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  #1  
Old January 30th, 2005, 09:55 PM
Wyatt James
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Mystery of the Yellow Room



Reread this a week or so ago. I have no idea why it is ranked so
highly as a detective story (by Carr and the like). Even the
'impossible crime' solutions are ludicrous. One problem, however,
might be that the English translation of my book (the Dover edition of
the version that was published in England a year after the original
French edition) is VERY poor, with lots of errors that don't even make
any sense, such as saying Murderers when there was no murder,
confusing right with left, telling us the name of somebody as
something new when we have already known it for 20 pages, etc. Worse
are the contradictions and improbabilities -- the ultimate villain had
an iron-clad alibi (he was in London at the time), so how could that
have been faked? How come footprints are found on hallway rugs in the
house even when no mud was tracked in and whoever laid them did not
have cleats on his shoes? How can you take seriously Roulettabile's
superimposing a piece of paper over a footprint in the mud and cutting
out an outline of it with scissors, then identifying another footprint
as being by the same person by superimposing his cutout? The
melodramatic plot itself is both improbable and doesn't really apply
to any of the characters who did what they supposedly did. The butler
did it (not in this case) because he was secretly in love with MMLE
and therefore had to kill her! Leroux was a very sloppy writer. This
book is absolutely absurd. If Ritzner were with us still I'd call this
crap. [On the other hand, if he were, he would disagree with me and
call this book a masterpiece.]



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  #2  
Old January 30th, 2005, 10:16 PM
Wyatt James
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Re: Mystery of the Yellow Room



Oh, yes. I forgot to mention that this book contains two floor plans.
But as it turns out, they are absolutely useless and superfluous in
that they provide no clues at all. One of them did, however, inspire
John Dickson Carr to do one very similar in his first novel, "It Walks
by Night." In that case it really does provide a clue.
--- In GAdetection@yahoogroups.com, "Wyatt James" <grobius@s...> wrote:
>
> Reread this a week or so ago. I have no idea why it is ranked so
> highly as a detective story (by Carr and the like). Even the
> 'impossible crime' solutions are ludicrous. One problem, however,
> might be that the English translation of my book (the Dover edition of
> the version that was published in England a year after the original
> French edition) is VERY poor, with lots of errors that don't even make
> any sense, such as saying Murderers when there was no murder,
> confusing right with left, telling us the name of somebody as
> something new when we have already known it for 20 pages, etc. Worse
> are the contradictions and improbabilities -- the ultimate villain had
> an iron-clad alibi (he was in London at the time), so how could that
> have been faked? How come footprints are found on hallway rugs in the
> house even when no mud was tracked in and whoever laid them did not
> have cleats on his shoes? How can you take seriously Roulettabile's
> superimposing a piece of paper over a footprint in the mud and cutting
> out an outline of it with scissors, then identifying another footprint
> as being by the same person by superimposing his cutout? The
> melodramatic plot itself is both improbable and doesn't really apply
> to any of the characters who did what they supposedly did. The butler
> did it (not in this case) because he was secretly in love with MMLE
> and therefore had to kill her! Leroux was a very sloppy writer. This
> book is absolutely absurd. If Ritzner were with us still I'd call this
> crap. [On the other hand, if he were, he would disagree with me and
> call this book a masterpiece.]




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  #3  
Old February 1st, 2005, 06:55 AM
MG4273@aol.com
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Posts: n/a
Re: Mystery of the Yellow Room


This book seemed disappointing to me too. The first impossible crime's
solution requires really illogical action on the heroine's part, if memory serves.
However, this book inspired a lot of writers. Carr mentions it right in his
first novel (It Walks By Night), Chesterton apparently admired it, etc. It
really seemes to have inspired a lot of authors to create impossible crime stories
- stories which actually turned out a lot better than Leroux's! It seems to
have opned their imaginations to the possibilities of the impossible crime
story.
The moral: It is "better to try and fail, than not to try at all". It might
encourage others to try again, and actually succeed.

