Book Review: The Perfume of the Lady in Black by Gaston Leroux (1908)

The Perfume of the Lady in Black by Gaston Leroux is a gothic mystery novel that was first published in 1908. The book tells the story of a young woman named Mathilde Stangerson, who is haunted by the memory of a mysterious woman in black who wears a perfume that she cannot forget. Mathilde becomes determined to uncover the identity of the woman and the secret behind her perfume, leading her on a dangerous journey that puts her own life in peril.

One of the main strengths of the novel is the atmosphere that Leroux creates. The book is set in Paris during the early 20th century, and Leroux’s descriptions of the city are evocative and detailed. The streets of Paris are depicted as dark and dangerous places, full of hidden secrets and mysterious figures lurking in the shadows. The sense of foreboding is palpable throughout the novel, and the reader is constantly on edge, waiting for the next twist in the plot.

The character of Mathilde is also well-developed and engaging. She is a strong and independent woman who is not afraid to take risks to uncover the truth. Her determination to uncover the secret of the woman in black is the driving force of the plot, and the reader becomes invested in her quest. The other characters in the book, such as the suave and sophisticated Dr. Philippe Tricasse and the mysterious “Chief” of the Parisian police force, are also intriguing and memorable.

The plot of the novel is complex and multi-layered, with several twists and turns that keep the reader guessing until the very end. The mystery of the woman in black and her perfume is slowly unraveled throughout the course of the novel, and Leroux masterfully weaves together the various plot threads to create a satisfying conclusion. The pacing of the novel is excellent, with just the right balance of action, suspense, and exposition.

Another strength of the novel is the themes that it explores. The book deals with issues of gender roles and societal expectations, with Mathilde challenging the traditional expectations of women in her quest for the truth. The novel also touches on issues of class and social status, with the wealthy and powerful characters in the book using their influence to manipulate and control those around them.

One minor weakness of the book is that some of the plot threads are not as fully developed as others. For example, the character of Rouletabille, who was the hero of Leroux’s earlier novel The Mystery of the Yellow Room, appears briefly in the novel, but his storyline is not as well-developed as it could be. However, this is a minor quibble, as the strength of the overall plot and the character of Mathilde more than make up for any weaknesses.

The Perfume of the Lady in Black is a compelling and engaging mystery novel that is well worth reading. It has a strong and memorable protagonist, a complex and multi-layered plot, and a rich and atmospheric setting. The book is an excellent example of gothic mystery fiction, and it remains a classic of the genre today.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Perfume of the Lady in Black by Gaston Leroux (1908)

  1. I’m glad you had such a good time with this; I tried reading it a few years ago, expecting something more akin to The Mystery of the Yellow Room, and really struggled to find enthusiasm for this so gave up about a quarter of the way in. Maybe now, knowing that it’s a very different type of book, I could give it another go…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Honestly, I think it helped that I had been told by a friend that the book was very different, and it’s been ten years since I read The Mystery of the Yellow Room in college, so I was able to read it without being influenced by The Mystery of the Yellow Room. I liked it, but most people find The Perfume of the Lady in Black not as good as The Mystery of the Yellow Room, especially when reading them back to back.


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