In the drowsy heat of the summer afternoon the Red House was taking its siesta.
If you were to ask me to recommend a good old-fashioned English murder mystery I would normally turn to the Queen of Crime Agatha Christie or point you towards the super sleuth Sherlock Holmes but The Red House Mystery, a novel from the most unlikely of authors, may indeed challenge the well-established genre greats. A far cry from the Hundred Acre Wood, buried in the archive of literature sits a quintessentially English crime novel that both grips the audience and amuses.
Written in between his work for Punch magazine and creating the bear that would put him on the literary map, A.A. Milne indulged himself in writing for a genre he was truly passionate about – crime fiction. In my edition of the book Milne writes a succinct but informative introduction explaining his thought process behind writing a murder mystery and truth is The Red House Mystery is a labour of love from a true crime novel fanatic. With characters Gillingham and Beverley playing homage to the most famous crime fighting duo, Holmes and Watson, The Red House Mystery certainly reads as both a tribute to the genre and its patrons as well as being an established and developed mystery in its own right.
This was a re-read for me – my best friend gave it to me as a brilliantly chosen birthday pressie a few years ago (like some of you, I too had no idea Milne had written a murder mystery!) – and despite having read the story and unravelled the mystery before, the enjoyment had not worn off. The main narrative voice of Anthony Gillingham (our amateur detective) is as enthusiastic about the opportunity to assume role of sleuth as I imagine Milne was to write in this genre and is almost Wooster-esque in his excited assimilation of Holmes.
The Red House Mystery is an excellent foray into the world of locked room drama and, to avoid spoilers, I’ll leave it at that. Despite an endearing feeling of ‘dress up’ the novel is a more than credible addition to the tradition of classic murder mystery, with excellent writing and a plotline that will keep you hooked until the Big Reveal.