Mike Grost


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  #4  
Old February 1st, 2005, 07:40 AM
Xavier Lechard
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Re: Mystery of the Yellow Room



As the group's Frenchman, it's my duty to come to my late fellow-
compatriot's aid as he is obviously in jeopardy. ;-)
Michael's and Wyatt's objections are valid but they some miss the=20
point as "The Mystery of the Yellow Room" is NOT a detective novel,=20
at least not by Anglo-Saxon standards. Leroux was not a mystery=20
writer and never pretended to be. His thing was what we French=20
call "roman-feuilleton" - serialized novels that were published in=20
daily papers. That form addressed a broad, popular audience and=20
realism, logic and coherence were not its first concerns. Authors,=20
having to keep the reader gripped enough so that he bought the next=20
issue, didn't hesitate to pile up twists, bigger-than-life events and=20
characters and cliffhangers with sometimes no real idea of where all=20
that would lead. Also, they had strict time restrictions that kept=20
them from doing much proofreading. Hence the casual sloppy writing,=20
plot holes, melodrama and absurdities that can be found in works of=20
this era by Leroux, Leblanc, Mont=E9pin ou Souvestre & Allain (the=20
fathers of "Fantomas") and readers expecting something logical and=20
neatly plotted can't be but disappointed. They must read as what they=20
are: works of pure, wild imagination, no-barrels invention, which is=20
why surrealists for an example liked Fantomas so much.=20
In short, maybe "The Mystery of the Yellow Room" is not as carefully=20
devised as, say, "The Big Bow Mystery" but THAT'S NOT THE POINT.=20
Also, that book played a great part in not only further evolution of=20
impossible crimes stories, but also and above all in birth of French=20
mystery writing as distinct from the rising American-English school -=20
for better or worse. Even in its own Golden Age, French detective=20
story always paid more attention to imagination than reason. Leroux's=20
inheritance showed there, and that's probably why so few of our=20
classics crossed the Channel and the Atlantic.

Friendly,
Xavier



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  #5  
Old February 1st, 2005, 09:37 AM
mescallado
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Posts: n/a
Re: Mystery of the Yellow Room



Leroux's Phantom of the Opera contains an impossible crime subplot
(theft of an item with two guarding it). Like Yellow Room, Phantom
is melodramatic but I'm inclined to agree with Xavier: it's not
meant to please the typical GAD reader. Reaping praises from
Chesterton and Carr is coincidental. These people are writers and
saw things differently; they saw a fantastic plot device they could
never think of. Reminds of some stand-up comics who appeared as
guests on talk radio. They praised some of the worst comedy movies
around made by fellow standup comics(e.g., Dirty Work with Norm
MacDonald and Pootie Tang with Chris Rock). These comics liked each
other's idea or material even if they particularly care about movie
quality.

--- In GAdetection@yahoogroups.com, MG4273@a... wrote:
> This book seemed disappointing to me too. The first impossible

crime's
> solution requires really illogical action on the heroine's part,

if memory serves.
> However, this book inspired a lot of writers. Carr mentions it

right in his
> first novel (It Walks By Night), Chesterton apparently admired it,

etc. It
> really seemes to have inspired a lot of authors to create

impossible crime stories
> - stories which actually turned out a lot better than Leroux's! It

seems to
> have opned their imaginations to the possibilities of the

impossible crime
> story.
> The moral: It is "better to try and fail, than not to try at all".

It might
> encourage others to try again, and actually succeed.
>
> Mike Grost




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  #6  
Old February 2nd, 2005, 11:49 AM
Wyatt James
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Posts: n/a
Re: Mystery of the Yellow Room



Given what you've said, I will buy that argument. It does in fact come
across as a sort of comic strip serialization, something I don't
object to. In that sense it is well done. But why the pundits rated it
highly as a 'locked-room' classic makes no sense.


<<SPOILER>> For example, the murderer, the top detective of the
Surete, had an ironclad alibi at the time of the crime, since he was
in London on police business (which is easily verifiable) and then it
turns out casually that he wasn't there. It also turns out that he had
only been on the force for three years, even though he became a top
man, and actually was a 'supercriminal' under another identity police
all over the world had been looking for for years. His relationship
with the woman he tried to kill is based on his career as the
super-crook somewhere in the US where he met and tried to woo her,
something that is never given to the reader in the form of 'clues'. It
is all arrant nonsense. As Nero Wolfe would put it, rodomontade. (And
in fact, it turns out in a sequel book, which is far worse than Yellow
Room, "Perfume of the Lady in Black," he is Roulettabile's father,
that name being merely a nickname referring to the resemblance of this
18-year-old detective/reporter's head to looking like a billiard
ball.)

This book belongs in your shelf for "The Shadow" magazine and others
of the like. This type of story has its own merit if you enjoy that
sort of thing (as I do). It is NOT GAD in any sense, which is why I'm
puzzled so much why it was ever rated as classic locked-room mystery.
Even the locked-room solutions are trivial and unconvincing: there are
some acrobatics involved in one instance, and that is something JD
Carr himself indulged in occasionally in his books, also to the
detriment of the solution. Houdini fans will buy it, but I won't.

