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The Red House Mystery: A Classic Locked Door Mystery by the Author of Winnie the Pooh Paperback – Nov 11 2009
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From Library Journal
Though Milne is immediately associated with Winnie-the-Pooh and pals, he nonetheless wrote a number of adult titles, including this 1922 novel in which guests at a country estate become amateur sleuths when a shooting occurs and all evidence points toward their host. This edition contains a new introduction by scholar Douglas Greene.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
"I love his writing" -- P.G.Wodehouse --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
It's a clever story, ingenious enough in its way, and an iconic example of Agatha Christie / Dorothy Sayers -type murder mysteries. If you've read more than a few of those kinds of books, you might find this one a little predictable, but it's fun despite that.
It's particularly of note, however, because Raymond Chandler wrote about it extensively in his essay "The Simple Art of Murder." After praising it as "an agreeable book, light, amusing in the Punch style, written with a deceptive smoothness that is not as easy as it looks," he proceeds to take it sharply to task for its essential lack of realism. This book -- which Chandler admired to an extent -- was what he saw as the iconic example of what was wrong with the detective fiction of his day, and to which novels like "The Big Sleep" or "The Long Goodbye", with their hard-boiled, hard-hitting gumshoes and gritty realism, were a direct response.
So this book's worth reading not just because it's "an agreeable book, light, [and] amusing in the Punch style", but also because reading it will give a deepened appreciation for the later, more realistic detective fiction of writers like Hammett and Chandler.
There are tons of mentions of amateur theatricals and acting. Tony is playing at being a detective and so is the reader, which draws you into the story alongside him. In a way you are competing with Tony and Bill to solve the crime. It's a fair contest: only amateurs allowed. Milne gives you all the clues, even to the point of saying things like "This would be important later." In the reader's head a siren goes off and a sign lights up saying "CLUE". Tony and Bill bounce theories off each other and the theories change as the clues mount up. Still, Tony is always ahead of Bill (and probably the reader). He knows the real question in a mystery is not "How?" but "Why?"
The best parts are the gasps of surprise and moments of anticipation while we wait in darkness for the sounds of approaching footsteps. Milne has a great way of setting the mood, whether it's nervous tension or eager curiosity. A fun mystery is like opening up a big present: You can't wait to know what it is. Milne conveys this sense of "I need to know" in this his one-and-only mystery novel. If you're like me, you'll need to know and keep saying to yourself, "One more chapter and I'll put out the light."
I was a little skeptical about Milne's ability to turn out a good book in a genre so different from his wise Pooh whimsies. I became especially skeptical after learning that this was to be Milne's one-and-only foray into the field of mystery-writing. So he wouldn't have a chance to practice his aim, to practice pulling the trigger without jerking. However as it turns out, Milne hits the bulls-eye dead-center on this one try.
In his introduction to this edition, Milne sets forth what he considers the criteria for a classic mystery - and he meets all those criteria in this engaging, quintessentially British drawing-room murder.
Although written in 1922, "The Red House" has a timeless quality. However, aside from being gently low-key, there is one other sense in which the story does depart from what's popular for most modern murders. Milne says that in order to be a classic, a mystery must feature an amateur detective, and this amateur must reach his conclusions by pure logic - leaving any "microscopes (and such) at home." The detective should only have access to information that the readers might also possess in their everyday, commonsense occupations. So there's no CSI-like reliance on the arcane habits of blowflies here.
The breezy bachelor detective, who serendipitously arrives at the house-party just moments after the murder - reaches his conclusions by way of simple mental re-enactments. When he espies something a shade unusual, he traces back and thinks of all the scenarios that could have led to that particular configuration of things and events. Why is a man's collar tossed by itself in a downstairs hamper? Why are the books in the manor-house library arranged in that slightly inconvenient way?
When Antony Gillingham and his chosen Watson sidekick arrive at the junction where all these different re-imagined scenarios intersect - they have their motive - their means - and their killer.
There are only a limited number of suspects here, so you won't be faced with having to memorize a long list of characters. This makes for an easy, but very satisfying read. This is a book every mystery-story fan should have in his or her permanent library - along, of course, with that dead body sprawled on the rug.
It took me a little under two weeks to finish. Yes, for a book that isn't even two hundred pages. The story features Antony Gillingham and Bill Beverley as a rather unlikely Holmes and Watson who set out to unravel a bizarre murder at the Red House. Although Gillingham and Beverley make an interesting pair, the way they tackle the problem is a bit too languid and leisurely for my taste (and I usually thrive on cozy mysteries), and since there is virtually no action and almost no other major characters to focus on--well, it's not exactly a page-turner. There are a few nifty plot tricks--one twist involving a door key is particularly clever--but the resolution (which falls back on that most irritating of cliches, the letter of confession) doesn't carry much in the way of suspense or surprise.
Still, it's all very witty and well-written, and the droll humor that spawned "Winnie-the-Pooh" is very much in evidence. Anglophiles will treasure it for its delineation of mid-1920s England alone. But I was expecting a masterpiece, and as a detective novel, "The Red House Mystery" is no masterpiece--but then again, Mr. Milne is no John Dickson Carr.