rouletabille à la guerre (1914); Rouletabille chez Krupp (1917); Le crime de Rouletabille (1921); and Rouletabille chez les Bohémiens (1922)

Further reading:

First published in the newspaper L’Illustration, Gaston Leroux’s novel, Le mystère de la chambre jaune (The Mystery of the Yellow Room) (1907), is a ‘closed-room mystery’ solved by the acumen of the Descartes-inspired investigative journalist Rouletabille. Leroux claimed that he wished to create ‘something better’ than both Poe and Conan Doyle.

Narrated by Rouletabille’s friend, Sinclair, a law student, who though not as obtuse as Watson, remains in the dark throughout the investigation, the ‘mystery’ is centred principally around how the assassin was able to leave the yellow chamber when it was locked from the inside and surrounded on the outside. As the plot unfolds, the highly competitive Rouletabille desires nothing more than to outdo the Parisian detective [Frederic Larson in charge of the case]. His methodology is overly Cartesian, and he claims that he will resolve the apparently inexplicable using pure reason. He disparages Larson’s techniques, which, he claims are entirely based on Conan Doyle.
A strong influence on Agatha Christie’s country-house mysteries, the novel relies heavily on detailed reasoning that lead step-by-step from room to rooftop and is complete with floor-plans. diagrams and lists. Frequent references to Poe are made, yet the novel combines the latter’s ratiocination with plenty of action: the killer strikes more than once, and is known to have access to the chateau’s grounds, if not actually inhabit them. (The Cambridge Companion to Crime Fiction, edited by Martin Priestman. Cambridge University Press, 2003. pp. 68-69).

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(Facsimile Dust Jacket. Grayson & Grayson (UK) 1908)

One of the defining novels of the entire crime genre, Gaston Leroux’s The Mystery of the Yellow Room has inspired readers and writers including Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr, and is now republished in hardback in the Detective Club series with a brand new introduction.

Breaking down her door in response to the sounds of a violent attack and a gunshot, Mademoiselle Stangerson’s rescuers are appalled to find her dying on the floor, clubbed down by a large mutton bone. But in a room with a barred window and locked door, how could her assailant have entered and escaped undetected? While bewildered police officials from the Sûreté begin an exhaustive investigation, so too does a young newspaperman, Joseph Rouletabille, who will encounter more impossibilities before this case can be closed.

The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux, best remembered today as the author of The Phantom of the Opera, has been deservedly praised for more than a century as a defining book in the ‘impossible crime’ genre, as readable now as when it first appeared in French in 1907.

This Detective Club classic includes an introduction by John Curran, who discusses how the book impressed and influenced a young Agatha Christie, was lauded by genre giants including John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen and Julian Symons, and remains to this day one of the most effective and enjoyable locked room mysteries ever written. (Collins Detective Club Crime Classics)

The Mystery of the Yellow Room has been reviewed, among others, at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Golden Age of Detection Wiki, Classic Mysteries, My Reader’s Block, Past Offences, Pramod Nair’s Reviews at Good Reads, FictionFan’s Book Reviews and The Invisible Event.

Audible

To tell you the truth, after I first read The Mystery of the Yellow Room, I was disappointed. My post is here. Now that I believe my tastes have somewhat evolved, and in view of my growing interest about locked-room mysteries and impossible crimes, I look forward to reading again soon The Mystery of the Yellow Room in this new edition published by Collins Detective Club Crime Classics.