Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Why not avoid the danger of a personality that is ever the same?”

"'The fox changes his skin,' quoth Ellery, 'but not his habits. or would you prefer it in Latin. My classics used to irritate you.'"
"Halfway House"
And with most of the backlog gone, I'll go back to one-post-a-week.

I have read Maurice LeBlanc's Arsène Lupin novels in English, German and Japanese now. And not one in the original French language. It's a bit creepy realizing, I have forgotten a language I have studied for several years at school. I do seem to have done bits and pieces of a bit too many languages, resulting in me being a jack of all trades, but master of none.

Like with La Demoiselle aux yeux vert, La Demeure mystérieuse isn't available in English as far as I know. So I had to settle with Kaiki na Ie ("The Strange House"), another re-release of the Minami Youichirou translations by Popular. The novel starts with the kidnapping of a young singer, Régine. She is taken by her two kidnappers to a mysterious mansion, where she is robbed of her diamonds, lent to her by Van Houben. A similar incident happens a bit later with a model called Arlette . The police, with the help of  the baron Jean d'Enneris (Yes. In fact Lupin) manage to identify the mansion the girls were taken to. The Valamare mansion, inhabited by the count Valamare and his sister. While evidence of their guilt is everywhere, the diamonds are nowhere to be found. The police is convinced the Valamares are guilty, as all the clues point to them, but d'Enneris seems not so sure. Convinced someone is trying to set up the Valamare's, he starts another investigation, with a certain Antoine Fagueraul, fiance of Arlette, as his main suspect. But it's all just to get his hands on the Van Houben diamonds.

At this point, I wonder why Leblanc even bothers to give Lupin a different name, as anybody knows who Lupin is, the moment he enters stage. It is difficult not to recognize his raw power and charisma. But still , LeBlanc keeps trying. One of the later chapters even "tries" to create confusion by suggesting Fagueraul might be Lupin. As if.

What's even more confusing is that the cop Bechoux knows that d'Enneris is in fact... the private detective Jim Barnett (from the short story collection L'Agence Barnett et Cie). Who in fact is Arsène Lupin.

The story is pretty fun though. The main trick is reminiscent of a famous Ellery Queen short story, which was released several years after this novel. Somewhat rare in a Lupin novel, the novel ends in a Classic Gathering In the Saloon where d'Enneris (Lupin) explains how the set-up was managed and how he deduced it from the clues. If I didn't knew Lupin was doing all of this just to get hold of Van Houben's diamonds, I'd almost believe him as an instrument of pure good (well, the exploits in The Eight Strokes of The Clock were for a kiss, which is less criminal... but still).And totally unrelated to this story, but I never did understand why people consider Le Bouchon de cristal (The Crystal Stopper) as one of the better Lupin stories.

I really dig these old-school covers though! Too bad I already have English translations of the other books Popular released and they seemed to have stopped now. I should do an awesome detective-cover post someday.

Original Japanese title(s): モーリス・ルブラン、南洋一郎  『怪奇な家』

1 comment :

  1. Yes, that book cover has a great old-school feel to it, and is somewhat reminiscent in style of those that were used by PAN-books for their detectives and thrillers.

    At the moment, I'm feverishly trying to get my greedy paws on as many Dell mapback editions as possible. Some of them are worth having just for their covers, but the icing on the cake is the 'Scene of the Crime' illustration on their back covers.

    They also have other neat features like a personae dramatis and a tantalizing introduction telling the reader "what this mystery is about" and if they "wouldn't like to know why... [insert a small list of mysterious events and peculiar behavior of characters]."

    It's like the opening of an Ellery Queen episode!