Gaston Leroux (1868-1927) was a French playboy, globe-trotter and tireless writer in a number of fields. He wrote about contemporary trials (and was for a time a lawyer), he was a theater critic (and for a time a playwright), and both a journalist and a novelist as well. As a traveler, he loved to explore remote parts of the world like Scandinavia, for instance, or North Africa, where on several occasions he had to disguise himself as an Arab in order to escape danger. He also went to Russia to cover the early stages of the Revolution for French newspapers. As a journalist, he could always find something to write about. During the Boer War, he tried to interview the eminent British statesman Joseph Chamberlain. Although he gained the presence of the great man, the interview was refused. He promptly wrote a three-column article called: 'How I Failed to See Chamberlain'! His daring spirit was always getting him into—and out of—difficult situations.
His lasting fame, however, is due to his novels where he successfully translated the adventurousness of his life into sensational works of fiction. This sensationalism was not only on the written page, however: he used to announce the completion of each novel to family and neighbors by firing a pistol into the air!
Leroux was one of the pioneers of the detective novel. In this genre, his hero Rouletabille can stand comparison with Sherlock Holmes for his use of reason and logic to solve the most puzzling mysteries. But he is most famous in the English-speaking world for The Phantom of the Opera, which has delighted and terrified readers since its publication in 1911. There have been a number of popular film and stage versions, from the 1925 silent movie, starring Lon Chaney, to the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musical and the 2005 movie version. But nothing can arouse such mounting dread as the original novel. In contrast to the cool rationality of Rouletabille, Leroux here displayed enormous insight into the mind of the criminally insane.
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