At the Villa Rose by AEW Mason

Villain or victim?

😀 😀 😀 😀

At the Villa RoseMr Julius Ricardo is enjoying himself at the casino in Aux-les-Bains, people-watching. This night the person he’s most interested in is a beautiful young girl, who at first seems to be in the depths of despair. Later in the evening, Ricardo sees her again with a friend of his, Harry Wethermill, and now she appears to be quite happy, and the two give every indication of being very much in love. So Ricardo is duly shocked when Wethermill rushes into his room a couple of mornings later to beg for Ricardo’s help. A wealthy elderly widow, Mme Dauvray, has been found murdered and Celia Harland, the beautiful girl who, it transpires, was Mme Dauvray’s companion, is missing. Everything points to Celia having been in cahoots with the murderer and having made off with Mme Dauvray’s fabulous jewellery collection. But Wethermill cannot believe this of her, and begs Ricardo to use his influence with another friend, Inspector Hanaud of the Paris Sûreté, to take on the case…

This was first published in 1910, before the standard Golden Age mystery formula of crime-investigation-solution had been fully developed, and so the structure is odd and a bit disjointed. Here, we get the crime, followed by Hanaud brilliantly catching those responsible. Then, as a kind of lengthy epilogue, we are taken back into the past and shown what happened in a narrative supposedly developed from the various witness testimonies. After that, Hanaud briefly tells Ricardo how he worked it out, but by that time the reader ought to have spotted all the clues for herself, so it’s a bit of an anti-climax.

Despite this “lop-sided” structure as Martin Edwards describes it, I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, the long section where we see the crime unfold before our eyes manages to be dark and tense even though we know the outcome. The characterisation of the victim, villains and suspects is very well done, and there’s a real sense of innocence meeting evil.

Murder Mystery Mayhem Logo 2Challenge details:
Book: 8
Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns
Publication Year: 1910

Mme Dauvray is a kindly soul with lots of money, and so is often taken advantage of. She is a believer in spiritualism, and her long-serving maid and confidante operates as a kind of guard-dog, keeping away those who would prey on the widow. But when Mme Dauvray takes a fancy to Celia, who is an accomplished medium, and moves her in as a favoured companion, the maid is not unnaturally jealous. Her description to the police of Celia as a calculating fraud is wildly at variance with Wethermill’s idealised picture of her as a lovely innocent – it’s up to Hanaud and the reader to decide who’s right. However it’s obvious that the crime involved more than one person, so even if Celia was involved, there’s still a mystery as to who were her accomplices.

AEW Mason (2)
AEW Mason

The investigators aren’t quite such good characters in my view. Inspector Hanaud and Ricardo, who quickly becomes his sidekick, are rather caricatured versions of Holmes and Watson (far more than Poirot and Hastings, in my opinion, although it has been suggested they gave Christie the inspiration for her characters). But Hanaud is one of those superior detectives who likes nothing more than to humiliate his sidekick, and since I felt Ricardo didn’t deserve it (even though he is pretty dense sometimes), I found it hard to like Hanaud. However, we do get to see the clues that allow Hanaud to identify the culprits so it ought to be possible to work it out. By chance I happened on the right suspect, but for all the wrong reasons, so I don’t feel I can take much credit for it! The solution, although credible, isn’t straightforward, so that even when we discover halfway through whodunit, there’s still plenty left to reveal.

Undoubtedly it could have been improved by changing the structure, but fortunately I enjoyed the second half – the storytelling of the crime – more than the first half, so felt far more warmly towards it in the end than I initially thought I might. I believe Mason wrote several Hanaud books, and I’d be happy to meet him again.

I downloaded this one from wikisource.

23 thoughts on “At the Villa Rose by AEW Mason

  1. I was surprised when you said you’d enjoyed the story despite (or even because of) its lopsided development – that interested me, backed up by a cheap Kindle buy, and I look forward to reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmm…that is an interesting, if unusual, structure, FictionFan. And it does sound like an interesting approach to telling the story. You make such a fascinating point about the characters of the investigators. I’ll have to think about this, and see what I come up with, but it seems to me that the personalities and characters of detectives weren’t as important as the mystery itself at that time. Readers of contemporary crime fiction seem to prefer detectives who are more fully fleshed-out, and who have real personalities. Hmm…. I’ve got some ‘food for thought’ here, so thank you.

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    • That’s a good point, Margot – I think you’re right. And on the whole I prefer when the detective is somewhere in the middle – well developed but stable, so that his or her personal life doesn’t take over from the story. Like Poirot, in fact! It’s also interesting that many of the Golden Age or earlier ‘tecs are single and contented to be so, and therefore with no romantic entanglements and no kids. That also eliminates the need for a lot of personal story and gives them freedom to up sticks and go off investigating at the drop of a hat (though poor Watson’s wife must have felt abandoned from time to time – maybe she was glad of the break 😉 ).

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    • These very early mystery novels are a bit of an acquired taste, I think – I enjoy them more now because I’ve read enough of them to make comparisons, if that makes sense.

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  3. I’m glad it still worked for you, despite being a little off in its structure. I have several Golden Age mysteries waiting in my Kindle (your recs!), so I don’t need to add more at this point.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, tell me about it! I did enjoy this one but not enough to try to persuade you to add it – on the whole I enjoy the true Golden Age ones more than these very early ones… Holmes excepted, of course!

      Liked by 1 person

    • So many of the early books, and let’s face it, even current ones, have a version of the Holmes/Watson partnership that I don’t mind it so long as they’re different enough not to feel like a complete rip-off. But Hanaud just seemed kinda horrible to poor Ricardo, and that put me off him a bit…

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  4. Well, hmm, this does seem like an odd way to write a story. Not sure I’d find it terribly tantalizing if I didn’t like the investigators, either. But I’m glad you enjoyed it. Much better than wanting to throw the book across the room, LOL.

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    • I wasn’t at all sure I was going to enjoy it, especially when the whodunit bit was solved halfway through. But the long section showing the crime being done was very good, and happily Inspector Hanaud wasn’t in that bit… 😉

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    • That’s what I like about Martin Edwards’ book – he goes through it chronologically so you can see how trends changed over time. I should probably have tried to read them in order, but my TBR is quite complicated enough… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, there’s something to be said for successful formulas, but it’s also quite refreshing to read something that doesn’t follow the rules! It’s fun to read these very early ones just to see how it all developed… 😀

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  5. This sounds very promising. Especially looking forward to the lack of conventional structure. These days all writing has to be so formulaic!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I can see why people stick to successful formulas, but it’s quite refreshing to read something that has a different structure even if does feel a bit odd. If you read it, I hope you enjoy it too!

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  6. I have been hearing of this book forever, or at least since I started blogging in 2012. Thus I was glad to see your review and get an idea of whether this would be a good read. Someday I will get a copy and and try it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, yes, there’s a ton of vintage crime books I keep hearing about and every time think oh, I must read that! One day, when they’ve invented infinite time… 😉 If you do get to this one sometime, I hope you enjoy it too.

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