Look around you: the air is nippy, the lights are strung up in your neighbors’ windows, and every station on your car radio seems to be playing the Carpenters singing, “Merry Christmas, Darling.” What does that tell you? That’s right – it’s time for the annual ROY Awards. That’s Reprint of the Year to those of you who 1) wandered in here without knowing this is a classic mystery blog, and 2) haven’t been paying attention to my buddy Kate Jackson at her blog, Cross-Examining Crime.
It was Kate’s brainstorm to gather up bloggers willy nilly and have us pour through the new arrivals among old (and often nearly forgotten) mysteries that are at last seeing the light of day. This year’s batch is particularly strong and particularly huge, as Kate will tell you if you visit her here and read the rules. Over one hundred titles have been published in 2021. Kate has recruited the largest number of bloggers, and we each get to cover two books. I usually come in sixth, but with all this competition, I probably don’t stand a chance of winning.
Yes, I’m just an upstart American surrounded by British bloggers writing about an essentially British tradition. And it’s entirely unfair because I know in my heart of hearts which book is going to win, and it wasn’t written by a Brit! (Don’t believe me? Come back when the smoke clears and translate this ROT13 solution: Gur jvaavat gvgyr – naq V’z fher bs guvf – vf tbvat gb or Gvyy Qrngu Qb Hf Cneg ol Wbua Qvpxfba Pnee.)
Still, the two titles I have grabbed onto are quite interesting and deserving of your consideration. First up is an old and rare book that is a precurser to the greatest mystery ever written. That’s right! If Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None were up for grabs, the contest would be over before any blog posts had been posted. And yet, nine years before Christie’s classic tale was published, another book appeared, the debut mystery of a young American married couple. It concerns a group of people invited by a mysterious host to a secluded place where a hidden voice reveals that they all must die and where they try and figure out which among them is this UNKNOWN KILLER before it’s too late and they better move fast because, one by one, they keep dying in unique and different ways . . .
Does that sound familiar to you? Does that sound like the greatest mystery novel ever written, the one that has sold more copies than any other mystery since the beginning of published time?? Well . . . it’s not. This one is called The Invisible Host and it was written by Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning instead of – you-know-who! I actually blogged about this one when it was released in mid-October. You can read the full post here, but let me sum things up for your consideration as you consider your vote.
Reading Host merely to compare it to And Then There Were None is an interesting lesson in futility. We’re never going to know how familiar Agatha Christie was with Bristow and Manning’s book – or with the play that was produced right around publication of the novel OR with the quite enjoyable film adaptation that you can watch right now on YouTube. (Both play and film were given the amended, inferior title of The Ninth Guest.)
Christie’s is the better book in every way: richer in plot and character and possessed of a darkness probably drawn in part from the feelings engendered by a world war that had changed her life and made her safety ever more tenuous. But that doesn’t mean that Host isn’t a corking good read. And – in a moment of extreme irony – I would urge you before you vote to read Kate Jackson’s review of the book from September because she LOVED this one. She might even have you thinking long and hard over whether or not Christie’s version really is better, and it’s worthy to know that Kate made The Invisible Host her September Book of the Month. And it’s worthy of note that Dean Street Press, enlivened by the response to Bristow and Manning’s debut, are reprinting the three other titles they created: The Gutenberg Murders, Two and Two Make Twenty-Two and The Mardi Gras Murders. All of them have introductions by mystery scholar Curtis Evans, who knows what he’s talking about and talks about it well.
So what are you waiting for, my friends?!? Read both our previous reviews and then mark your ballots! Cast one of your precious votes for The Invisible Host. Do it for Bristow and Manning, who probably lost any chance of world-wide fame once Christie put her own spin on this story. Do it for Christie, herself who is republished with such consistency that she will almost certainly never win the ROY Award and is sure to share in some of this acclaim! Do it for Kate, who liked this one a whole lot and who is kind to animals every single day. Oh gosh! do it for me – a lowly but pugnacious blogger, who would like to make a better showing this year so that his aged parents aren’t once again disappointed in him. Hell, folks . . . do it for America!!! After the last few years, we need a win.