Let’s discuss what Gaston Boca’s The Seventh Guest is not.
1. It is not a fairly-clued mystery. Much like Death out of Nowhere (a more enjoyable novel IMHO), there is nothing within these pages to challenge the wits of the reader. In fact, the majority of evidence is off the page. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true. Part 3 of this novel is a drawn-out explanation of the first two-thirds. One reason it’s so drawn-out is because it must introduce all the evidence that didn’t accompany the previous action.
2. It is not thrilling. Call me an American savage (please), but I believe that during an evening of madness; murder; and impossibility, the temperature should rise above a simmer. Yes, mysteries tend to have contemplative scenes of reflection, but when the shit goes down, it should involve the reader more than it does here.
Our story begins with two detectives receiving a rather vague (and fragrant) invitation to Nanteuil. Upon their arrival, they discover a body hanging by a rope in a shed. Only one set of footprints lead to the structure. It must be suicide, only…well, the man has traces of lipstick on his mouth and the shed reeks of the perfume that came with the invitation. The detectives finally meet the woman responsible for bringing them, along with her husband and the other servants working at the gated estate.
The police arrive and one them (a professional detective) stays late into the night making further inquiries. When the entire party attempts to leave, they find themselves locked inside for the night.
It is here, as they search the grounds for the person who tampered with the gate, when things should get thrilling. My pulse should be at least tested–with my cholesterol levels, this is not a difficult task–as the group encounters various impossibilities, including a floating hand, doors that open and shut on their own, and gunshots in the dark.
And yet, none of this is particularly exciting. I was never worried for any of the characters. Speaking of which…
3. Most of the characters aren’t interesting. Our story is narrated by the lesser of our private detectives (he is basically a Watson), Dutheil. He tells us his thoughts throughout the story, and I still don’t know what he was thinking. The professional detective loses his gun at one point and is mildly taken aback. Seriously, it’s like a minor inconvenience; he starts drinking almost right away. At some points during the narrative, characters laugh or rage, and I don’t know why, even in retrospect. These people act and behave…I was about to say in accordance to the needs of the plot, but even that doesn’t explain them.
The best part of the book involves a Christie-like backstory for the one fascinating character, Jeanne d’Arlon. Her journey is clever, intriguing, and emotionally satisfying. Her story is a tragedy with enormous payoff. The woman’s final image (I can’t be too specific here) is brilliant, the sort of apt switcheroo deserving of a true murder mystery to accompany it. I mention Christie because this part of the book is right up her blood-stained alley.
I don’t want to steer any readers in the wrong direction; TSG will not satisfy like the usual fare I talk about on this website. The best part of is the backstory, but it’s not skillfully tied to the narrative proper.
TSG reminded me a lot of the public-domain mysteries on Libravox. When I was writing Goodnight Irene, I’d go to bed with old mysteries playing in my headphones, hoping to soak up the elements in my subconscious. They weren’t brilliant, but they were generally entertaining. TSG is generally entertaining. If you are seeking to complete your Locked Room International collection (a noble goal!) by all means buy the physical copy. If, however, you are interested in the premise, this is a Kindle buy. It’s not bad.