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The Mystery of the Yellow Room

By: Gaston Leroux

One of the first locked room mysteries, The Mystery of the Yellow Room focuses on a supposedly impossible crime which has been committed within a locked room. The novel was initially published in the French periodical L’illustration, and was later published as a book in 1908. It is the first of a series of novels featuring the famous fictional reporter Joseph Rouletabille. The mystery begins when Joseph Rouletabille, a reporter and amateur sleuth is sent to investigate a crime scene at the Château du Glandier, home to renowned chemist Joseph Stangerson. In the focus of the crime is none other than professor Stangerson’s daughter Mathilde. She has been viciously attacked and almost killed in her room, or as the title suggests – the yellow room. What makes the crime so bewildering is the fact that it took place in a room locked from the inside with no apparent exit for the perpetrator. As Miss Stangerson is found alone lying on the floor, the assailant seems to have left significant clues behind, including a bloody mutton bone, a bloody handprint on the wall, and some old boots. Accompanied by his friend and lawyer Sainclair, Rouletabille gains access to the crime scene and interrogates some suspicious characters. The official detective assigned to the case is Frederick Larson, who becomes somewhat of a friendly rival to Rouletabille, and suspects Miss Stangerson’s fiancé Robert Darzac to be involved in the crime. As the mystery unfolds, the darkest secrets and twisted nature of the characters are slowly revealed. A novel portraying the many facets of deception, hazardous ambition and foul play, The Mystery of the Yellow Room sets the benchmark for detective fiction. Furthermore, readers are intellectually challenged to follow the many clues left behind, pushing them into the role of detective in hope of unraveling the mystery. Nevertheless, intriguing and nail biting to the very end, Leroux has effectively masterminded a perplexing mystery, widely celebrated to this very day.

Reporter and amateur sleuth Joseph Rouletabille is sent to investigate a criminal case at the Château du Glandier and takes along his friend the lawyer Sainclair, who narrates. Mathilde Stangerson, the 30-something daughter of the castle's owner, Professor Joseph Stangerson, was found near-critically battered in a room adjacent to his laboratory on the castle grounds, with the door still locked from the inside. She recovers slowly but can make no useful testimony. Rouletabille meets and interrogates several characters: the castle's concierges Mr & Mrs Bernier, the old servant Jacques, an unfriendly inn landlord and a womanising gamekeeper, and begins a friendly rivalry with France's top police detective Frédéric Larsan, who has been assigned the case. Larsan suspects Ms Stangerson's fiancé, another scientist called Robert Darzac, to Rouletabille's dismay.

More attempts are made on Ms Stangerson's life despite Rouletabille and Larsan's protection, and the perpetrator appears to vanish on two occasions when they are closing in on him, echoing Professor Stangerson's research into "matter dissociation". The game-keeper is murdered during the second attempt. Ultimately, Larsan arrests Darzac who is charged with murder attempts. Rouletabille suspects that Darzac has secret reasons not to defend himself and he disappears to make further investigations.

Two-and-a-half months later, as Darzac's trial opens, Rouletabille reappears sensationally and tells the court that the culprit is Frédéric Larsan himself, whom he accuses of being an alter-ego of a master criminal called Ballmeyer. Larsan appeared to vanish on the two occasions he was nearly collared as he was one of the pursuers. Darzac is released when it emerges that Larsan has vanished after Rouletabille warned him he would accuse him in court. The mystery of the locked Yellow Room is explained thus: Larsan assaulted Ms Stangerson earlier in the day than originally thought, but she hid the traces of the attack and locked herself away. During the night, traumatised by the event, she fell off her bed and inflicted the gravest of the wounds by hitting her temple on the corner of her bed-side table.

The background to these events is kept secret in court but finally explained by Sainclair. Ballmeyer, in a different guise, had seduced Ms Stangerson in her youth and married her secretly in the United States. They had a child before he was arrested and his identity revealed to her. Ms Stangerson had arranged for her son's care and education and hidden the whole saga from her father; her silence and Robert Darzac's behaviour were motivated by her desperation to keep him from finding out. Ballmeyer however, hearing that she was engaged, had decided to reappear in her life and claim her as his wife once more, by force if necessary.

 

Book Details

Language

English

Original Language

French

Published In

1907

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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...

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