18 January 2022

Review: THE INVISIBLE HOST, Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning

  • This edition an e-book on my Kindle
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B09C7KK499
  • first published 1930
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Dean Street Press; 1st edition (6 December 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 190 pages 

Synopsis (Amazon

"Do not doubt me, my friends; you shall all be dead before morning."

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 . . . ?

The Invisible Host (1930) established one of the best-loved and most durable forms in classic mystery fiction. It was famously to reappear in Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None (1939). How much Christie's novel is indebted to its predecessor is open to conjecture (and the subject is discussed in our new introduction, by crime fiction historian Curtis Evans). Whatever the verdict, readers will delight in The Invisible Host, an innovative and most unusual mystery from the golden age of crime fiction. It was adapted into a play, and a Hollywood movie as The Ninth Guest (1934).

1930. The Invisible Host is the first novel published by the husband and wife team of Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning. The tale of murder was based on a facetious scheme to get rid of a neighbor whose raucous radio disturbed them day and night. 

The novel begins: That makes thirty-seven words, said the girl. Will you read the telegram again? came the voice over the wire. She read: Congratulations stop plans afoot for small surprise party in your honor Bienville penthouse next Saturday eight o'clock stop all sub rose big surprise stop maintain secrecy stop promise you most original party ever staged in New Orleans Signed Your host.

My Take

I have read this as a prelude to re-reading AND THEN THERE WERE NONE with my U3A Agatha Christie Discussion group. THE INVISIBLE HOST pre-dates the publication of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE by 9 years. 

In New Orleans in 1930, 8 guest, all well-heeled and well known in society are invited to a surprise party in their honour. All think they know who the host organising the party is, and all think they know the reason why the party is being given. When they arrive at the party, each of them sees there the person whom they think is the host, but amongst the guest each sees at least one person that they hate.

They are met by a butler who says he does not know who the host is, that he has his instructions, and among those is to turn on the radio, and that their host will communicate with them via it during the evening. Through the radio the host tells them they are all scheduled to die before morning, and that they are taking part in a competition in which he will outwit each one of them. And so the plot proceeds.

I didn't actually know of the existence of this book, nor of the possibility that Agatha Christie plagiarised the main plot. We don't know now, and can't ask, if Agatha Christie had read the book, but to me, if she had, there is no surprise in the possibility that she said something like "What an interesting plot - but I can do better than that". That is actually a situation that we come across quite often in crime fiction - where an author seems to have taken a plot that someone else has used, and seemingly tried to do better or produce a variation. 

There are many differences between THE INVISIBLE HOST and AND THEN THERE WERE NONE but I will let you discover them for yourself. I'm not sure that I agree that in the former the guests were in a competition with the host - if they were, the rules were never made clear.

My rating: 4.4

About the authors:

Gwen Bristow was born in Marion, South Carolina in 1903, and Bruce Manning in Cuddebackville, New York in 1902. In 1924, following Bristow's graduation from Judson College, her parents moved to New Orleans, the setting for The Invisible Host (1930). In the late 1920s, Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning, both Louisiana journalists at that point, met and married.Their first joint novel, The Invisible Host, was a success, and was followed by stage and film adaptations, and two further mysteries.The couple moved to Hollywood and there Bristow established herself as a prolific and successful writer of historical fiction, while Manning became a well-respected screenwriter, producer and director.They continued to live in California until their respective deaths, Manning's in 1965, Bristow's in 1980

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