Methuen, Fourteenth edition,
originally published 1922
"Whatever else this case was, it was not ordinary. There was something uncanny about it."
The Goodreads Mystery, Crime and Thriller group announced The Red House House Mystery as one of its group reads for July, so remembering that I had a copy in the British Reading Room, I dug it out and joined the discussion. It's not a very active or lively one, but at least a few people are enjoying it. My copy is super old, from the 30s, one I found perusing the local books/antique store near my house and bought for a dollar. It's not a bad read -- a country-house, locked-room sort of thing, lots of red herrings, two amateurs playing at Holmes and Watson and an ending that I sort of guessed but not really. It's also one of those books where you have to make yourself get through the first few chapters, but after that you'll encounter pretty smooth sailing.
Antony (Tony) Gillingham, the less important son of a privileged family, came into an inheritance at 21, and decided to see the world -- through its people. Now at age 30, he has decided to go and visit a friend, Bill Beverley, whom he met earlier while working at a tobacconist's shop. Bill, it seems, is a guest at a house party at Mark Ablett's Red House, and Antony decides to go and see him. As it turns out, he arrives just in time for a murder -- that of Robert Ablett, Mark's "wastrel" brother from Australia who had just recently arrived. Everyone else is asked to leave; Bill and Antony stay on at the house until the inquest with Mark's cousin and protégé Matthew Cayley. Having time on his hands, and "wanting a new profession," Antony decides that becoming a "private sleuthhound," and "being Sherlocky" are just the ticket, and tags Bill as his ever-faithful Watson. Anthony's already got the murderer pegged, but how he/she did it is another question altogether. While Bill sees it as a Sherlockian lark, Tony sometimes finds the going tough:
Now here, refreshingly, is a character who understands his limitations -- and the possibility that he could be wrong about some things actually occurs to him from time to time. Nevertheless, the two do a proper bit of sleuthing here, even if at times it seems as though they're playing at silly buggers."Of course, it's very hampering being a detective, when you don't know anything about detecting, and when nobody knows that you're doing detection, and you can't have people up to cross-examine them, and you have neither the energy nor the means to make proper inquiries; and, in short, when you're doing the whole thing in a thoroughly amateur, haphazard way."
The amateur approach to crime solving here is interesting and I'm sure the author meant well, given his "passion for detective stories," but when it comes right down to it, there are several PPIs (problematic plot issues) that are really noticeable, especially for avid crime-reading junkies. Still, it's a fun little mystery novel, and I have a secret fondness for stately English-manor mysteries, so I found it quite enjoyable -- more so for the two main characters and how they go about pretending to partake in a Sherlockian adventure than for the plot itself. I also loved the introduction to this book, where Milne (yes, the Winnie-the-Pooh guy)
talks about his "passion for detective stories," and his ideas about the elements of the perfect detective story. I have to agree with him on most points. Some readers may find the language a little stilted, but fans of crime writing during this era are used to it so it's not really that big of a deal. If you're looking beyond Agatha Christie for a 1920s-period novel, you might enjoy this one.
classic mystery fiction from England