The creator of such beloved storybook characters for children as Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, and Eeyore, A. A. Milne was also the author of numerous dramas, essays, and novels for adults — among them, this droll and finely crafted whodunit.
In it, Milne takes readers to the Red House, a comfortable residence in the placid English countryside that is the bachelor home of Mr. Mark Ablett. While visiting this cozy retreat, amateur detective Anthony Gillingham and his chum, Bill Beverley, investigate their genial host’s disappearance and its connection with a mysterious shooting. Was the victim, whose body was found after a heated exchange with the host, shot in an act of self-defense? If so, why did the host flee, and if not, what drove him to murder?
Between games of billiards and bowls, the taking of tea, and other genteel pursuits, Gillingham and Beverley explore the possibilities in a light-hearted series of capers involving secret passageways, underwater evidence, and other atmospheric devices.
Sparkling with witty dialogue, deft plotting, and an intriguing cast of characters, this rare gem will charm mystery lovers, Anglophiles, and general readers alike.
When I learned that A.A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh, wrote a mystery, I was utterly fascinated. I know several authors who did beautiful things in different genres, usually coming up with unexpected ideas. I immediately decided that I wanted to read it.
The Red House Mystery is a charming story. Very classic in a Golden Age of Mystery kind of way, very cosy and very clever. The mystery is complex enough to keep my interest always alert. The ending was very satisfactory. So I’d say that it checked all main points in a mystery.
But there was even more.
The setting is the classic manor in the English countryside, familiar enough to guess everything that isn’t said, but still described vividly enough that I could see it and feel it. The cast of characters wasn’t very large, but all of the characters were well-rounded, and all of them had interesting personalities.
I particularly enjoyed the three main characters, Anthony (Tony) Gilligham, the amateur sleuth, Bill Beverly his friend and Matthew Cayley, the main suspect. Anthony is the classic amateur detective with a great sense of observation and deduction, while Bill – younger, more eager and more naïve than Tony – is his willing helper. I loved the relationship between the two, mimicking Holmes and Watson’s relationship and consciously making fun at them. Their banters were the delight of the story.
Cayley is an interesting character, very mysterious and quite likeable for a suspect.
The story mostly spins around them, though there are a crew of other people that come and go and that – no matter how little their role – get a full treatment in personality. I really really enjoyed all of the characters.
I also enjoyed the tone of the story very much. It is very light to be a mystery. So often, it is lighthearted and even humorous. It pokes conscious fun at classic mysteries and all their tropes, and still uses them very cleverly, with intelligence and purpose, which is what makes the mystery so strong.
And yet, there are little surprisingly emotional episodes, a couple of which really moved me.
This is the kind of mystery that I like: focused on the riddle and a lot going on around it, with characters with personality and with history and a setting that is more than just place.
It was such an enjoyable read.
The Red House Mystery
Bill dropped into a chair and thought. Antony must be warned. Obviously. But how? How did one signal to anybody? By code. Morse code. Did Antony know it? Did Bill know it himself, if it came to that? He had picked up a bit in the Army not enough to send a message, of course. But a message was impossible, anyhow; Cayley would hear him tapping it out. It wouldn’t do to send more than a single letter. What letters did he know? And what letter would convey anything to Antony? …. He pulled at his pipe, his eyes wandering from Cayley at his desk to the Reverend Theodore Ussher in his shelf. What letter?
C for Cayley. Would Antony understand? Probably not, but it was just worth trying. What was C? Long, short, long, short. Umpty-iddy-umpty-iddy. Was that right? C yes, that was C. He was sure of that. C. Umpty-iddy-umpty-iddy.
Hands in pockets, he got up and wandered across the room, humming vaguely to himself, the picture of a man waiting for another man (as it might be his friend Gillingham) to come in and take him away for a walk or something. He wandered across to the books at the back of Cayley, and began to tap absent-mindedly on the shelves, as he looked at the titles. Umpty-iddy-umpty-iddy. Not that it was much like that at first; he couldn’t get the rhythm of it …. Umpt-y-iddy-umpt-y-iddy. That was better. He was back at Samuel Taylor Coleridge now. Antony would begin to hear him soon. Umpt-y-iddy-umpt-y-iddy; just the aimless tapping of a man who is wondering what book he will take out with him to read on the lawn. Would Antony hear? One always heard the man in the next flat knocking out his pipe. Would Antony understand? Umpt-y-iddy-umpt-y-iddy. C. for Cayley, Antony. Cayley’s here. For God’s sake, wait.
“Good Lord! Sermons!” said Bill, with a loud laugh. (Umpt-y-iddy-umpt-y-iddy) “Ever read ‘em, Cayley?”
“What?” Cayley looked up suddenly. Bill’s back moved slowly along, his fingers beating a tattoo on the shelves as he walked.
“Er no,” said Cayley, with a little laugh. An awkward, uncomfortable little laugh, it seemed to Bill.
“Nor do I.” He was past the sermons now past the secret door but still tapping in the same aimless way.
“Oh, for God’s sake sit down,” burst out Cayley. “Or go outside if you want to walk about.”
Bill turned round in astonishment.
“Hallo, what’s the matter?”
Cayley was slightly ashamed of his outburst.
“Sorry, Bill,” he apologized. “My nerves are on edge. Your constant tapping and fidgeting about—”
“Tapping?” said Bill with an air of complete surprise.
“Tapping on the shelves, and humming. Sorry. It got on my nerves.”
“My dear old chap, I’m awfully sorry. I’ll go out in the hall.”
The Thursday Quotables was originally a weekly post created by Lisa Wolf for her book blog Bookshelf Fantasy. It isn’t a weekly post anymore, not even for Lisa, but just like her, I still love to share my favourite reads on Thursday and I still use the original template which included an excerpt.