Then a dispute arose between d’Arlon, his wife, and Émile. There were six of us, including Émile, who were supposed to share the table. But seven settings had been laid.
Émile claimed he had taken the number of place settings prepared by his mistress. She claimed to have laid out the correct number.
According to John Pugmire, the translator of the novel, The Seventh Guest is the third novel featuring the detective Stephane Triel and his friend, Luc Duthiel. I wish the first two were also available in translation as that would have helped in understanding the chemistry between the two friends and the character of Triel, who as a detective does his work mostly off-stage so that it was difficult to really grasp his genius.
Duthiel who narrates the novel begins on the day when the two friends receive a letter from one Jeanne d’Arlon who addresses them as her friends and invites them to her house, Nanteuil. Problem is that the two have no recollection of any Jeanne being their friend but intrigued by the letter, they decide to visit the lady. Nanteuil is an imposing manor but even before they can enter it, they hear the loud cries of a woman and rushing across come across the body of a man hanging from the rafters. Only his footprints lead towards the room so it is clearly a case of suicide. But is it? Inspector Troubert of the Surete doesn’t think so and his leading questions regarding Jeanne and the dead man, who was Benoit Gerapin, the nephew of the old couple who look after the manor, draw the ire of Jeanne’s husband, Rene d’Arlon who seems ready to throw the inspector out.
Meanwhile Jeanne implores her husband that they should all leave the manor. So six people, the d’Arlon couple, the two friends, the inspector, and the chauffer, Emile start in a car for a hotel….only the house doesn’t want them to leave. The gate cannot be opened, the smaller gates are likewise locked and the six people return to the house to spend a night of terror in which emotions run high, revolvers are nicked from one’s pockets, doors open by themselves, lights are switched off, and in the flickering light of the candles the shadow of a seventh person fall over them all…
This is quite an atmospheric book and the narrative style with its constant switch from past to present gives a dream like quality to the text. At time, the langusge becomes extremely poetic:
The sun has gone down. The sky is like wounded flesh, with violet bruises and touches of pinkness.
It also has a great emotional core and like the narrator I too wondered about the characters in the end. I hope they found happiness but as the narrator says, who knows.
First Line: Apart from a certain tendency, as a family, for the protagonists to kill each other, this is not your classic tragedy.
Publication Details: Locked Room International, 2018
First Published: 1935
Original Title: Les Invités de minuit
Original Language: French
Translator: John Pugmire