The Mystery of the Yellow Room – Gaston Leroux

No one writes like Gaston
No one frights like Gaston
No one’s plot’s as incredibly trite as Gaston’s
For there’s no book in town half as madly
Plotted, a pure paragon!

Okay, Phantom is probably more madly plotted.   But it was as good as I could do in about three minutes, which is all it’s worth.   What to say about the Yellow Room?   What I want to say will spoil the whole thing.   If you don’t care about that, keep reading.   I’ll put no spoilers in the first part of this review.   The story:  Help ho!  Murder! cries young Mlle. Stangerson.  A no longer young half-French woman who spends all her time on Science! with her father in a very strangely designed laboratory in the middle of Nowhere, France.   She sleeps in a yellow room right next to the lab in the summer, so her father and their servant Daddy Jacques are right on hand to bang the door down when she starts screaming.   The concierges come help and all 4 of them finally knock down this door and find Mlle Stangerson in a pool of blood and NO ONE ELSE!    How could this be?   Sacre bleu!    This is one of the earliest locked room mysteries and while it does, technically, make sense in the end, I certainly don’t think it was fair play in the least.  And the trial scene is ridiculous.   There are two detectives vying for the honors here, but the main man is an 18 year old journalist know-it-all whose sheer charisma, I guess, leads everyone in France to accept what he says no matter how absurd it sounds.   Read this if you have an interest in the history of locked room mysteries or if you are playing Golden Age Mystery Bingo and need a mystery with a color in the title, though if it comes to that, Green for Danger is probably better.    It was entertaining enough, and it’s short, until you get to the end and are like, what??   Seriously??

200px-Leroux_Chambre_Jaune

MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW

Argh.   This book.   The actual solution to the locked room mystery is legit.  Well, semi-legit. Although we’re supposed to believe that Mlle is attacked in the early evening, manages to act perfectly normal immediately after, working with her father for six hours and failing utterly to remove any evidence of the attack she doesn’t want anyone to know about because she has a sekrit.  A secret so terrible, she’s prepared to be killed than reveal it.   The whole secret is extremely hard to believe.   This woman has lived with her father in Philadelphia her whole life.   She falls for the wrong guy.   He says no.   She gets mad and is sent off to live with an aunt from whom she runs away with and marries the guy.    Fine, but the aunt never tells her father.   And apparently her father never attempts to contact her for the at least 9 months she’s gone.    [There’s a son who manages to get born and completely abandoned, but no one seems bothered by that.]   After her no good husband is arrested she goes back to the aunt, has the kid and then goes back to her father, none of this revealed to him.   I’m not quite sure why this can never, ever be revealed.   That she would rather face anything than tell her father she made this big mistake.   He seems devoted to her.   He doesn’t seem cruel.   Though there’s so little character development, it’s hard to be sure.   She would rather meet her would-be murderer than reveal all, and her current fiance feels exactly the same.   Of course, we almost never see her, she’s too injured to come out of her room for most of the novel.   You have to be willing to swallow a hell of a lot for this plot to be believable.

The trial scene is the worst though.   This upstart detective-journalist, 18 years old, reveals how the locked room situation really went down, but without revealing the Sekrit and with no one willing and able to confirm any of his surmises.   He also tips off the criminal, and lets him get away.   He should be thrown in jail.  And everyone believes that Daddy Jacques lit the night light without noticing the bloody handprint on the wall.   There was no blood on the door knob, although the would-be murderer did apparently leave that way and no clean up at all even attempted.   She doesn’t even pick up the mutton bone.   Wouldn’t you make some excuse, go to your room and clean up if you wanted to cover the fact that a murder had been attempted on you?   I don’t think she even had time to hide the strangulation marks on her neck, though Gaston maintains she did.   Bizarre set-up.   Bizarre crimes.  Bizarre victims.   Suspension of disbelief unmaintainable.

END OF SPOILERS

1.5 stars I think.   Readable, but the ending made me want to throw the book across the room.

This book was read for the Golden Age Mystery Bingo space a book with a color in the title.  It also counts as a Cozy Mystery and a Book in Translation, though not a very good one, I think.  Oh, and it’s a French Book.  And it fits my Century of Books.  So, it was good for a lot, if not a good read.

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