Tuesday 10 March 2009

The Red House Mystery

A.A. Milne is remembered today as the creator of that amiable character Winnie-the Pooh, but he was also fascinated by the detective story. More than that, he ventured into the genre on several occasions, with short stories (including one I think is quite splendid), one or two plays and a novel that many regard as a light-hearted classic of the Golden Age – The Red House Mystery.

The book was first published in 1922, just after Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers first came on to the scene. Thirty year old Antony Gillingham is the amateur sleuth in this enjoyable tale, which I was commissioned to review by Tangled Web UK (one of my favourite online crime fiction resources, by the way) to mark the appearance of a reprint by Vintage Books.

The Vintage edition is pleasingly packaged and includes a short and cheerful introduction by Milne, who takes the opportunity to chat about some of his ideas about the genre – including his preference for an amateur sleuth, definitely not quite so fashionable these days. Milne, incidentally, was an early member of the Detection Club.

I’m delighted by this reprint. Vintage are to be congratulated. I do hope they can be tempted to reissue more hidden gems of the detective genre.


Jodie Robson said...

I thought this boom had immense charm, and loved the silly exchanges about sleuthing between Antony and his friend.

Jodie Robson said...

Oops, that should have been "book" - sorry, Martin!

Anonymous said...

The novel is also interesting as Raymond Chandler's target in "The Simple Art of Murder", where he selected it as the archetypal (unrealistic) English (cosy) mystery, as compared to the (hardboiled) American variety.

Martin Edwards said...

'Charm' is right, Geranium Cat. Rex Stout, no less, thought exactly the same about this book. As for typos, worry not - through haste, I perpetrate some real howlers myself.
Rafe, you may have read Julian Symons say that Chandler (whom he much admired) was, to paraphrase, rather too harsh on the book. I think so too - it's not a piece of gritty realism, but it wasn't intended to be.

Anonymous said...

I didn't enjoy the novel myself, but I agree with Julian Symons. Although Chandler's essay contains some brilliant observations, and great prose, it's very bitter - almost embarrassingly so. If I ever felt that way about my work, I'd never put it down on paper for the world to read!