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

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