Mark Ablett is sitting down to breakfast with a small group of friends at his home, The Red House, when he learns of the impending arrival of his brother Robert. It soon becomes apparent to the guests that Robert Ablett, a wastrel who has been in Australia for the past 15 years, will not be welcomed with open arms, and an already planned round of golf gives them a welcome escape. So, when Robert arrives, the house is empty, save for Mark, his cousin Matthew Cayley, and several servants. He is shown into the office, and within minutes a shot is heard.
Enter Antony Gillingham, who has come to visit one of the guests, his friend Bill Beverley. Anthony arrives as Cayley is attempting to get into the locked office. When they enter they find Robert dead, and Mark has disappeared. Puzzled by many of the events, Gillingham sets himself up as amateur sleuth, with Beverley as his Watson.
The Red House Mystery is one of the first Golden Age mysteries I remember reading, and it has always remained a favorite of mine. Milne jammed it full of everything that a mystery could need. There is a murder at a country house, it occurs in a locked room, and there’s a smart amateur detective with his very intelligent Watson by his side—what more do you need!
Antony Gillingham is a gentleman of independent means who has decided to “see the world” by observing people “from as many angles as possible.” To do so, he took on everyday jobs such as newspaper reporter, waiter, valet, or shop assistant. Currently in between positions, and on the spot at the time of the murder, he believes he is in a unique position, that of unbiased outsider, and can treat the case with open-minded interest. And so, he comes to take on a new job of amateur sleuth. Bill Beverley is a charmingly eager young gentleman, but not fatuous in any way. While he is quite often impressed by Gillinngham’s sleuthing abilities, he is not one to fawn over his friend. And in working out several of the key issues on his own, he makes an extremely intelligent sleuth in his own right.
‘Are you prepared to have quite obvious things explained to you, to ask futile questions, to give me chances of scoring off you, to make brilliant discoveries of your own two or three days after I have made them myself all that kind of thing? Because it all helps.’
‘My dear Tony,’ said Bill delightedly, ‘need you ask?’ Antony said nothing, and Bill went on happily to himself, ‘I perceive from the strawberry-mark on your shirt-front that you had strawberries for dessert. Holmes, you astonish me. Tut, tut, you know my methods. Where is the tobacco? The tobacco is in the Persian slipper. Can I leave my practice for a week? I can.’”
Milne writes with humor, filling the story with witty dialogue and satire. And with lines such as when Beverley calls Gillingham a “Silly old ass”, there are even faint whispers of Pooh and his friends that brought a smile to my face. And while Beverley often looks on the investigation as a lark, the older and wiser Gillingham acknowledging the seriousness of the situation, and the probable outcome of their investigation. Through him, Milne also does very well in conveying the darkness of human nature and the crime that has been committed
The only real fault in is the incredibly small group of suspects, which results in an ending which comes as no surprise. But still, this is an immensely satisfying read. What a pity that Milne didn’t write more mysteries. Oh wait! According to Kate @ Cross Examining Crime he did, and I have a copy of Four Days Wonder (1933) on its way to me now.
My Judgment – 4.25/5
Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – 2020 – Vintage Mystery Extravaganza –Commandments/Rules/Common Devices: #3 Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable