Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"An Excellent Detective Story, Which Uses All the Tricks of That Trade and Yet Makes Good Fun of Them"

By A. A. Milne (1882-1956). 
E. P. Dutton & Co.
1922. 277 pages. $2.00
Online HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE (audio).
The creator of Winnie the Pooh authors a not half bad mystery story:
. . . 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. — Wikipedia ("The Red House Mystery")
While the novel was generally greeted with approval, not everyone was overjoyed to see it:
The Red House Mystery was immediately popular; Alexander Woollcott called it "one of the three best mystery stories of all time," though Raymond Chandler, in his 1944 essay "The Simple Art of Murdercriticised Woollcott for that claim, referring to him as, "rather a fast man with a superlative." Chandler wrote of Milne's novel, "It is an agreeable book, light, amusing in the Punch style, written with a deceptive smoothness that is not as easy as it looks [...] Yet, however light in texture the story may be, it is offered as a problem of logic and deduction. If it is not that, it is nothing at all. There is nothing else for it to be. If the situation is false, you cannot even accept it as a light novel, for there is no story for the light novel to be about." — Wikipedia ("The Red House Mystery")
Other reviews:
[Full review] A murder and detective story by the author of 'Mr. Pim' and 'The Dover Road,' better written than most crime stories, as might be expected from the authorship. Its peculiarity is that the mystery is, not who committed the murder, but what were the cause and the method of the crime. — "The New Books," THE OUTLOOK (July 5, 1922)
[Full review] Humor and humanness are the unusual contributions brought to the detective story by this jack of all literary trades and master of most. Mystery and thrills, of course. — "The Bookman's Guide to Fiction," THE BOOKMAN (August 1922; Jump To page 629, bottom)
[Full review] An excellent detective story, which uses all the tricks of that trade and yet makes good fun of them. The style is charming, the manner civilized. If Mr. Milne can write as well as this it is perhaps as well that Conan Doyle has lost himself in the glimpses of his particular spooky moon. — "Books in Brief," THE NATION (September 20, 1922)
[Review excerpt] . . . The first thing you need to know about The Red House Mystery is that it’s hilarious – it’s as much a comedy of manners as it is a mystery. The tone of the book reminded me quite a bit of The Moonstone, actually. Milne’s book is not long enough to be quite as immersive a reading experience, but I loved them both immensely for very similar reasons. And though it’s Conan Doyle that the characters explicitly reference, Wilkie Collins’ influence is really just as noticeable.  . . . — THINGS MEAN A LOT (June 24, 2010)
[Review excerpt] . . . The detective, who’s somewhat along the lines of a Lord Peter character, is competent without being annoying and charming without going over-the-top. His Watson isn’t a dunce, thank God, and the pair of them make an entertaining team.  . . . — HERE THERE BE BOOKS (9 July 2012)
[Review excerpt] . . . At the end of the book, I was really wishing that his publishers had allowed Milne to write more mysteries. The wit, sarcasm, and humor that is so prevalent in the Winnie the Pooh books are all on full display with The Red House Mystery.  It was a fun, light romp of a mystery that was pure brain enjoyment. The crime itself is far fetched and the characters are over the top, but the I wouldn't have had it any other way. — Ryan, WORDSMITHONIA (April 17, 2012)
- More reader reviews are at GOODREADS, located HERE.
- Sixteen pages of reviews of the Dover edition of The Red House Mystery begin HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

"There Is Enough Plot to Furnish Half a Dozen Books"

