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Alfred E. W. Mason (1865-1948) is best known for his classic adventure novel The Four Feathers. Inspector Hanaud is a French detective with an English Watson, Mr Ricardo. Mr Ricardo is a wealthy financier and a man of culture and refinement but it has to be admitted that he is of little help to Hanaud when it come to crime-solving. Fortunately Hanaud does not require assistance and Mr Ricardo’s main function is to give Hanaud somebody to whom he can explain important plot points, and somebody to whom Hanaud can display his own superior talents. Hanaud is not a man to hide his light under a bushel. Hanaud is on vacation when he is drawn into the investigation of the murder at the Villa Rose by a young Englishman, Harry Wethermill. The wealthy Mme Dauvray has been murdered, apparently during the course of a robbery. Mme Dauvray had been intensely (although rather naïvely) fascinated by spiritualism and appearances suggest that Mademoiselle Celia’s talents as a medium had been the means by which the penniless young Englishwoman had ingratiated herself with the wealthy lady. It further appears that Mlle Celia was to have conducted a séance on the night of the murder. Hanaud does make some use of psychological insights in order to solve crimes but he most certainly does not neglect physical clues, and those physical clues in this case seem to be so contradictory than even the great Hanaud has to confess himself baffled, at least temporarily. Hanaud is not however a man to be put off by difficulties. The more challenging the case the better he likes it. At the Villa Rose has the complex plotting that would later come to characterise the golden age of detective fiction. While the plot is ingenious Mason generally avoids the more bizarre and unusual elements that often appear in detective stories of its era. Rather usually, and rather boldly, the identity of the murderer is revealed two-thirds of the way through. The ensuing very long explanatory segment of the book could have been a serious weakness (such lengthy explanations generally are) but although we know who the murderer is we do not know Hanaud arrived at his conclusions nor do we know how the murder was committed. As a result the last third of the book maintains our interest without too much trouble.
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Alfred Edward Wooley Mason was born in 1865. He was educated at Dulwich College before going up to Oxford University. Once his formal education was completed, Mason went on to become an actor, which had been an ambition since schooldays. He began his writing career with historical fiction, but then moved into the arena of politics, becoming a Liberal Member of Parliament for Coventry in 1906. However, his love of writing stayed with him and Mason further developed his repertoire and style to incorporate detective fiction, introducing one of the earliest fictional detectives, Inspector Hanaud, the Gallic counterpart to Sherlock Holmes. His detective fiction contains material clues and spontaneity. Throughout the course of his life Mason produced over thirty titles. The most enduring work is ‘The Four Feathers’ which is the most filmed work of any writer in the 20th century, with seven versions in all. There have also been many other films and plays based on his novels, including the Hanaud series. A.E.W. Mason died in 1948.
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