Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne

239 pages
Published in 1922 by E. P. Dutton & Company

I don't recall now where or when I first learned of The Red House Mystery. I might have stumbled upon it while looking for an audio book to listen to during a long flight delay. Or it is possible I found it while perusing the list of books written by one of the world's most cherished children's authors, A. A. Milne. Because, of course when you hear the name A. A. Milne the stories of a rolly-polly bear named Winnie-the-Pooh, Christopher Robin, and the friends within the Hundred Acre Wood are what first come to mind. And because of this I never gave Milne more than a passing thought. Yes, I planned to read all the Winnie-the-Pooh stories to my daughter when she was old enough, but it never occurred to me that Milne might have penned any novels for an adult audience.

And then I discovered The Red House Mystery. It is one of Milne's earliest novels and also his only detective/mystery novel. Published in 1922, The Red House Mystery predates the Winnie-the-Pooh stories by four years. It appears to have been written purely for fun and the enjoyment of Milne's father, who loved a good mystery.

The plot:
"The setting is an English country house, where Mark Ablett has been entertaining a house party consisting of a widow and her marriageable daughter, a retired major, a wilful actress, and Bill Beverley, a young man about town. Mark's long-lost brother Robert, the black sheep of the family, arrives from Australia and shortly thereafter is found dead, shot through the head. Mark Ablett has disappeared, so Tony Gillingham, a stranger who has just arrived to call on his friend Bill, decides to investigate. Gillingham plays Sherlock Holmes to his younger counterpart's Doctor Watson; they progress almost playfully through the novel while the clues mount up and the theories abound." (summary courtesy of Wikipedia)

My Thoughts:
I thoroughly enjoyed The Red House Mystery from the first page to the last. It was a mix of clever clues, puzzling problems, and plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor. There were a few suspenseful scenes and the ending was fully acceptable, albeit I admit a tad bit predictable (at least to me an avid fan of whodunit mysteries). Still, when I finished reading this little-known mystery novel I felt as if I'd stumbled upon a hidden gem.
I read somewhere that A. A. Milne did not like to be pigeon-holed into one specific genre of books, hence why during his life-time he wrote such a variety of books, plays, and poems. My only regret in discovering this gem of a novel is that it is the only one of its kind amongst Milne's works. The Red House Mystery was a worthwhile and thoroughly enjoyable read and I highly recommend it to any reader looking for a new mystery to solve or to discover another side to Milne's creative mind.

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