Betcha didn’t know that A. A. Milne, the father and creator of Winnie the Pooh wrote a mystery novel. Well neither did I until I was out on holiday with my Dad in Weston-Super-Mare and spotted this book on the shelves of Waterstones. I knew I had to buy it, who wouldn’t? We know A. A. Milne so well for Winnie the Pooh and especially now that new film is coming out “Goodbye Christopher Robin”, I thought it might be quite topical to look at one of the books he isn’t quite so well remembered for and was in fact his only detective novel.
Shall we take a look at the book then?
A time before Pooh
The Red House Mystery is one of those gentile mysteries, a la Sherlock Holmes from Arthur Conan Doyle or one of Agatha Christie’s brilliant inventions. I know from researching that A. A. Milne did play on the same cricket team as Arthur Conan Doyle for a while, so that would indicate a possible link to characters mirroring each other. However, Anthony Gillingham, Milne’s protagonist, isn’t quite the same Sherlock Holmes as Doyle created. He has a wonderful Milne-ness about him, and is more human than Holmes could ever really be. Gillingham is on the same page as most of the readers, he’s almost ‘normal’ and he just thinks it would be fun to have a go at this detective lark, especially when his host at the big English country mansion, Red House, goes missing after a shooting.
He has a trusty sidekick Bill Beverley, who acts rather more ‘Watsonish’ than Gillingham acts like Holmes, but still enables Gillingham to come up with some rather brilliant theories as to the disappearance of their host and the murder that has taken place. It’s rather an upper middle class, if not upper class situation murder just like Poirot wuld be investigating. Published in 1922, after the first world war, it contains the archetypal characters you’d expect, the brave boys wounded, the ones who came back from the war, the vicar, the flat footed policeman. It really harks towards the usual cosy crime novel we have seen before, but there is something compelling about it, possibly because it’s a ‘locked room’ mystery where no one can really have done it.
It was received with critical acclaim in 1922, with many praising it, and without a doubt it is a wonderful book, and story. I can’t quite remember whodunnit, because it’s a while since I read it, but it is of that time and ilk that allows for the mystery to be exciting and engaging.
It is probably the best time period in regards for the mystery novella because we don’t have the interference of science and forensics. The hard work was done by the human hand and allows for the brain to work and actually strive to come to the conclusions that these detectives in the novels come to. That’s really why I enjoy these novels so much!
The fact that Milne created this book before Winnie the Pooh even came along is amazing in itself, but it still has the feel of Pooh’s adventures in the Hundred Acre wood but with that cutting edginess that comes with a good crime novel. It really is a lovely easy read. I do honestly suggest you find yourself a copy and enjoy!