When did I start writing this?: Sometime in May 2014. I used to know the exact date, but Past Me threw that piece of paper away so Present Me now has no idea.
What was I writing it for?: I had just finished it as part of my 50 Books in a Year Challenge and thought it would be a good addition to my so far lacklustre book review section.
Why did I stop I stop writing?: May, surprisingly enough, was a busy month for me despite the looming exams that I had to endure. I finished off my The Crimson Field reviews; I was getting through my traditional DreamWorks film reviews and got a few one-off reviews that I absolutely loved even if they haven’t been the most viewed (The Moon is Down, Fez and The Wind Rises). Perhaps it was because it was so busy that The Red House Mystery got left by the wayside.
But now The Red House Mystery gets its moment in the sun and we can move on to that most traditional of Chronic Chronicler staples: the obligatory overview!
Mark Ablett, the owner of the Red House in question, is hosting a party with several friends when he notes that his brother Robert is arriving from Australia, noting that he is the family’s black sheep and that he has no idea why Robert would be paying him a visit. One of the men, Bill Beverley, invites his friend Anthony ‘Tony’ Gillingham to the house and, when he arrives, Tony finds Mr Cayley frantically trying to get into Mark Ablett’s study. Inside they find Robert, shot through the head and Mark is nowhere to be seen. Gillingham, although an amateur, puts on his Holmes cap on and, with Bill as his Watson, sets about to solve the case of Robert Ablett’s murder.
I’m going to put you out of your misery quite quickly here, the murderer is obvious. I mean really obvious and Tony makes it abundantly clear that he knows who did it from quite early on. But that’s fine in a way. The Red House Mystery is not a whodunit but rather a howdunit and whydunit. Milne delves into the investigation of what methods the murder went into to have Robert murdered and why would he have him murdered in the first place.
It’s quite engrossing that way. Rather than following Holmes who you feel your intellectual superior, you follow Tony who, although a Holmnesian character, allows you to see all the evidence and to piece together the mystery for yourself before giving his conclusion. Doing it this way allows the reader a chance to play amateur sleuth while reading about an amateur sleuth at the same time, something which has a certain charm to it.
Milne also has a surprising amount of wit about him as, while not as funny as P.G. Wodehouse’s works, he has a certain humour about him that bubbles to the surface from time to time that really helps carry the story. It’s that sort of gentle humour that will definitely raise a smile now and again.
What’s also brilliant is how Milne swerves your expectations of what is going to happen and, although the murderer is always known, his motives are constantly in the dark, coming under different theories from one moment to the next. It keeps you on your toes and keeps you turning the pages.
However Milne’s only foray into the detective genre is not without its flaws. One aspect of this is the very Holmesian feel about The Red House Mystery, it feels like a piece of Sherlock Holmes fanfiction but with the names changed. While this is not exactly a scathing criticism it does remain with you while reading the book, that feeling on the tips of your fingers that underneath Milne’s fine use of words is the longing for it to be Conan Doyle’s.
In addition, the novel’s ending is very anti-climactic. Nearing the ending of the novel, I expected something that would be an almost sensationalist ending, something that would live up to how Milne had built up the case, misled me as a reader and still kept me wanting all the facts to come to light. However I was left with an ending that briskly told me what was what and shoved me out the door with barely any time to put my shoes on.
But then again The Red House Mystery is regarded as part as one of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction which, according to Ronald Knox’s Ten Commandments (or Decalogue) of Detective Fiction, and it follows those rules to the letter. The Red House Mystery does feel like it is a novel that goes through the motions, that has steps it must take and will not deviate from the pre-determined path which makes it endearing and stilted, leaving it up to you to decided which you lean to more. Also go to the link here for Ronald Knox’s Commandments on the Wikipedia page, they are amazing.
However, regarding the novel as a whole, it is a very entertaining light read that you can breeze through in a day or two (possibly a week if your busy) and will still leave you craving for more. While at times lacking, its simplicity is charming and amateur sleuthing with Tony and Bill makes for a jolly good time that has not only set my lust for detective fiction. Milne’s tale not only shows that he had a talent for writing detective fiction, but also that he had a great talent for writing fiction. Reading this work has made me realise that Milne was more than he appeared and has made me wish to read more of his works beyond his creations of Hundred Acre Wood.
Thank you all for reading and I hope you enjoyed my latest book review. If you crave more, then please get excited about the upcoming Febookuary where you can vote for not one, but two, yes TWO, books of your choice as well as the ones I’ve suggested. Go to My Plan for 2015 where the voting booth is and please have a look. Voting ends on the 31st January and once again, thanks for reading!
P.S.: Don’t go mental with the length should you decide to vote, I have to be able to read them in a reasonable amount of time!