The Red House Mystery by AA Milne

Pleasingly devious…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When Antony Gillingham receives a letter from his old friend, Bill Beverley, saying that Bill is currently visiting at Red House, Antony decides to pop along since he’s in the neighbourhood. But he arrives just as a shot has been fired, to find one of the country house’s residents, Cayley, banging frantically on the locked living-room door. Two men had entered the room – the house’s owner Mark Ablett, and his brother, Robert, a ne’er-do-well just returned from Australia. Now Robert lies dead on the living-room floor, and Mark has disappeared…

….“Of course it’s very hampering being a detective, when you don’t know anything about detecting, and when nobody knows that you’re doing detection, and you can’t have people up to cross-examine them, and you have neither the energy nor the means to make proper enquiries; and, in short, when you’re doing the whole thing in a thoroughly amateur, haphazard way.”

Well, this was a lot of fun! It’s very well written, with lots of humour and two very likeable protagonists in Antony and Bill. Antony is a man of means but with an interest in human nature. So rather than living the life of the idle rich, he has worked in a variety of roles, from shop-keeping to waiting. Now he decides to try his hand at amateur detection. He’s helped by having the ability to record anything he observes with his subconscious mind and then to retrieve those observations later at will. Bill is a pleasant young man, not unintelligent but without his friend’s perceptiveness. He proves to be a loyal and faithful sidekick, though, who cheerfully plays Watson to Antony’s Holmes – Milne openly and affectionately uses Holmes and Watson as a running joke between his two amateur ‘tecs.

….“Are you prepared to be the complete Watson?” he asked.
….“Watson?”
….“Do-you-follow-me-Watson; that one. Are you prepared to have quite obvious things explained to you, to ask futile questions, to give me chances of scoring off you, to make brilliant discoveries of your own two or three days after I have made them myself – all that kind of thing? Because it all helps.”
….“My dear Tony,” said Bill delightedly, “need you ask?”

Challenge details:
Book: 17
Subject Heading: The Birth of the Golden Age
Publication Year: 1922

The plot is in the nature of a locked room mystery, though not in terms of how anyone could have got in or out. The mystery is in working out what happened inside the room and why Mark has apparently run off. There is (of course) a house party at the time of the murder, so that there are plenty of people to be witnesses and/or suspects. Cayley, the man who was banging on the door as Antony arrived, is Mark Ablett’s young cousin, whose education Mark had paid for. Cayley now lives with him and fulfills the functions of a secretary and general man of business for Mark. No-one really knows what it is that the victim Robert did all those years ago that resulted in him being sent off to Australia to avoid scandal, nor why he has suddenly returned. There are a couple of young women to provide love interests or possibly motives. The domestic staff add to the humour, with Milne showing just a touch of Golden Age snobbery but not enough to spoil the fun. And secret tunnels! Really every book should have secret tunnels, I think, don’t you?

….“It isn’t everybody’s colour,” said Audrey, holding the hat out at arm’s length, and regarding it thoughtfully. “Stylish, isn’t it?”
….“Oh, it’ll suit you all right, and it would have suited me at your age. A bit too dressy for me now, though wearing better than some other people, I daresay. I was never one to pretend to be what I wasn’t. If I’m fifty-five, I’m fifty-five – that’s what I say.”
….“Fifty-eight, isn’t it, auntie?”
….“I was just giving that as an example,” said Mrs. Stevens with great dignity.

AA Milne

Antony uses his knowledge of human nature and his observational skills to spot little inconsistencies in the stories of the other occupants of the house to gradually uncover the truth. It’s very well plotted – I did have a kind of idea of part of the how of it all, but was nicely baffled by the why. And I loved Antony and Bill as a team. My only disappointment is that Milne never wrote another mystery novel – I feel they’d have made the basis of a great detective duo series. But at least we have this book, and happily it’s available for download from wikisource. Highly recommended for the next time you want something that’s well written, pleasingly devious, and above all, entertaining!

48 thoughts on “The Red House Mystery by AA Milne

  1. Great review . I’ve always thought this should be better known, and wished that he’d written more of them. If I remember rightly, he only wrote this one to prove he could.

    • Thanks! It’s a pity, especially since he leaves it open at the end as if he was considering doing more. And it’s probably because there’s only one that has allowed it to slip into relative obscurity. A hidden gem!

  2. Oh, this does look fun, FictionFan! Just from that bit you’ve shared, I like the style. And the story itself sounds engaging enough that it’s not a mindless romp, if that makes any sense. Interesting that Milne wrote such different sorts of things…

    • Hahaha! This is a safe zone for the poor downtrodden exclamation point – use as many as you like!! 😉 Oh, I do hope you enjoy it a much as I did – great fun. And happily, the download is very well formatted too… 😀

  3. This sounds delightful — and I love the last quote from Mrs. Stevens! What a pity he never wrote more mysteries. And look, you’re ending the week with a 5-star review — how wonderful is that?!!

    • Haha – I felt Mrs Stevens was definitely a kindred spirit! 😉 It is a pity – he showed with this one that he would have been right up there with the best if he’d stuck with the genre. It must be great to be talented enough to write well in such hugely different genres.

  4. You’ve got me on this one. I don’t read a lot of murder mysteries, new or old, but I can’t resist AA Milne. His childhood poems still run through my head. 🙂

    • I didn’t know until very recently that he’d ever dabbled in detective fiction – and he’s really very good at it too! Pooh holds a special place in my heart, but now I shall have to imagine him wearing a little deerstalker and solving crimes with his sidekick, Piglet… 😀

    • I didn’t know he’d dabbled in detective fiction until recently, and dabbled so well too! It’s a lovely mix of proper plot and gentle humour – perfect Golden Age crime, in fact. I wish he’d done more of it…

  5. For some reason, this book reminds me of the movie adaptation of Clue-have you seen it? The one with Tim Curry? It was my all-time favourite movie when I was a kid (strange I know) and I recently re-watched a few years ago, and fell in love with it all over again. You must have seen it, and if you haven’t, by god you have to pick it up.

  6. Now I wish I’d not taken this book back to the library unfinished. Somehow the opening pages just didn’t grab me – and I had other books to read, and it was due back at the library – you know what I mean …

    Anyway, thanks for the link to the wikisource – now I can read it at leisure.

    • Ha – yes indeed, I know exactly what you mean! I seem to be getting more and more brutal about abandoning books that don’t immediately grab me. But this one is definitely worth sticking with – hope you enjoy your second attempt! 😀

  7. The playfulness that you evidence in this novel reminds me of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, which I am reading to my husband before bed these nights. It’s supposed to make fun of all the “women’s Gothic novels” that came out in that time period. So far, nothing Gothic has happened. The narrator fusses a lot about riding in open-air carriages, making and keeping walking dates, and going to the “Pump-room” (a name I shall not forgive).

  8. I downloaded this when you mentioned it in a previous post but I’ve not got round to reading it yet – great to hear it lives up to it’s promise! As you say, such a shame he didn’t write any more. I’m looking forward to reading it 🙂

  9. FF, this sounds delightful and I whole-heartedly agree that all stories should have secret tunnels! Got to love a secret tunnel. In fact the book I am reading now has several secret tunnels, hurray! 😛

    • It is both lovely and entertaining! I thought the quotes gave a better feel for the style than I could convey in my review – the writing just makes it so much fun… 😀

    • Hahaha – I fear it was a British thing that Australia was full of ne’er-do-wells, even when I was young! But then we got Neighbours and Home and Away and suddenly discovered that Australians are cool, sporty and gorgeous… 😉

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