Like most people, I know A. A. Milne as the author of the Pooh books (though admittedly I haven’t read any of them) but to my delight I learned that Milne, a fan of the classic detective story, had written one himself. The Red House Mystery is sadly the only mystery he wrote, but it is such a delight! If you are in the mood for a classic mystery which also gently mocks that genre or just fancy a cosy, this should be your next read.
Anthony Gillingham, our amateur sleuth (for let’s face it, the best sleuths are amateurs) stumbles into the middle of a country house murder and a locked-room murder no less. Arriving at the red house to visit his friend Bill Beverley, Tony finds that the host Mark Ablett has disappeared and his no-good brother Robert from Australia has been shot in the study, it’s a rum business as Bill would say. So Tony chooses a new profession and Bill agrees to play Watson to his Sherlock Holmes.
Bill by the way is just the sidekick anyone could wish for and with his “I say” and “what-ho” reminded me a lot of Bertie Wooster. Like Wodehouse’s world, the one Milne conjures here is one of eternal English summer, teas and tennis. It’s the idealistic pre-WWI England that never really existed but is always mourned, especially in the classic British mysteries. I recommend joining the characters with a cup of tea and a scone in this ideal world (where some people just happen to be murdered ). Still, it’s all very cosy and fun and the characters as well as the narrator keep commenting on genre conventions and references abound. The solution isn’t too much of a surprise, but otherwise there’s really not much Milne doesn’t provide. There’s a marvelous library, a secret passage, a Holmes and Watson pair of sleuths, a locked room murder and the police are baffled.
I can’t believe though that Milne would end the book with his sleuth saying that he was just getting into the swing of it and then not follow it up with a sequel! But there you go, you have been warned to make the most of this little gem!
As this mystery is a classic and was published in 1922, this counts for the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge.
Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!