Posts Tagged ‘mysteries’

The Letter Y (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 29, 2015

The Mystery of the Yellow Room, by Gaston Leroux


I grabbed this tattered book from a twenty-five cent sale box decades ago, a beat up, water damaged hardback bound in a once-lurid shade of red cloth now faded to a yellowish pink. On the cover below the title is a large question mark superimposed on a drawing of a wild-haired and somber-eyed man who broods, chin in hand, above the name of the author, Gaston Leroux, whom you may recognize as the author of The Phantom of the Opera. The Mystery of the Yellow Room, published in 1907, is one of the most famous locked room mysteries ever written. It concerns a young lady, Mathilde Stangerson, who is found beaten nearly to death inside a locked room in the house of her father, Professor Stangerson.

Does anyone else recognize the name Stangerson?  You don’t hear it that much. Have you read Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet? In A Study in Scarlet, written in 1886, Joseph Stangerson was found murdered – stabbed – in a hotel room, with a pillbox containing two pills on the floor beside him and the word RACHE written on the wall above his body.  It is revealed later that he was an American who had done dark deeds which needed revenging.

Isn’t that odd, don’t you think, that this uncommon name would feature in two famous mystery stories?  Especially in Yellow Room, because Stangerson does not seem to be a French name.  This has bothered me a bit over the years. With two hours this morning scheduled for the Letter Y, I thought I would take the opportunity to look into the matter.

I googled “Stangerson.”

First up was a Wiki article.  Here it is:

A quote:

“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.”

Hey!  Look!  Not only do the two characters share a surname, they also share a first name!  Both are named “Joseph Stangerson!”

This I had not remembered.  This was even better than I had thought.

It could not be coincidence.  There must be something here that everyone knows about but me. I started poking around in news articles and biographies and book reviews. Nothing. Then I became obvious and simply googled: “Did Gaston Leroux pay tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by using the name Joseph Stangerson?”

I found a site that offered a document that purported to talk about this very thing, but when I downloaded it, it only wanted me to take advantage of special offers, and I think it gave my computer a virus.

The I looked at another suggested website:

Here, this tidbit was offered:

Then, in 1907, [Gaston Leroux] used his admiration for Edgar Allan Poe and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to develop a young detective, Joseph Rouletabille, who solved a seemingly impossible crime committed in a locked room. The book was called The Mystery of the Yellow Room.

Hmmmm, so it is understood that Leroux admired Conan Doyle.  But they didn’t mention the names!  How many millions of people have read both of these books?  Surely I am not the only person who has noticed the unlikely coincidence of two Joseph Stangersons?  Why can’t I find anyone else talking about it?

Then I begin to doubt.

I google “Joseph Stangerson” again and scroll through the entries.  There is Wiki again, with Professor Joseph Stangerson featured in Yellow Room. All the other articles, pages and pages’ worth, talk about Study in Scarlet.

I google “Stangerson Mystery of the Yellow Room.”

Plenty of entries, but everyone but Wiki calls him simply “Monsieur Stangerson” or “Professor Stangerson.” I had not noticed this at first glance.

I check Wiki again, because at this point I have about two dozen tabs open and my eyes are starting to cross.

Yep, the Wiki article still clearly says:  “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.”  I didn’t imagine it.

I open my own copy of Yellow Room to check.  The book is 307 pages long but by now I’m obsessed.  I find a well-lit place, shove my glasses up on my head and start scanning for Joseph Stangerson.**

There are plenty of Stangersons, both Monsieur and Mademoiselle, but no Joseph Stangersons.

There are plenty of Josephs, but they are all Joseph Rouletabille, the young reporter.

As far as I can tell, Professor Stangerson of Yellow Room doesn’t even have a first name.

I begin to see what might have happened here.

Is it possible that the person who wrote the Wiki article had so internalized Study in Scarlet that when it came time to list the Yellow Room cast of characters it was easy to accidentally supply Professor Stangerson with the first name of the bad guy from Scarlet?  Especially when Yellow Room is so thoroughly sprinkled with Josephs that all belong to M. Rouletabille?

Is it possible that I caught a Wiki error?*

I don’t know, but I’m out of time this morning.

I really hope I came up with the correct solution, which is that:  A) Gaston Leroux paid tribute to Conan Doyle by borrowing a surname from a story that he admired, and B) the person who wrote the Wiki article made a mistake.

Please, if anyone reading this knows more about this mystery, please comment below.

See you tomorrow for Letter Z,


*Is it possible that I have totally wasted three hours on something no one cares about but me?

**I know you’re reading this, Patient Man.  Please keep in mind that I can scan a 300 page book in thirty minutes.