I had no idea that A. A. Milne had written a detective novel until I saw this beautifully produced little book in the library.
In a lovely introduction the author sets out the things that he believes are needed for a great mystery story: the clues laid out so that the reader can reach the right conclusion, no emphasis on irrelevancies, an amateur detective with no more resources or expertise than the reader, a “Watson” so that the detective can set out his theories, and nothing previously unmentioned in the solution.
Does “The Red House Mystery” meet these standards? Is it as good as Milne hoped? Very nearly!
Antony Gillingham is staying in the country and discovers that he is staying near the Red House where his friend Bill Beverly is a guest. He decides to pay his friend a visit and arrives just in time to assist in the aftermath of a shooting in a study locked from the inside. Yes, a locked room mystery!
Owner Mark Ablett’s estranged brother Robert had appeared at the house earlier the same day. Now Robert’s corpse lies on the floor of the study and Mark has disappeared without a trace.
The police swiftly decide that mark has killed his brother. The house party disperses (they were away from the house and so free of suspicion) leaving just three men to deal with the aftermath of the tragedy – Bill, Antony and Mark’s secretary and cousin Matthew Cayley.
Antony is unhappy that some details are not accounted for in the police’s interpretation of events and, with Bill as his Watson, decides to investigate.
As the story advances Antony and Bill glean new facts and Antony formulates and reformulates his theory before finally unveiling the solution. There is more conversation and less happening than in most crime novels.
Milne wrote lovely prose and the stately place and understated humor made this book a lovely read for me, though the style wouldn’t suit everyone.
The characters are charming, though the some are underused.
The ending was maybe a little rushed, but the solution was clever.
“The Red House Mystery” is by no means one of the strongest mystery novels of the 1920s, but it is an entertaining read and it stands up well against the debut novels of other authors that era.