The Red Redmaynes by Eden Phillpotts

Blinded by love…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Inspector Mark Brendon is on a fishing holiday in Dartmoor when he first spots the lovely, ethereal, auburn-haired Jenny Pendean and falls instantly in love. Lucky for him, then, that she is promptly widowed, providing him with both a mystery to solve and a woman to woo. Less lucky for her husband, Michael. Jenny’s grandfather was a rich man and had left her a legacy, but only on condition that one of her three uncles approved her marriage. None of the three approved of Michael, though, in part because he wasn’t from the right class, but also because he managed to escape serving in the armed forces during WW1 (not bone spurs – a minor heart condition). However recently Uncle Robert had reached out to the young couple and seemed ready to accept Michael. But one night, after Robert and Michael had been working alone on the house Michael was building, neither man returns. The next day all that is found on the site is a pool of blood and signs of a body having been dragged away. Sightings of Robert making off on his motorcycle leave little doubt that he had killed Michael, probably in a fit of madness brought on by the shell-shock he had suffered in the war. Jenny begs Mark to find Robert…

This was first published in 1922 at the earliest stages of the Golden Age and, perhaps because of that, doesn’t follow the format that later became recognisable as the traditional mystery novel. It’s a bit rambling in parts, takes place over a period of more than a year, and the dénouement comes a few chapters before the end, followed by lengthy explanations and a round up of what happens to the surviving characters in their futures. It feels looser and not as well plotted as many of the later GA mysteries, though oddly I felt it was a good deal darker and more psychologically twisted than most of them too. I found a lot to enjoy in it, though I would have enjoyed it more had it been tighter and a bit more pacey.

Challenge details:
Book: 44
Subject Heading: Resorting to Murder
Publication Year: 1922

The first half takes place on Dartmoor and then on the weather-beaten coast of Devon, and Phillpotts uses these bleak landscapes effectively to create an atmosphere of impending doom. It transpires that Michael was merely the first victim – the murderer seems to want to destroy the remaining Redmaynes too, though no-one can understand his motives. In the second half, Jenny visits her uncle Albert at his home in Italy – again a well realised location – and when danger seems again to draw near, Albert reaches out to both Inspector Brendon and to Albert’s American friend, Peter Ganns, who happens to be a great detective. (Naturally, in such circumstances, one cannot put one’s faith in the Italian police, because after all they’re foreigners…)

This is another aspect of the book which makes it different from the standard – it appears as if Mark is going to be the central detective in the first half, but then, admittedly after Mark has proved his incompetence several times over, Ganns becomes the main man. And it’s he who will finally unravel the mystery. He’s hampered by having to rely on Mark as his sidekick, since Mark is so in love with Jenny his brain has turned to mush. Ganns points this out to him, but still Mark allows himself to get distracted at crucial moments. (One wonders if the Italian police could really have been less competent than the British and American ones…) Ganns is fun, in that I did wonder if Phillpotts had ever actually met an American or if he created the entire portrayal based on characters in pulp fiction of the day. Ganns seems to be a well educated, cultured man but sometimes slips into the kind of wise-guy speech of the fictional American PI or gangster, such as referring to women as “dames”. But he’s psychologically astute, which is more than can be said for poor Mark.

Eden Phillpotts

I had a reasonably good idea of the solution from fairly early on, although I was a bit baffled as to motive. And when the dénouement came and all was explained, it felt much more modern than I was expecting – definitely heading towards psychological thriller territory, which surprised me for a book from this early, and added considerably to the interest level.

Overall, then, despite some weaknesses and an odd format, I enjoyed this. The settings are particularly well done and I found aspects of it pretty original, especially for the time. Another author I’d be happy to meet again.

I downloaded this one from Project Gutenberg.

19 thoughts on “The Red Redmaynes by Eden Phillpotts

  1. The setting seems just perfect for the story, FictionFan. And it’s interesting to see some of the seeds of what would later be the traditional/GA novel. I like that touch of psychological thriller, too. And it doesn’t sound too mawkish with the romance angle, which is nice as well. Glad you found a lot to like about it.

    • Yes, the settings definitely added to this one and were very well done. I do like that this challenge is forcing me to go back to these very early books – it’s interesting to see how the genre developed. Ha! I did feel that Mark might have been a better detective if he’d managed to control his passion for the fair Jenny a bit… 😉

  2. I don’t recall reading any of his books, so this was a nice introduction for me. I find it challenging sometimes to read something so obviously “dated,” but it sounds as if you’ve managed to overcome some of that. Well done, FF — probably time for a nice slice of chocolate cake, ha!

    • I’ve never come across him before either but I’ll look out for more – if I ever get time! Yes, the more I read of these vintage crime novels, the easier I find them – my mind seems to be getting acclimatised to them. Ha! I don’t have cake, but I do have a chocolate doughnut waiting… 🍩

  3. I’m not sure this one sounds that good to me, or at least not given how many other books I need/want to read. I’m glad when all was said and done you enjoyed it.

    • At some point I might do a list of the vintage crime ones I most recommend. I don’t think this one would be on it, even though I did enjoy it. But I’m increasingly surprised by the variety of styles early on… no formula back then!

  4. Wow! This sounds really different from the books where the main detective (Peter Wimsey; Roderick Alleyn) fall in love with a mysterious woman and solves the cases involving them. Glad you enjoyed it at least even with the flaws mentioned above.

    • I’m increasingly surprised by how different so many of these vintage crime novels are – they hardly ever seem to fall into that formula we all think of, though the leading detective ones seem to be the ones that have survived best. Maybe because they’re easier to adapt for TV?

  5. So I must sheepishly admit it’s never occurred to me that the mystery format begun at any one time, I suppose I assumed it was just always around? But of course that makes more sense that the mystery as we know it now has its origins in a specific time period-thank you for this history lesson!

    • Hahaha – my pleasure! My entire “in-depth” knowledge of the subject comes from the introductions to these Crime Classics! 😀 I think it’s probably a Brit thing – there’s a feeling that all the British Golden Age crime writers (between the wars) wrote to a format, but the more I read of them, the less I agree. I think it’s just that the ones that have survived all have a leading detective of the Poirot kind.

    • These very early ones have surprised me most. While they have a lot of outdated attitudes obviously, the plots are often surprisingly modern, although they’re not as tightly presented as they became once the Golden Age arrived.

  6. Some real points of interest here, especially the original setting on the moors and the early psychological thriller orientation. As there’s a relatively cheap selected works on Amazon, I’ve added this book one to my list.

    • Oh good, you must let me know what you think of it! I found the motivation surprisingly modern and the writing is very good, even if the structure isn’t as tight as later mystery novels would become. I’d definitely like to read more of him…

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