Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Red House Mystery

Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise regularly posts reviews of Forgotten Books and I'm borrowing that idea today.

A. A. Milne is well known as the author of the Winnie the Pooh stories but modern readers might not know that he also wrote a mystery, The Red House Mystery published in 1922. I read it many years ago then found a copy in a used book store earlier this year and snapped it up.

This is an English country house with guests locked room cozy. It is miles away from my normal taste in crime stories but I enjoy reading it for its style. Milne writes with a flowing elegance, precise use of words, and understated humor that makes it a pleasure to read - for me, your mileage might vary. My edition has an introduction by Milne in which he describes how he came to write a mystery and what he likes in a mystery. You can read it here. It was well received and remained popular for many years. Raymond Chandler, in The Simple Art of Murder, described it as "... an agreeable book, light, amusing in the Punch style, written with a deceptive smoothness that is not as easy as it looks." Chandler then proceeds to dissect the book.

Antony Gillingham is our amateur detective. At 21, he inherited 400 pounds a year from his mother's estate and, not having to worry about money, decided to see the world. 400 pounds might not seem like much to live on but today it might be worth $20,000 -$30,000 in current U.S. dollars. (see How Much is That?")

Antony, however, had no intention of going further away than London. His idea of seeing the world was to see, not countries, but people; and to see them from as many angles as possible.

Now thirty, Antony is taking a holiday between jobs and discovers that he is staying near the Red House where his friend Bill Beverly is a guest. He decides to pay him a visit and arrives just in time to assist when the owner of Red House, Mark Ablett, is found shot dead in his study which is locked from the inside. Not long before his murder, Ablett's estranged brother Robert appeared at the house to see Mark. He has disappeared without a trace. Tony, with Bill as his Watson decide to investigate. Tony has been previously established as an observer of people and adjusts his theories as new facts appear which seems to confuse Bill and the police who would prefer Tony stick to something.

The Red House Mystery is a very pleasant, classic, cozy that actually holds up quite well. Read Chandler's essay for an excellent analysis of Milne's approach to detection.

Technical Note
I wanted to make Milne's introduction and Chandler's essay available but didn't a server on which to store the documents. Google Docs doesn't permit PDFs to be publicly available at this time. A colleague suggested I look at Dropbox. It is pretty nifty and only took a few minutes to set up. It looks like they will go to a pay model eventually but for now it is free.