Book – The Red House Mystery
Author – AA Milne
Year – 1922
Pages – 223
Genre – Crime
When I was a kid, I read just about any Enid Blyton book that I could get my hands on, and I read them again and again and again. I had all the Famous Five books, and all the Secret Seven books, but beyond even them, I was a huge fan of the Five Find-Outers and a Dog books. Character driven, but with a different mystery to solve in each one, I couldn’t get enough.
I’m not quite sure why, but that love of these crime books never really transferred over to my adult reading. My new favourite toy, my book spreadsheet, tells me that it is only about three percent of the books I have read so far. However the comparison to this series from my youth came to mind when I started this book the other day, The Red House Mystery by AA Milne – yes, the very same inventor of Winnie the Pooh and co.
In this, his only crime mystery novel, Milne creates the character of Anthony Gillingham, an amateur sleuth who finds himself caught up in a crime scene when he arrives at the Red House just after the murder of one of the guests. With his good friend Bill Beverley, he must piece together the clues to work out what happened, and who is responsible.
The edition that I read starts with an introduction from Milne that explains how much he wanted to craft a detective book, and what he considers to be the ideal construction of such a novel. He suggests that he wants a detective who is amateur, who does not rely on forensic evidence, but instead his powers of observation and deduction, and who has a steadfast companion to bounce these ideas off of. It is an interesting and illuminating way to start the book, and I enjoyed reading it to see how he managed to achieve just that.
As to the book itself, it is simply great fun. The thing that reminded me so much to the Blyton books of my youth was the style. Despite the twenty-five off years between their writing, both have that twee countryside setting about them where things are “rum fun” and people say “By Jove!”. It meant that this book had a real nostalgic feel for me, and if I am honest, one that I am keen on repeating again.
As for the mystery, it is very good – although I must admit that I did work a lot of it out relatively early. Whilst I don’t consider myself particularly good at that kind of thing, I would still not say that it is because the book is too obvious. Quite honestly, I would suggest instead that it was a lucky guess. It is well constructed throughout, and Milne says in his introduction that he would like his readers to feel that it is an achievable but impressive thing for him to have worked out. It certainly works that way, and if you are a fan of the crime genre – particularly of the Sherlock Holmes detective variety, then I would suggest giving this a check out.