--- In GAdetection@yahoogroups.com, "Xavier Lechard"
<xavierlechard@f...> wrote:
>=20
> As the group's Frenchman, it's my duty to come to my late fellow-
> compatriot's aid as he is obviously in jeopardy. ;-)
> Michael's and Wyatt's objections are valid but they some miss the=20
> point as "The Mystery of the Yellow Room" is NOT a detective novel,=20
> at least not by Anglo-Saxon standards. Leroux was not a mystery=20
> writer and never pretended to be. His thing was what we French=20
> call "roman-feuilleton" - serialized novels that were published in=20
> daily papers. That form addressed a broad, popular audience and=20
> realism, logic and coherence were not its first concerns. Authors,=20
> having to keep the reader gripped enough so that he bought the next=20
> issue, didn't hesitate to pile up twists, bigger-than-life events

and=20
> characters and cliffhangers with sometimes no real idea of where

all=20
> that would lead. Also, they had strict time restrictions that kept=20
> them from doing much proofreading. Hence the casual sloppy writing,=20
> plot holes, melodrama and absurdities that can be found in works of=20
> this era by Leroux, Leblanc, Mont=E9pin ou Souvestre & Allain (the=20
> fathers of "Fantomas") and readers expecting something logical and=20
> neatly plotted can't be but disappointed. They must read as what

they=20
> are: works of pure, wild imagination, no-barrels invention, which

is=20
> why surrealists for an example liked Fantomas so much.=20
> In short, maybe "The Mystery of the Yellow Room" is not as

carefully=20
> devised as, say, "The Big Bow Mystery" but THAT'S NOT THE POINT.=20
> Also, that book played a great part in not only further evolution

of=20
> impossible crimes stories, but also and above all in birth of

French=20
> mystery writing as distinct from the rising American-English school

-=20
> for better or worse. Even in its own Golden Age, French detective=20
> story always paid more attention to imagination than reason.

Leroux's=20
> inheritance showed there, and that's probably why so few of our=20
> classics crossed the Channel and the Atlantic.
>=20
> Friendly,
> Xavier




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  #7  
Old February 21st, 2005, 02:46 PM
Wyatt James
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Re: Mystery of the Yellow Room



Actually, I agree with you. This is the French equivalent of the old
penny dreadful, or more contemporary to this time the Sexton Blakes,
Nick Carters, Arsene Lupins and books of that sort. They are quite
readable and fun (if as I do you like that sort of thing in small
doses). But it was Carr who called it the great Detective Novel, not
I! It has some clever misdirection as far as the 'mystery' goes, but
doesn't even pretend to contain any deduction from clues fairly
presented. I think Carr was a bit off his nut here, and that has
unfortunately led to the misrepresentation of this book by
mystery-novel critics. I would hate to say this (hah, I am saying
it!), but I think a lot of 'academics' just cite this book because it
has been on all the lists and yet they have never read it.

As to why French (and European detective stories from most countries)
mysteries never really got into the elements we associate with GAD and
payed more attention to imagination than reason, you are probably
making a cultural point, and it might also have something to do with
the legal systems where in Britain the prosecution had to prove its
case of guilt and on the Continent the defendant had to prove his
innocence. This is just off the top of my head, but I will make an
analogy with the Crossword Puzzle (not having looked at any European
ones). Only in England, and in the anglicized segments of the
English-speaking world, do you have anything resembling, say, The
Times Crossword Puzzle, which is a prototype of the classic GAD
mystery in the way it presents its clues and plays games with the
reader/solver. For example: 'Stark option facing one tempted to
thieve?' (TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT); 'Their poor clue could, however,
identify sleuth' (HERCULE POIROT); 'Unimportant persons making solving
of murders difficult' (NOBODIES). A mixture of puns and anagrams, but
it involves some thought on the part of the solver, not just a good
vocabulary or knowledge of obscure animals and plants. A pleasure
similar to a good Christie misdirection, but more on the level of a
single M&M as opposed to the full candy bar of a novel, results from
solving these items, satisfaction in getting it, or 'gee, of course'
when you don't but then see the solution. You 'furriners' on the
Group, please correct me if there are crossword puzzles of this sort
in your language.


