At the Villa Rose by A.E.W. Mason

At the Villa Rose by A.E.W. Mason was published in 1910. It features Mason’s creation Inspector Gabriel Hanaud.

A wealthy widow lies gruesomely murdered at her home with all her jewels gone. Her young companion has gone missing and is under suspicion. Inspector Gabriel Hanaud reluctantly agrees to investigate at the request of a friend.

Hanaud reminded me of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. I feel Christie must have been influenced by Hanaud while creating Poirot.

At the Villa Rose is quite polished when compared to other early detective fiction works. There are, of course, plot holes. Like an important document arriving just at the nick of time that clinches the case for the detectives. Why would the person in question even send this document to the detectives in advance, I wondered.

What I really didn’t like about the book was the concluding chapters. The story effectively ends at Chapter XIV. I feel one or two more chapters would have been sufficient to conclude the story but the ‘extremely’ detailed explanation takes up not one or two but seven full chapters. Some of the details where even a bit masochistic in tone, in my opinion.

The book is pretty exciting overall. The first few chapters are interesting in particular because not everyone’s motivations are clear. By the mid point when most of it becomes clear the excitement is still there. But after the Chapter XIV, I found excitement in only a few places like the final séance scene, which was eerie and kind of scary.

Celia Harland is the typical blonde, ‘damsel in distress’ type heroine. I have no patience with this type of characters. I especially got irritated by the way Mason kept describing her ‘prettiness’. This tendency increases as the book progresses. Her white shoulders and arms, her golden hair, her ‘daintiness’ is mentioned so many times that it gets ridiculous after a while. The way every man and woman kept discussing her beauty (her ‘white shoulders’ and arms get mentioned about a hundred times!) was just stupid!

Harry Wethermill was interesting. Julius Ricardo starts off as a suave gentleman but soon transforms into a stupid side kick with nothing much to do. I found this transformation jarring.

At the Villa Rose is a good read marred by a bad story structure. It would have worked better without the last few chapters.

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