The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne
I was surprised when I learned that the author of the Winnie-the-Pooh series had penned a mystery novel, and not just a mystery, but a murder mystery. Perfect for the R.I.P. Challenge. (In case you missed my earlier post and reading lineup, here is the concept behind this challenge:)
Started by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings, R.I.P. is a reading challenge in which imbibers come “together to enjoy the literature most associated with the darkening days and cooling temperatures of Autumn:”
This will be my first entry in this year’s Peril the First category, which states readers shall read four perilous books. Ooh, see how the colors of the banner match the book covers of The Red House Mystery and Northanger Abbey. Lovely.
Mr. Mark Ablett of The Red House Mystery lives a comfortable, predictable existence at Red House in England. He plays host to house guests who follow his exacting schedule in their activities of golfing, tea drinking, and strolling and lolling. Mark’s directives must be obeyed and his ego stroked if guests wish to continue luxuriating in free entertainment, food, and lodging. Many Red House guests so desire. And why not? Except for Mark’s outbursts of temper, of course.
On the day in question, Mark receives a letter at breakfast from his bad boy brother, formerly banished to Australia. Mark is visibly upset. A death follows. Into the scene steps Jack-of-all-trades Anthony Gillingham who hooks up with his old pal and house guest Bill Beverly. Beverly plays Watson to Gillingham’s Holmes as the two cavort about the estate discovering a secret passageway, a dark pool, mysterious windows.
If I closed my eyes (but then, I wouldn’t because I couldn’t read), I’d imagine I was reading Agatha Christie. Not surprising, maybe, since both British authors wrote at similar time periods and both included the secluded country house for sinister adventures. In spots throughout this novel, there are even echoes of Noël Cowardesque dialogue. Overall, The Red House Mystery was a delightful romp though the ending (fortunately, just the last few pages) devolved into an abrupt info-sharing monologue.
I also read Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.
Northanger Abbey is a parody of the Gothic rave—novels like The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe—that swept England in the late eighteenth century. Austen’s protagonist Catherine Morland is unremarkable except in her naivete and her almost mindless devotion to Gothic fiction. Austen leads her on a merry chase through darkened corridors and back staircases, searching mysterious locked boxes, all the while seeking true love despite autocratic men and spiteful spurned lovers.
Northanger Abbey was fun reading until it wasn’t. I loved Austen’s pointed satire of the rich and greedy. I admired young Catherine who, though hampered by innocence, manages to mature and develop her own nobility of character. The problem for me was the ending. Northanger Abbey pairs well with The Red House Mystery because both works drop the ending in unsatisfying ways. The part of Northanger Abbey I would have enjoyed most and wanted to savor (the love story, of course!) was laid out in a summary of This Happened; then This Other Thing Happened; Goodbye, Reader.
Those who know me, know I am an Austen fan. I count among my favorite works Pride and Prejedice, Emma, Persuasion. In fact, the title of this blog, Pen In Her Hand, was inspired by a scene in Persuasion. But Northanger Abbey is not my Jane Austen.
What about you, readers? Are you joining in R.I.P.? What have you completed so far?