Book Review for “The Invisible Host” by Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning.
Summary: “New Orleans, 1930. Eight guests are invited to a party at a luxurious penthouse apartment, yet on arrival it turns out that no one knows who their mysterious host actually is. The latter does not openly appear, but instead communicates with the guests by radio broadcast. What he has to tell his guests is chilling: that every hour, one of them will die. Despite putting the guests on their guard, the Host’s prophecy starts to come horribly true, each demise occurring in bizarre fashion. As the dwindling band of survivors grows increasingly tense, their confessions to each other might explain why they have been chosen for this macabre evening-and invoke the nightmarish thought that the mysterious Host is one of them. The burning question becomes: will any of the party survive, including the Host . . . ?”
Age: Adult; Genres: Mystery, Fiction; Settings: Vintage, Contemporary, USA – New Orleans; Other Categories: Novel, Psychological Thriller, Murder, Collaboration.
According to many sources, this novel, written in 1930, could very well have been the inspiration for Agatha Christie’s novel “And Then There Were None” which was first published in 1939 (under a different, offensive title that was changed to another, only slightly less offensive title, before being released under this title). That story was recently made into a TV mini-series, but even if it hadn’t, it is a story I remembered well. So, I could easily see the similarities, where the basic premises of the two is the idea of bringing a group of people together and then killing them off, one at a time by an unknown person. By the way, Kerry Greenwood also did a version of this story in her Miss Fisher Murder Mystery “Murder under the Mistletoe” story. I’m sure other mystery series writers have done variations of this theme as well, since it is the type of trope that can inspire many variations on the theme.
Bristow and Manning seem to have used one element that the others I’ve mentioned didn’t use – that being the inclusion of the host (from the title) being heard, but never seen. They also let this disembodied voice start out the evening by informing all of his guests that they were all going to be dead by morning. Neither Greenwood nor Christie did this in either of their stories, and only after a few bodies piled up, did the surviving guests realize the ultimate reason for them all being gathered together. Another difference is that Bristow and Manning had their potential corpses number only eight, Christie upped it to 10 (to match the nursery rhyme used in the story), and Greenwood brought the count up to a very ambitious 12 (for the number of days of Christmas in the song).
In all of these stories, the guests have to figure out why they’re being knocked off, and who would want each and/or all of them dead, and then try to find a way to stop the killings before the completion of the carnage. The process for the discoveries is where each of these stories show how clever their writers were, by way of showing how stupid or clever each of their characters are. Obviously, that’s the fun part of any “who done it” book, trying to figure out why people are being killed, and who is really the murderer. Without giving away any spoilers, there is another common element in all three of these examples that, when it happens, points directly at the perpetrator. What’s left after that is figuring out why this person wants everyone dead. All three of these books have very interesting, if slightly different motives for the multiple homicides, all of which seem very likely and almost justified – at least in the minds of the killers.
What I particularly liked about this novel was that with only eight people invited to the party, we had a much better chance of getting to know more about each of the guests. I liked how Bristow and Manning built each of them up, and made them into well-rounded people. I also liked how each of their characters had one person attending that they truly disliked. It was a sort of like Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit” where one character had a problem with one person, who in turn had a problem with someone else in attendance, until they all came full circle with a chain of grievances and accusations. I don’t recall that in either Christie’s or Greenwood’s stories.
However, I did find some fault with this book. What bothered me the most was how near the ending, with the discovery of the murderer, the description of why they wanted to execute the company seemed a tad overly explanatory, and somewhat repetitive. Also, some of the characters annoyed me when they winged and whined their desperation regarding the futility of trying to escape the fate the assassin. There was also a whole lot of fingers being pointed towards each of the party members, that seemed counterproductive to me. Despite these niggles, I really did enjoy this novel, and Brava/Bravo to Bristow and Manning for coming up with a trope that proved to be so fruitful for subsequent mystery writers. I do warmly recommend this book and I think it deserves a very healthy four out of five stars.
Dean Street Press re-released the 1930 novel “The Invisible Host” by Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning on October 4, 2021. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository UK and US (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and US, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank Dean Street Press for sending me an ARC of this novel.
This novel qualifies for the following reading challenges: New Release Challenge (#38).