The Invisible Host (1930) by Gwen Bristow & Bruce Manning

“Do not doubt me, my friends, you shall all be dead by morning.”

New Orleans, 1930. Eight people from different walks of life all have received a telegram inviting them to “the most original party ever staged in New Orleans”. When they arrive at the venue, an ornate apartment, they discover two things – they all know each other (and probably wouldn’t have come if they knew who the other guests were) and the host, whoever it is, is absent. And then the radio crackles into life…

In absentia, the host announces the plan for the evening. The apartment is a death-trap, with electrified doors. The guests will die, one by one, every hour until none are left. The only way out is to outwit the mysterious host, but as their numbers begin to fall, and the eight empty coffins start to be filled, it looks like the host will stay one step ahead of his prey…

An isolated set of suspects trapped in a location, dying one by one – the parallels are obvious. Yes, there is a good chance that “The Superlative Seven”, a 1967 episode of the Avengers, was inspired by this. It even has the coffins. And there is also the question as to what extent, if any, Agatha Christie got her inspiration for Ten Little You-Know-Whats from this. The Invisible Host was published in 1930, and filmed in 1934 as The Ninth Guest. Christie’s book appeared in 1939… I’ll leave it to you to make your choice as to whether this inspired Christie’s classic – Curtis Evans makes his case in the introduction to this new reprint – but in the meantime, what about this book itself?

It’s starts off with a nice introductory chapter, where we meet the guests one at a time and are teased about some of the relationships between them, both positive and negative. Once they get together, the authors (a pair of married journalists) spend some time ratchetting up the tension nicely before the first death takes place. In fact it’s about halfway through the book before the first death occurs, and that didn’t bother me at all. You can see that something dreadful is coming, and the first death is a thing of beauty.

After that, the plot never hangs around about racking up the body count, until we get to the resolution, and yes, there is something that should point to the killer that I missed. But even after the reveal, there’s still a twist to come, again, something I didn’t see coming.

Yes, the motive doesn’t make much sense and the mechanisms of the situation require a phenomenal amount of luck to work – so much so, you have to swallow you disbelief at times when the plot is being explained – but it’s told with pace and excitement, so probably, like me, you’ll end up not caring. This is a really fun tale and well worth your time.

4 comments

  1. Glady to see you enjoyed it. I really liked this one when I read it in the Popular Library reprint (under the movie title The Ninth Guest). That was back before blogging days. I’ve since gotten a vintage Mystery League edition and hope to reread it eventually. Hopefully, by the time I get round to it, I’ll have forgotten enough of the plot to make it thoroughly enjoyable again.

    Liked by 1 person

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