Monsieur Rene is a retired widower living in Geneva with a meticulously trimmed moustache, an unused model train set in his loft and only one accolade to his name: his position as Permanent President of the International Brotherhood of Concierges and Hall Porters. Disillusioned with the modern world's corruption, he calls up a motley crew of similarly ageing hoteliers, concierges and valets, pointing out to them that their trade perks--more than personal satisfaction, more than tips--have been secrets which, put to use properly, could turn the world upside down. While his partners start to monitor sensitive international guests at Geneva's top hotels, the Chief of Police gets suspicious and Monsieur Rene discovers the charms of the redoubtable Agnes Schanderlach, Chief Housekeeper at the Bellerive Davel.
Monsieur Rene is a mischievous piece of whimsy, which combines Ustinov's trademark easy cosmopolitanism with some of the cruel edge of Ronald Firbank or the young Evelyn Waugh. Deliberately internationalist in its outlook, its peripheral cast is the modern jetset--the gay grandson of that famously heterosexual philanderer, the Emir of Djabbadieh; a scientific worker from Kazakhstan; a scandal-mired Italian judge. But here they're seen from behind the hotel desk, with eyes which have seen everything before. --Alan Stewart