--- In GAdetection@yahoogroups.com, "Xavier Lechard"
<xavierlechard@f...> wrote:
>=20
> As the group's Frenchman, it's my duty to come to my late fellow-
> compatriot's aid as he is obviously in jeopardy. ;-)
> Michael's and Wyatt's objections are valid but they some miss the=20
> point as "The Mystery of the Yellow Room" is NOT a detective novel,=20
> at least not by Anglo-Saxon standards. Leroux was not a mystery=20
> writer and never pretended to be. His thing was what we French=20
> call "roman-feuilleton" - serialized novels that were published in=20
> daily papers. That form addressed a broad, popular audience and=20
> realism, logic and coherence were not its first concerns. Authors,=20
> having to keep the reader gripped enough so that he bought the next=20
> issue, didn't hesitate to pile up twists, bigger-than-life events

and=20
> characters and cliffhangers with sometimes no real idea of where

all=20
> that would lead. Also, they had strict time restrictions that kept=20
> them from doing much proofreading. Hence the casual sloppy writing,=20
> plot holes, melodrama and absurdities that can be found in works of=20
> this era by Leroux, Leblanc, Mont=E9pin ou Souvestre & Allain (the=20
> fathers of "Fantomas") and readers expecting something logical and=20
> neatly plotted can't be but disappointed. They must read as what

they=20
> are: works of pure, wild imagination, no-barrels invention, which

is=20
> why surrealists for an example liked Fantomas so much.=20
> In short, maybe "The Mystery of the Yellow Room" is not as

carefully=20
> devised as, say, "The Big Bow Mystery" but THAT'S NOT THE POINT.=20
> Also, that book played a great part in not only further evolution

of=20
> impossible crimes stories, but also and above all in birth of

French=20
> mystery writing as distinct from the rising American-English school

-=20
> for better or worse. Even in its own Golden Age, French detective=20
> story always paid more attention to imagination than reason.

Leroux's=20
> inheritance showed there, and that's probably why so few of our=20
> classics crossed the Channel and the Atlantic.
>=20
> Friendly,
> Xavier




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  #8  
Old February 21st, 2005, 03:18 PM
Xavier Lechard
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Re: Mystery of the Yellow Room



--- In GAdetection@yahoogroups.com, "Wyatt James" <grobius@s...>=20
wrote:
>=20
> Actually, I agree with you. This is the French equivalent of the old
> penny dreadful, or more contemporary to this time the Sexton Blakes,
> Nick Carters, Arsene Lupins and books of that sort. They are quite
> readable and fun (if as I do you like that sort of thing in small
> doses). But it was Carr who called it the great Detective Novel, not
> I! It has some clever misdirection as far as the 'mystery' goes, but
> doesn't even pretend to contain any deduction from clues fairly
> presented. I think Carr was a bit off his nut here, and that has
> unfortunately led to the misrepresentation of this book by
> mystery-novel critics. I would hate to say this (hah, I am saying
> it!), but I think a lot of 'academics' just cite this book because=20

it
> has been on all the lists and yet they have never read it.


I think that Carr's appraisal of Yellow Room is coherent with his own=20
approach to mystery fiction that, albeit a lot more rigorous, was in=20
its own way as fancical and disregarding of realism and probability=20
as Leroux's. It may also account for Carr's huge popularity in=20
France, including among non-GA-oriented readers who relish in his=20
fantastic atmospheres and humoristic tone more than in the puzzles=20
themselves.=20
=20
> As to why French (and European detective stories from most=20

countries)
> mysteries never really got into the elements we associate with GAD=20

and
> payed more attention to imagination than reason, you are probably
> making a cultural point, and it might also have something to do with
> the legal systems where in Britain the prosecution had to prove its
> case of guilt and on the Continent the defendant had to prove his
> innocence.


It may also be linked to Latin refusal, or at least skepticism of the=20
empiricism that founds GAD mysteries. French school, however, was=20
pretty unique from the start and still stands as quite unique on the=20
Continent. There were and still are some French attempts to the Anglo-
Saxon model, but they ultimately turn into something wholly different=20
because of the authors's unwillingness or unability to keep their=20
stories straight.