By J. S. Fletcher (1863-1935).
Alfred A. Knopf.
1922. 315 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
The murder of two brothers at the same time. though six hundred miles apart, is only the first of many mysteries surrounding Ravensdene Court. How could the two brothers have been murdered when they were both on a ship that went down with all hands off the coast of China three years earlier? What was the significance of the etching on the tobacco box that disappeared from the inquest? Why was someone looking for the Chinaman Chuh Fen who supposedly went down on the same ship as the two murdered brothers? Find the answers in this tale of intrigue, mystery, and buried treasure within the pages of … Ravensdene Court. — Resurrected Press description
[Full review] Starting with a dual murder, Mr. Fletcher unravels his patchwork quilt with amazing skill, then sews it together again. The best work of this master of detective fiction, with quaint atmosphere, thrills, mystery, and love. — "The Bookman's Guide to Fiction," THE BOOKMAN (August 1922; go to page 628, top)
[Review excerpt] . . . as in all Mr. J. S. Fletcher's stories, there is enough plot to furnish half a dozen books, for many of the side issues have not even been touched upon in this article. — "Robbing Graves for Treasure," THE LITERARY DIGEST (August 19, 1922)
[Full review] Although a bit formulaic, Fletcher generally comes up with a half decent story which is mostly set in the North of England. This one has the usual country house owned by an eccentric old chap with the obligatory attractive young niece. On the way to the house to catalogue the library our hero bumps into a strange old seafaring man asking questions about local graveyards and looking for a certain name. He, of course, gets bumped off and when the authorities try to get hold of his next of kin, a brother living hundreds of miles away, they find that he was also murdered on the same night. A bit far fetched maybe, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. — John, GOODREADS (April 15, 2013)
[Full review] A classic British mystery complete with a young and handsome amateur sleuth, a young and beautiful woman with pluck, buried treasure, a mysterious murder, a kidnapping, stolen jewels, essentially the works. J. S. Fletcher wrote to a formula, but it is a fun and entertaining formula, and so long as one is not too much of a stickler for believability, it's a treat. — Brenda Mengeling, GOODREADS (June 17, 2011)
- It seems like only yesterday that we were talking about J. S. Fletcher, and SO IT WAS.

Category: Detective fiction

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"The Ending Was a Let-down"

By J. S. Fletcher (1863-1935).
Alfred A. Knopf.
1922 [1917 in England]. 303 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
One reader says it's too easy to guess the culprit; your mileage may vary:
When businessman Marshall Allerdyke receives a late night message to meet his cousin in Hull, he makes a late night drive only to find on his arrival that his cousin is dead. Further investigation reveals that he had been carrying a fortune in jewels that has now gone missing. Allerdyke vows to track down the murders at any cost. But to do so he must discover whether the mysterious woman he had met traveling to Hull was the one who left the jeweled buckle in his cousin’s room, and if he can trust his cousin’s American business associate Franklin Fullaway. But most important of all, he must determine what role was played by The Rayner-Slade Amalgamation! — Resurrected Press description
[Review excerpt] . . . most of the detectives, professional and amateur, are requested to be at a certain tea-house in Hyde Park at a certain day and hour when they are assured the mystery will be cleared up and they will witness the arrest of the criminals, for there is more than one. The scene at the tea-house is very good and the dénouement will prove a surprize to most of the readers. — "Murders and Jewels," THE LITERARY DIGEST (July 15, 1922)
I wish I could give this story 3-1/2 stars. It was a great Fletcher mystery—right up to the very end, and then it just seemed to fall apart! I really enjoyed the story almost all along. There were twists and turns, interesting characters, great story-telling. But the ending was a let-down. Threads were left hanging. The obligatory romance popped up with no forewarning. Disappointing ending. — Kathy, GOODREADS (July 13, 2011)
- More GOODREADS reviews are HERE.
- Other ONTOS visits with Fletcher are HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

Saturday, October 18, 2014

"Thoroughly Enjoyable for Followers of Detective Stories"

By Roland Pertwee (1885-1963).
Alfred A. Knopf.
1922. 285 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
[Full review] THERE is not much to say concerning "Men of Affairs" except that it is original, well told, and thoroughly enjoyable for followers of detective stories. Quite as good as J. S. Fletcher at his best. Its incidents might have taken place in medieval Venice with the threat of a gold cup of poison always off stage.
Yet so skilfully has Roland Pertwee used his rather sparse style and carefully chosen detail, that the thrills of modern business competition, colored to middle ages tint, yet preserve the aspect of reality. The narrative moves unctiously, and the mechanics are ably concealed. — J. F., "The Editor Recommends: A Thriller of Parts," THE BOOKMAN (July 1922; go to page 523, middle right)

Category: Detective fiction

"A Straight Sherlock Holmes Finish"

By Jens Anker (1883-1957).
Translated from the Danish by Frithjof Toksvig.
Alfred A. Knopf.
1922. 211 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Before Nordic noir there was, you might say, Nordic Holmes:
[Full review] A particulary live detective story with a straight Sherlock Holmes finish. — "The Bookman's Guide to Fiction," THE BOOKMAN (August 1922)

Category: Detective fiction

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"You Fancy Yourself Quite a Toff But I'll Show You I'm Toffer Than You Are"

Warner Brothers.
Video: 7 minutes and 8 seconds.
Online HERE.
"Watkins, in a moment there will come a knock at the door heralding the start of the Mystery of the Shropshire Slasher. Answer it. My pants are caught on a nail."

