Well, July was meant to be for re-reads, but unfortunately new delights just keep popping up – I really should stay off the Internet and book blogs because they always send me off on tangents! This very delightful digression came about as I was wandering around the very lovely A Penguin A Week blog. I’ve always had a weakness for vintage Penguins, particularly of the green (crime) variety, but I noticed this one listed and I hadn’t heard of it before, which meant a little digging online.

It sounded irresistible but alas Penguin versions are hard to come by so I settled for a very handsome recent Vintage reprint.

This is what Wikipedia has to say:

The Red House Mystery is a “locked room” whodunnit by A. A. Milne, published in 1922. It was Milne’s only mystery novel; he is better known for his humorous writing, children’s stories, and poems. The setting is an English country house, where Mark Ablett has been entertaining a house party consisting of a widow and her marriageable daughter, a retired major, a wilful actress, and Bill Beverley, a young man about town. Mark’s long-lost brother Robert, the black sheep of the family, arrives from Australia and shortly thereafter is found dead, shot through the head. Mark Ablett has disappeared, so Tony Gillingham, a stranger who has just arrived to call on his friend Bill, decides to investigate. Gillingham plays Sherlock Holmes to his younger counterpart’s Doctor Watson; they progress almost playfully through the novel while the clues mount up and the theories abound.

Playful is often the word to apply to this book as the dialogue between the two detecting young men is sparkling. In classic Golden Age style, there is plenty of silly-ass wordplay and the book is immensely readable. The mystery is well plotted and I didn’t really spot the end coming (which is always nice when you’ve read as many crime novels as I have). There’s a real feeling of suspense at times and enough red herrings and side plots, midnight jaunts and secret passages, to keep any reader busy. Tony Gillingham is an excellent detecting creation by Milne and his sidekick Bill strikes exactly the right note as a Watson – needing things explained to him but having flashes of insight himself (or inspiring them in his Sherlock). All in all this was an excellent, reliable read and I only have one complaint – why, oh why didn’t Milne write a whole series with Gillingham and Beverley instead of going off to write about bears in the wood!!

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