>This is just off the top of my head, but I will make an
> analogy with the Crossword Puzzle (not having looked at any European
> ones). Only in England, and in the anglicized segments of the
> English-speaking world, do you have anything resembling, say, The
> Times Crossword Puzzle, which is a prototype of the classic GAD
> mystery in the way it presents its clues and plays games with the
> reader/solver. For example: 'Stark option facing one tempted to
> thieve?' (TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT); 'Their poor clue could, however,
> identify sleuth' (HERCULE POIROT); 'Unimportant persons making=20

solving
> of murders difficult' (NOBODIES). A mixture of puns and anagrams,=20

but
> it involves some thought on the part of the solver, not just a good
> vocabulary or knowledge of obscure animals and plants. A pleasure
> similar to a good Christie misdirection, but more on the level of a
> single M&M as opposed to the full candy bar of a novel, results from
> solving these items, satisfaction in getting it, or 'gee, of course'
> when you don't but then see the solution. You 'furriners' on the
> Group, please correct me if there are crossword puzzles of this sort
> in your language.


You'd certainly enjoy Le Canard Enchain=E9's crosswords.

Friendly,
Xavier



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  #9  
Old February 18th, 2012, 11:25 AM
Jojo Lapin X's Avatar
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Re: Mystery of the Yellow Room

I just read THE MYSTERY OF THE YELLOW ROOM for the first time, and found it brilliant. It is also perfectly clear what Carr admired about it and took from it---it has exactly the nightmarish, surrealistic atmosphere found in THE HOLLOW MAN and other early works.
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  #10  
Old February 24th, 2012, 01:44 PM
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Re: Mystery of the Yellow Room

It's funny you should read it just now, Jojo, as I was recently thinking this book over. I read it at 12, it came in an Omnibus wiht a Lecoq (I believe it was THE MYSTERY OF ORCIVAL--not sure, is that the one with Madame Bovary parallels?) and a collection of Lupin short stories.

I was overwhelmed by the strong sense of mystery; that overwhelming feeling of dealing with something superior. Today, I might have noticed and griped about the errors. Back then, I didn't notice them. Today, I might have found a few explanations in the book poor and unconvincing. But as a child, you feel like you are listening to a teacher, so you accept what the author tells you as a valid explanation.

Though I don't remember the explanation for the incident in the hallway, I remember that I figured it out, and that's saying something, because back then I wasn't able to solve a single Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes.

If I may be so bold, I think the appeal of this and many other books was that the author convinces you that he is a brilliant man, able to create a mystifying world, that keeps you in a state of bafflement and thrill. As adults, we know better. But is it better to know that?
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Old February 25th, 2012, 03:51 AM
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Re: Mystery of the Yellow Room

I have now also read the sequel, THE PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK, which stretches plausibility far beyond the breaking-point (though certainly not more than certain works by, say, Agatha Christie) but is nevertheless very entertaining. It also reinforces my belief that Leroux was the major inspiration for the early Carr. Bencolin clearly inhabits the same nightmare world as Rouletabille, and THE UNICORN MURDERS seems to be a deliberate tip of the hat to THE PERFUME (which also concerns a group of people in a castle, one of whom is a notorious master criminal, but we do not know who).
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Old February 25th, 2012, 04:57 AM
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Re: Mystery of the Yellow Room

I don't remember the style of the YELLOW ROOM too well--couldn't compare it to the early Carr. But it definitely has the desire to throw more and more at the reader, to overwhelm him with the fantastic nature of what's going on.

What do you (and others) think of the Unicorn Murders? I always liked that book, because in addition to the basic question of who is the killer, you have to figure out who is the detective, who is the master criminal (he is not necessarily the killer) and who is the victim.
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  #13  
Old February 25th, 2012, 05:13 AM
awrobins awrobins is offline
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Re: Mystery of the Yellow Room

I enjoyed The Unicorn Murders—good atmosphere, a combination of suspense and humor, and a satisfying (and horrific) explanation for the bizarre injury caused by the “unicorn horn.” I foresaw the scene where

Spoiler

Gasquet produces a detailed case against the narrator


but my guess as to the culprit was wrong:

Spoiler

Since early in the book it was stressed that Gasquet, the brilliant detective, and Flamande, the super-criminal, had much in common, I thought that Flamande would turn out to be Gasquet—or at least that that would be proposed as a possible solution.
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Old February 26th, 2012, 03:15 PM
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Re: Mystery of the Yellow Room

I think "satisfying" is a very key word when it comes to Carr, a grandiose puzzle should have a grandiose solution, not one based on a minor technicality (which is something even many good Carrs depend on). I think UNICORN MURDERS works in that regard.

Spoiler
The idea of there having been an outsider in the moat-surrounded castle after all, as well as his identity, I thought, was pretty cool and convincing.
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