In Szilárd Rubin’s only detective novel, published in 1973, it is pouring with rain on a cheerless autumn evening, the post-office has closed, and even the switchboard operator has gone home. The company of ten, though, who have gathered in the doctor’s flat in a little village in the mountains, revels in this cosy environment, isolated and sheltered from the outside world: the men are all old friends who were at school together, and this is their first reunion in fifteen years. They all know each other from way back, here there is no need to exercise their usual professional caution – or so thinks the detective inspector who is one of those enjoying himself.
But at the height of their revels a brutal murder takes place. The murderer must be there among the nine survivors, smoking a cigarette with them at the elegantly laid-out dinner table, where they all wait in fear and trembling to see who will be next. And suddenly someone slumps to the floor…
In the best traditions of the whodunit, the inspector at once sets about interrogating each suspect. The relationships between those present are gradually revealed, and eventually it turns out that the entire class reunion was organised by the counter-espionage services. With great precision and skill, Szilárd Rubin presents the various motives and interests at play and the devilish thoroughness with which the murder was plotted, administering the details in small, careful doses and making the reader work hard throughout to understand what is going on.
At the same time we are offered a panorama of post-World War II Hungarian society: “On top of the stock-in-trade motifs of sexual impropriety, greed and selfishness, we have the 1944 deportations, the Jews who escaped at the price of having to change their identity, the bourgeoisie who emigrated ahead of the ‘building of socialism’, the Transylvanian Hungarians’ resettlement in the motherland, and the informers, as well as the would-be informers.” (Lothar Müller, Süddeutsche Zeitung)
An exciting piece of genre fiction: a hugely entertaining mix of spy thriller and Agatha Christie-type village whodunit, and at the same time an astonishing feat of historical documentation. (Martin Lhotzky, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung)