Society Magazine

BOOK REVIEW: Quarantine in the Grand Hotel by Jenő Rejtő

By Berniegourley @berniegourley

Quarantine In The Grand HotelQuarantine In The Grand Hotel by Jenő Rejtő

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

[Note: This book is published by Corvina Books, which is a Hungarian publisher that—among other things—specializes in translations of Hungarian literature (into mostly English and German.) I bought the book on a recent trip to Budapest. I mention these two facts because this seems to be an expensive and / or difficult to acquire work outside of Hungary. A cursory Amazon search brought up copies only at an exorbitant rate. In Hungary I paid 2500 forint (about $9 USD at the time), which I would consider on the high side of what the book is worth. It’s a good book, but it’s a 160-page pulp-fiction paperback novel written about 80 years ago.]

Quarantine in the Grand Hotel is a murder mystery set on a fictional resort in Indonesia (or thereabouts.) However, it’s not your typical dour mystery. It’s as much of a satirical humor novel as it is a mystery. I was hooked with the first paragraph, which reads, “When Maud returned to her room, she saw a man emerge from her wardrobe. Dressed in pajamas and wearing a bright green lampshade on his head, the stranger beamed a friendly smile at her.” From that point, I had to know who the man in the pajamas is and how he got there, and that information doesn’t come immediately or without false leads.

The premise is that the resort is quarantined and a murder takes place there (actually two murders.) It’s not a creative premise. The hotel setting allows the author to bring together an international cast of characters (suspects) some of whom would believably have secrets or be leading double lives. Where the creativity comes in is both in the humor, and in the skilled reveals. Rejtő used cliff-hanger chapter closings to good effect. He also plants false information, e.g. in the form of false confessions designed to protect loved ones that may or may not have actually committed a crime.

Rejtő (who wrote under the nom de plume “P. Howard”) was a Hungarian journalist and author. He wrote this and most of his books in the 1930s. He died in a forced labor camp in axis-controlled Soviet territory during World War II. He’d displeased the Hungarian Arrow Cross Militia (i.e. the Hungarian fascists) and was sent to a labor camp at the front.

I’d recommend this book for those who like light, humorous novels. If you’re a hardcore mystery fan, it might seem a little silly and ham-handed. If you are looking for a novel that offers insight into Hungarian literature, I don’t think this one is for you. The setting is not Hungarian, the major characters are not Hungarian, and I would hazard to say that most people wouldn’t know that this translation wasn’t written by a British, or other English-language country, author.

View all my reviews

By in Book Reviews, Books, fiction, Hungary, Literature, Review, Reviews on February 11, 2015.

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