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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Quarantine in the Grand Hotel

Rejtő Jenő

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Title: Quarantine in the Grand Hotel
Author: Rejtő Jenő
Genre: Novel
Written: 1939 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 160 pages
Original in: Hungarian
Availability: Quarantine in the Grand Hotel - US
Quarantine in the Grand Hotel - UK
  • Hungarian title: Vesztegzár a Grand Hotelben
  • Translated by István Farkas

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Our Assessment:

B : amusing mystery-entertainment

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The immensely popular Rejtő Jenő -- writing as P.Howard -- was a master of the frothy comic mystery, and Quarantine in the Grand Hotel is an amusing if unexceptional example of his talents.
       It has an exotic setting -- an island off of Bali -- that he doesn't fully utilise, and he rather forces the issue to start things off with a peculiar variation on the island (i.e. cut off from the rest of the world) mystery: a guest at the local Grand Hotel comes down with the bubonic plague (!), and rather than put everyone in quarantine elsewhere they just don't allow anyone to leave or enter, and make the hotel itself the quarantine-site. But aside from that Rejtő handles the case with usual aplomb, beginning with the typically charming and bizarre opening:

     When Maud returned to her room, she saw a man emerge from her wardrobe. Dressed in pyjamas and wearing a smart green lampshade on his head, the stranger beamed a friendly smile at her.
     "Excuse me," he said, politely raising the lampshade. "My name is Felix Van der Gullen."
       It is one of may running jokes throughout the book, that Felix repeatedly finds himself with inappropriate attire and that he emerges or hides in wardrobes, under beds, and in other rather inconvenient spots (where he also tends to overhear incriminating conversations, but never sees enough to identify all the speakers). At one point:
It came to him as no surprise to find that [he] had been sleeping in a bath. Nor was he astonished to find that he was wearing a toupee and nothing else. Occurrences like this had of late become more or less part of the daily routine with him.
       This is the sort of mystery where everyone is gallantly admitting to the crimes -- even murder -- and hiding clues, believing they are protecting someone else but, of course, only making matters more convoluted. But then this is meant to be a convoluted mystery, with everyone hiding secrets (and identities). Felix is one of the main characters, but there's a colorful bunch here entangled in quite a few different shenanigans, all eager for some of the others to remain unaware of their identities and motives. As one surprising and particularly illustrious guest explains:
     "I do so in order to hide my identity. This sort of thing happens in great hotels at times. It's called incognito."
       This 1930s novel has the feel of clever 1930s film-comedy, with similar repartee and banter, and the police always knocking on the door at the most inconvenient moments. Felix's wardrobe alone offers considerable laughs, as he usually desperately throws on whatever he can get his hands on before he realises what it is, and then finds himself in even more compromising positions when others (and he) realise what he is wearing.
       A variety of bloody evidence makes the rounds, hidden and moved -- with Felix winding up in the proximity of too much of it too frequently. Though it is the corpses that bother him slightly more .....
       The mystery and all the entanglements that are ultimately cleared up are amusing enough (and it comes as no surprise that a central feature of the solution is that someone has misrepresented their identity), but the point of a book such as this is mainly to provide light entertainment, and it succeeds at that. It is definitely crime fiction from a different era , but unlike much from that time has held up well -- this isn't a fussy, old-fashioned detective novel, and the humour is surprisingly fresh. Aspects feel too rushed and lazy -- it's a shame he couldn't do more with his exotic locale -- but on the whole it is certainly amusing enough. Nothing to go out of one's way for, but certainly a decent book to pass the time with.

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Quarantine in the Grand Hotel: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Hungarian author Rejtő Jenő (1905-1943) wrote many comic mysteries under the name of P.Howard.

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