Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Red House Mystery

This classic novel by beloved children's author A. A. Milne presents an intriguing murder mystery as well as a cast of colorful, memorable characters. While the novel is not very well known today, it was immensely popular when it was first published. Raymond Chandler called it "an agreeable book, light, amusing in the Punch style, written with a deceptive smoothness that is not as easy as it looks."

Set in England in the 1920s, the book opens with a letter announcing the arrival of a visitor to the elegant country home of Mark Ablett, who is none too happy to hear of the imminent arrival of his black-sheep brother. When our hero Antony shows up at the Red House later that day, looking for a friend who is staying there, he happens across a highly unusual situation: a dead body in a locked room, the victim shot in the head, but no gun at the murder scene.

Antony is a young man who has worked at various professions as dictated by his whims, and he is capable, intelligent and curious. He decides that amateur sleuth will be his next profession, and he asks his friend Bill if he's willing to play Watson to his Holmes. Bill enthusiastically agrees, the two friends set out to solve a baffling mystery. Milne's unique voice is what raises this book from a fun, puzzling mystery to a thoroughly rewarding read. The skillful characterization and the narration, along with the careful clues and surprising discoveries, combine to make this an engaging, if sedately plotted, tale.

I was surprised when I read, in several bloggers' reviews of this book, that there was the following dedication in their editions, from A. A. Milne to his father:

Like all really nice people, you have a weakness for detective stories, and feel that there are not enough of them. So after all that you have done for me, the least I can do for you is to write one. Here it is: with more gratitude and affection than I can well put down here.
A.A.M.


The lack of this lovely dedication, combined with the many typos scattered throughout this edition of the book (by Bookjungle), prompts me to suggest that interested readers find themselves a copy by a different publisher, one that has taken more care to present the work in its originally intended format. Note that the cover pictured here is not Bookjungle's - their edition has even changed the title on the cover simply to The Red House. I looked for a copy of their edition to use for this review at their website (http://www.bookjungle.com/), but their search engine did not return any results; nor did the site allow me to browse their collection).

At any rate, I highly recommend this book to those who enjoy a classic locked-room mystery, as well as to those who spent childhood hours with Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh, because A.A. Milne's prose is a delight to read, no matter his intended audience, and his narrative style is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne (Bookjungle, 2009; originally published 1922)

Also reviewed at:
Fleur Fisher Reads: "Milne wrote lovely prose and the stately place and understated humor made this book a lovely read for me, though the style wouldn’t suit everyone."
A Fondness for Reading: "There are some interesting plot twists, but it's a light-weight and fun mystery."
Novel Insights: "It’s an entertaining journey trying to figure out has happened, and it’s possible to guess at least half of the situation from the clues while being kept in the dark enough to be surprised. What really makes it a joy to read though is Milne’s unique voice."

12 comments:

  1. Oh, I've always wanted to read this book! Even owned it once but never got round to reading it.

    Glad to hear you liked but that sounds like a terrible edition! Think I'll keep my eyes peeled at the thrift shops/book sales etc.

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  2. Nicola - Oh, I hope you'll be able to dig up a copy at some point, because I think you'd like it. It might even be in the public domain and available at Project Gutenberg.

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  3. Oo, yay, thanks for the link! I'll be reading this at work. :)

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  4. Jenny - I can't think of a more productive way you could spend your time at work! :-) Hope you like it.

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  5. Oh yay, I'm so glad Gutenberg has this! I'll be reading it for sure. It sounds perfect for me, especially now that I'm getting into mysteries.

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  6. Nymeth - I love Gutenberg! You are on a fun mystery run right now, aren't you? I think you'll enjoy this one - it's understated, perfect for the time period, and the narrator is a lot of fun.

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  7. This is the winnie the pooh guy, no?

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  8. Oh, I picked up an old copy of this in a charity shop, ages ago. I must dig it out as it sounds good.

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  9. Cath - I'll be interested to hear your thoughts. Isn't it fun when you already own a book that you read good things about? My problem, generally, is finding it among the mess of books we have all over the place!

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  10. Isn't it lovely?! I read a recent edition from Vintage which also had A A Miln'e original introduction,

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  11. Fleurfisher - I'm feeling very left out now, with my introduction-less copy! But I'm glad you enjoyed it, too.

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