Category: Sherlock Holmes parody

Monday, October 13, 2014


Summer 2014. Issue #36.
Old-Time Detection Special Interest Group of American Mensa, Ltd.
44 pages (including covers). $6.00

If you like mystery and detective fiction of ANY era, OLD-TIME DETECTION is the perfect choice. Editor Arthur Vidro has done a brilliant job of retrieving "lost" or simply neglected nuggets from the past and bringing them back from undeserved obscurity.

This issue covers a lot of ground: detective fiction from the '20s all the way up to news about the latest reboot of the Poirot series.

- A look at BEFORE THE FACT.
. . . BEFORE THE FACT is not a traditional crime novel. In this psychological suspense novel told from the point of view of the victim, we follow her life for several years.  . . .
- Reviews by Jon L. Breen of books published in 1972, 1976, and 1977.
- Charles Shibuk examines two important works about the genre.
. . . I am, however, less than enchanted by Mr. Symons' casual unmasking of too many villains, and this includes the character who was responsible for the demise of the late Mr. Ackroyd, and his revelation of too many plot devices whose inventors took a great deal of time and effort to keep concealed.  . . .
- Critiques of books by Therese Benson, Goodwin Walsh, Neil Gordon, Harry Kemelman, Frank Gruber [THE MIGHTY BLOCKHEAD], and John Dickson Carr [THE BLACK SPECTACLES = THE PROBLEM OF THE GREEN CAPSULE].
. . . Carr so often proclaimed his adherence to the fair-play rule that it is unexpected when he engages in a bit of misdirection that few readers would consider fair. Carr's plots are puzzling enough without having the additional challenge of trying to discover when to believe the sleuth.  . . .
- A quick look at Ngaio Marsh and James Hadley Chase.
William Everson tells us about THE CRY OF THE CITY.
- Reviews by Charles Shibuk that originally appeared a generation ago [including Christie's PASSENGER TO FRANKFURT and titles by R. L. Goldman and F. J. Whaley].
. . . PATTERN IN BLACK AND RED is an excellent detective novel and a welcome reminder of the Golden Age in America.  . . .
- Ellery Queen solves "The Man Who Wanted to Be Murdered," last published in 1940.
. . . There in the room next to him sat a man who had wagered over a million dollars he would be dead in less than a week, a man who had practically offered four different people a fortune to kill him. And here, pacing up and down the hall outside—waiting—seemingly helpless to prevent whatever crime the old man was bent on, was Ellery Queen.  . . .
- In 1946, young Don Yates set out to meet half of the Ellery Queen team.
. . . What followed—his accepting my manuscript and promising to give it a careful reading, his patient signing and inscribing of all my books, the hours he spent lovingly displaying and describing the treasures in his collection—occurred in a magical dimension out of time. When I left, with a handshake and his good wishes for a safe trip home, evening was settling in over Brooklyn.  . . .
- A look at THE BEST OF ELLERY QUEEN and a look at TEN DAYS' WONDER.
. . . Suddenly he sees the motif, the pattern for all the crimes that have been occurring. He counts the crimes. No, not all the crimes, for one crime is missing. Let's see, which one is it? And then it hits him. The one crime that hasn't happened, but must happen, is murder.  . . .
- Updates in the world of Dame Agatha Christie.

Subscription information:
- Published three times a year: spring, summer, and autumn.
- Sample copy: $6.00 in U.S.; $10.00 anywhere else.
- One-year U.S.: $18.00 ($12.50 for Mensans).
- One-year overseas: $40.00 (or 20 pounds sterling or 25 euros).
- Payment: Checks or cash or U.S. postage stamps.
- Mailing address:
Arthur Vidro, editor
Old-Time Detection
2 Ellery Street
Claremont, New Hampshire 03743
- Web address:

Category: Detective fiction