Here's a name that probably ought to be more familiar to English-speaking mystery fans than it is: Arsène Lupin. He is the gentleman-thief created by Maurice LeBlanc more than a century ago, a charming rogue who seems always aligned with the forces of good (although not exactly in the same way the police would define "good"). I believe that he has never been completely out of print in France, but only a relative handful of LeBlanc's books have ever been translated into English for an American audience.
Another book featuring Lupin has now been added to the list of English-language books available for the curious reader: it is The Mysterious Mansion, originally published in French in 1928 and only now translated (from La Demeure Mystérieuse) into English and available as an e-book. It is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
The plot of The Mysterious Mansion almost defies description. It’s a thriller rather than a real detective story, although there are clues and secrets to be unearthed, mostly by Lupin, of course. The book begins with the theft of some diamonds and the kidnapping of an actress. Lupin, a friend of the actress, becomes involved in the hunt for the diamonds and for the kidnappers (even though they have released their victim). There is another kidnapping, this time of another actress with whom Lupin has fallen in love. We meet a couple, the descendants of a noble family, who appear to have a curse on them. And there’s that mysterious mansion, apparently the place where those kidnap victims were taken and confined, a house which itself seems to share in that family curse. It’s all quite complex, as the plot moves so quickly from cliffhanger to cliffhanger that there’s hardly time to notice any logical inconsistencies.
It certainly makes for an entertaining evening’s read. I do have to note, however, that this translation often feels very awkward – as if the translator had tried for a literal, word-for-word translation of the original French. That kind of translation, unfortunately, tends to be jarring, as some of the idioms in the original language don’t translate cleanly. Still, Maurice LeBlanc’s high-spirited The Mysterious Mansion is full of surprises and interesting plot twists. And you really must meet Arsène Lupin.
The 2015 Bingo Challenge
Continuing my participation in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. under way at the My Reader's Block blog, The Mysterious Mansion is my entry for the square (second row, first column) calling for one book set anywhere except the U.S. or England.