(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Gaston Leroux, a journalist by profession, proved himself an outstanding author of two different kinds of popular fiction: what the French term the roman policier and the roman d’adventure. Both these terms are broad and ambiguous: the first embraces more specifically the detective mystery, the police procedural, and the crime story. The second term embraces such vague categories as thriller, novel of suspense, and horror story as well as the more specific espionage story, gothic romance, Western, fantasy, and science fiction.

Leroux created two main series characters, Joseph Rouletabille and Chéri-Bibi. Rouletabille is a prodigy who displayed his mathematical genius at the age of nine. As a child, he was accused of a theft of which he was innocent and ran away from his boarding school in Eu. He lived on the street until age eighteen, when he became a reporter on the Paris paper L’Èpoque. Although a rationalist, he is not a worshiper of reason. He holds that it is incorrect to apply logical processes to external signs without first having grasped them intuitively. In his thinking, therefore, Rouletabille is as much a philosopher as a mathematician.

Chéri-Bibi, whose real name is Jean Mascart, grew up in Puys, near Dieppe. He was a butcher’s apprentice when he was mistakenly convicted for the murder of M. Bourrelier, a wealthy shipowner and the father of Cécily, the beautiful girl whom the poor butcher’s boy loved. Although Chéri-Bibi’s life was spared, he was sentenced to a long term in prison. His life then became a series of escapes and repeated imprisonments as he committed various crimes in his efforts to survive and to remain free. As an innocent man to whom society has meted out injustice, he blames his difficulties on fate. At the same time, he is a man who knows how to laugh.

Leroux’s first novel in his famous Joseph Rouletabille series, Le Mystère de la chambre jaune...

(The entire section is 799 words.)