Author: AA Milne
Publisher: Dover Publications
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Who would ever have thought that AA Milne, the author who gave us the delightful Winnie the Pooh, could have written a detective story?
With all my fondness for Winnie and his friends, I was ready to like this one, even before I read the first page. What’s more, Milne wrote it in gratitude and affection for his father, who like all really nice people has a weakness for detective stories.
The Red House is almost a character in its own right, for in the very first chapter, we learn that it was taking its siesta.
Mark Ablett’s brother, Robert, sends home a letter to announce that he is coming home after having spent 15 years in Australia. Mark is none too happy to hear this.
Mark’s cousin, Matthew Cayley, who is in attendance, looks after the house and other matters. Major Rumbold, Bill Beverly, Miss Norris, Betty Calladine, Mrs John Calladine are the other guests at the house. Into this mix, arrives Anthony Gillingham, an intelligent young man, who fancies himself something of an amateur detective.
The moment Anthony arrives is the exact moment when a dead body is found in the house. At first Anthony and Bill believe that it is Robert who is dead, and that Mark has killed him and fled the scene, with or without help from Cayley.
Anthony takes it upon himself to solve the crime, using Bill as a sidekick. The two conveniently make fun of the Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson device, employed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in which Watson asked the most pointless questions so the sleuth could shine.
Anthony asks Bill, Do-you-follow-me-Watson; that one. 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.
Hamming up on Doyle’s pet device, Anthony talks in a friendly and slightly patronizing tone to Bill, which the latter doesn’t mind in the least.
The pace of the book is quite laidback, and very British. Which means, there is a lot of dressing for dinner, and elaborate teas, and games of billiards and bowls and that sort of thing, which makes us wonder how these guys could ever keep up this kind of a lifestyle.
The only time my heart popped up in my mouth was in the library scene, where Cayley enters the library just as Anthony has entered the secret passage and Bill is afraid he will pop out of the bookcase at any time, in full view of Cayley.
The book ends on a very encouraging note, with Anthony urging Bill to accept the invitation he has and to let him know if someone should drop dead.