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Peanuts - Sally

The Red House Mystery

Happy Easter to anyone who happens to be reading this. Hope the long Easter weekend is everything you would like it to be.

Bit busy at the moment but I did finish a book a few days ago and that book was The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne. This one qualifies for two challenges - Bev's Vintage Mystery Bingo Challenge (it qualifies for the category, 'A book with a colour in the title') and Bev's Mount TBR 2014 Challenge.

Red house

There's a house party going on at The Red House - owner, one Mark Ablett. Various people are present but one of them, Bill Beverly, is a particular friend of man about town, Antony Gillingham. On a whim, Antony decides to pay his friend a visit while he's staying at The Red House but his timing turns out to be rather bad... or good depending on your point of view. Antony arrives just as Cayley, Ablett's cousin, is trying to gain entrance to the locked study. An argument has been heard followed by a gunshot. Cayley and Gillingham have to break into the study through a window and there they find the dead body of a man. It quickly materialises that the dead man is Mark Ablett's brother, Robert, home from Australia on a visit. Servants say they heard the sound of two voices - Mark and his brother - rowing. But Mark is nowhere to be seen and there's no trace of him anywhere.

Antony Gillingham is a man of independent means who has a habit of wanting to find out what various occupations are like by actually doing them. Thus, for instance, he was a barman for a while and another time a valet. He met Bill Beverly while serving in a tobaconist's shop. Now he sees his opportunity to become an amateur detective, if only for a short while, and try to discover who shot Robert Ablett and why.

There are not many suspects, most of the house party were away from the house playing golf. The case is pretty-much a 'locked room' sort of a mystery, involving a lot of theory but also a great deal of spying and investigation of the house itself by Antony and Bill. So many things just do not add up. It seems fairly obvious that Mark must have shot his brother but how did he get out of the room without being seen? And most important of all: where exactky *is* Mark Ablett?

It's funny that it's often at about the halfway mark when reading a book I own, that I suddenly decide whether or not I want to keep it. When I started The Red House Mystery it was with the plan of reading it and putting it in the charity shop box straight after. Best laid plans and all that... this one is just a little bit too good to let go.

Why? Well for a kick-off it doesn't take itself at all seriously. I gather A.A. Milne, a big fan of the crime genre, wrote it as a kind of spoof, humorous homage to the genre. And it is full of humour, lots of fun references to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson for instance and some hugely entertaining dialogue. The odd thing is that after being written as a not too serious attempt at a crime yarn it then apparently became a bit of a classic in the genre. And it's really not difficult to understand why.

Antony Gillingham as the detective is perhaps a bit too cock-sure of himself, almost to the point of being annoying. He's saved by his crazy enthusiasm and the rather manic way he goes about solving the crime, dragging Bill along with him but never quite allowing his sidekick in on all his thought processes. The two of them actually make a charming pair of sleuths in that easy manner of the 1920s whereby men had no problem with friendships that involved walking along arm in arm or speaking to each other in quite an intimate manner. Impossible to imagine these days and it made me wonder at what point that kind of ease of male companionship came to an end. I certainly don't remember it in my lifetime, but it's there in books set in the 1920s and 30s, so my guess is that somehow the war put a stop to it. I wonder why or how? Very odd and perhaps a little sad too.

As mysteries go the story is a little unusual in that you think there's going to be a huge list of suspects but then they all get sent away and you end up with just two. It's not so much a case of whodunnit as *how*... because it's all rather complicated. Perhaps locked room mysteries often are, I don't know. I do know that the much loved author of the Winnie the Pooh books was a class act when it came to crime writing and I feel it's a great shame he didn't write more about the duo of Antony Gillingham and Bill Beverly. They were different enough to be vastly entertaining and it would have been nice had there been several books rather than just one.

This one will definitely *not* be going into the charity shop box.


This looks really interesting.

*Toddles off to Amazon*

*Toddles back from Amazon* Now that's what I call a bargain it cost me a whole 74p *g* (Kindle edition).

Edited at 2014-04-19 11:35 am (UTC)
Oh, *bargain*!!! I think you'll find it's worth 74p. ;-p And you can happily imagine a certain two *cough* Victorian chaps in the roles as they would be perfect. :-)
Indeed. That's what I thought. And at that price I decided not to bother with a sample.

Ooh, can you now? Now I'm doubly intrigued. I'm still working my through my re-read of Daisy (I'm on the Bonfire Night one) so won't read it for a bit.
Yes, they would fit the parts very nicely, dressed a bit differently of course. *g*

Hope you've enjoyed your Daisy reread. :-)
How lovely *g*

I am, thank you, very much indeed.
I like the sound of this - and I had no idea that A.A. Milne had written for adults too, so I'm additionally intrigued! It's definitely going on my list of books-to-look-out-for-in-bookshops... *g*

I've been wondering when men stopped being so physically friendly with each other too - hmmn, and a quick (and careful!) google brings up the suggestion that it was the increasing mobility of the 20th century that helped bring an end to it. Men began to travel more for work, people began to leave the places they grew up in, and the friends they grew up with - and men stopped knowing each other well enough to form such close relationships. It makes sense in alot of ways - suddenly an individual's community isn't their whole village/neighbourhood any more, and the company of people they'd known their whole lives - instead it's focussed on their own "nuclear" unit of marital partner and children who would usually have moved with them, perhaps any family who moved to the same area (which happened more at the start of the C20th than it did at the end, from my own experience). Men have to go to the start and build friendships from scratch - and that sort of relationship is different to those that have had years and years to form...

Another website suggested that it was because homosexuality was suddenly "discovered" in the late 1800s, but I think that's rather simplifying it a bit (plus she's looking for evidence in the US, and there's plenty of evidence in the UK to suggest it'd been around for quite a while... *g*) On the other hand, I think she may have grabbed the tail of a more relevant point - that as science and medicine started to "define" and therefore label it, and particularly to label it as an illness etc., men got more wary of being mistakenly associated with homosexuality - especially, perhaps, if they couldn't demonstrate that they had been friends with another man all their lives...

Henry Ford and his mates may have even more to answer for than serious pollution and the huge death tolls on toads, if that sort of speculation has any basis...

In the meantime (/ramble) - thanks for the review! *g*
Yes, I have a book of Milne's short stories with added plays. Found it in a charity shop. Intriguing. Had a reread of Winnie the Pooh last year too. Was lovely. :-)

Some of those answers about men and physical friendliness sound about right to me. Men who don't know each other well wouldn't be all touchy feely I suppose. I also wonder whether public schools produced this kind of chap. Trying to think whether the books that feature this kind of relationship are about men who went to public school. Suspect at least some of them are.

The homosexual thing and the sudden labeling of it strikes me as very relevant too. I'm not sure when Oscar Wilde's trial was exactly but perhaps that didn't help in that it scared men into being more distant in case, as you said, they got labelled as homosexual. All I can say is that I find it all rather sad.