The Invisible Host by Gwen Bristow & Bruce Manning

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Review by Elaine Simpson-Long

When this book arrived and I saw the names of the two authors, Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning, my first thought was “that’s a familiar name”. My mind went back to when I worked in a library in London years ago in my youth, and a novel Calico Palace by one Gwen Bristow was on the shelves. I read it and loved it. And yes it is the same writer, but this is one in a series of Classic 1930s mysteries, and light years away from her ‘Out West’ titles with which I was familiar.

What intrigued me when I read about The Invisible Host was the introduction in which we read that five years after a film was made,

there appeared a novel by a popular English mystery writer that bore and uncanny resemblance both to the film and the play and the book which inspired it.

The author of this novel is of course Agatha Christie.

And the Christie title which is mentioned is And Then There Were None, surely one of Dame Agatha’s most well known books. The question of plagiarism reared its ugly head but a crime writer of the time stoutly defended Christie, saying that she was unaware of the existence of, much less had read, The Invisible Host. Can we be sure?  She may have unconsciously drawn on it as it is possible that Dame Agatha saw the film which was released in England in 1934. Of course we will never know, but it does put this title in a fascinating context. And if you have read the Christie title, then the setting of The Invisible Host will need little explanation.

The novel is set in New Orleans. Eight guests are invited to a party at a luxurious penthouse apartment and when they arrive it turns out that nobody knows who the ‘Host’ is. We never see him, but do hear him as he communicates with the guests through a radio. I freely admit that I found this device rather clumsy and it is a clear indication that one of the guests must be the Host, as the questions and replies and interaction between the two parties could not be scripted and depended on events and reactions to them. No matter but it is a pointer.

All of the guests are linked, albeit in a tenuous way, and all of them have done something that could reflect badly on them. The Host knows all about these peccadilloes and weaknesses and has decided that they must pay for their actions.

As with the Christie, one by one the guests meet their demise in more and more bizarre ways and it is here that I feel The Invisible Host parts company with And Then There Were None.  In the Christie there is more plausibility and logic. In the Bristow and Manning we have electric doors to prevent escape, poisons a plenty and servants in the kitchen drugged so they cannot help or know what is going on. It is all slightly over the top and overly dramatic but I must say I simply adored it. I read it through in one sitting and then immediately checked and found that Bristow and Manning have more titles available. I can feel my fingers twitching already…..

I don’t think I am giving much away if I say the ending, which I did see coming (but then I have read too many crime stories) is different from the Christie. But if you want mysterious deaths and a pile up of bodies – there is even a stack of coffins on the balcony for the other guests to drop them in – this is the book for you.

I simply loved it and Dean Street Press have another winner on their hands.

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Elaine blogs at Random Jottings.

Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning, The Invisible Host (Dean Street Press, 2021). 978-1914150838, 208pp., paperback.

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1 comment

  1. Excellent review Elaine. Fascinating that it was written before Christie’s book. I’m definitely planning on reading this.

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