The Red House Mystery by AA Milne

AA Milne
The Red House Mystery

Oooh, I was very intrigued with the idea of reading a detective story by the author of Winne the Pooh, I was wondering whether it'd be good or not as this genre is so different to his familiar children's stories. But I loved it, I was not disappointed!

The Red House Mystery by AA Milne available on Amazon
 Kindle  Hardback
 Paperback  Audiobook

Oooh, I was very intrigued with the idea of reading a detective story by the author of Winne the Pooh, I was wondering whether it’d be good or not as this genre is so different to his familiar children’s stories. But I loved it, I was not disappointed!

I like Milne’s introduction to the novel, with him talking about how much he loves detective stories but how particular he is about them and what criteria each story needs, in his view, to qualify as a good detective story, some of his requirements being no-nonsense language with nobody ‘effecting an egress’, tee hee, and no romance as he is always thinking that more clues could have been gathered in the time spent on romance, that the solution shouldn’t be too scientific as the reader needs to feel they could have logically guessed it, and that there needs to be a Watson-type character so the reader can be privy to the detective’s thought processes throughout the book. And it made me smile that he said he has now written his perfect detective book but he realises now that he can never have the enjoyment of reading it. I also love the old-fashioned font of the book (my copy was published by Vintage), it looks as if it’s been done on a manual typewriter. I like his view on writing too, as ‘the only excuse I have yet discovered for writing anything is that I want to write it’. 

I like his first descriptive paragraph and the reflection of how restful it is to hear a lawnmower and to know someone else is working whilst you’re resting, tee hee. And I do love a murder in a stately home setting, that setting just can’t be beaten with the layout of the numerous rooms, the upstairs downstairs divide of the guests and the servants, the police falling between the two groups in social standing so struggling to have authority over the upper class guests which then gives the opportunity to an amateur from the upper class to investigate and to who the guests then open up to more, plus the whole historical charm of this way of living. And of course, these Golden Age detective stories are so much better (in my view) without modern DNA techniques and the internet, etc, as the solution relies much more attractively on guesswork and instinct, which provides the reader with a much more satisfying read, I love them. I can’t help myself from detecting too, jotting down every potential clue and vaguely suspicious incident hoping it will help me to the solution, which is what I’ve done here.

The Red House in Woodham is owned by Mark Ablett, a writer. The servants are commenting on the announcement of Mark’s brother, Robert, visiting from Australia after 15 years away and how they’ve never heard mention of this brother before and that Mark seemed shocked when he opened the letter that morning informing him of Robert’s arrival that afternoon, saying to his guests that he wished he didn’t have a brother and that Robert would likely try and borrow money off the guests. I wonder if Robert was a criminal, is this why he’s been in Australia all that time? Mr Cayley, known as Cay, is Mark’s cousin, educated by him and now a mix of land-agent and secretary and business advisor and companion. He is there at the house when Robert arrives, though the guests of the house are elsewhere playing golf. The guests are Major Rumbold and Bill Beverley and Ruth Norris and Betty Calladine. Robert seems gruff to the servant, Audrey, when he arrives, and scornful of Mark when he talks about him to Audrey. I chuckled at Audrey regularly saying you could have knocked her down with a feather, ‘Feathers, indeed, were a perpetual menace to Audrey’, tee hee, I like the gentle humour in the book. Audrey can’t find Mark in order to announce Robert’s arrival, and then there is a shot heard in the house. Oooh, it’s starting to get exciting!

The author then moves off onto other things with the next chapter, filling in background but leaving us wondering what is happening in the house! We’re introduced to Antony Gillingham who has just arrived in the village by train. I like that the author involves the reader, ‘Let us…have a good look at him’. Antony has decided to holiday in Woodham because he liked the look of the station, this made me like him with his spontaneity. He then realises his friend Bill Beverley is staying at nearby Red House, and decides to visit him there. I wonder though if him suddenly arriving in the area is suspicious. Antony arrives at The Red House to find Cay banging on the office door and shouting for Mark to unlock it, Cay saying he heard a shot from within. They go round to the windows of the library, this being Antony’s suggestion as easier to break into than the door. I think Antony is coming across as a cool-headed and sensible and logical person, I am beginning to think he is going to be our amateur detective, we also begin to get his thoughts and feelings which again makes me think he’ll be our main character, he ‘couldn’t help feeling a thrill of excitement’ and ‘for the first time he wondered if there really had been a revolver shot in this mysterious room’. We also have the author talking to us as well, describing the layout of the rooms, ‘As we stand just inside the door…’ and ‘immediately opposite to us…’, etc, so I presume Anthony isn’t to be the narrator, although we are privy to his thoughts, it’s quite an unusual technique to have the author speaking directly to us. They see a body on the floor, they force the French windows and find Robert shot between the eyes! Antony offers to help with the situation if he can and Cay begins to lean on him and follow his suggestions, later suggesting that he stays on at the house. Antony says that the police should be called, he also thinks that Cay suspects Mark did this murder, due to him banging on the door possibly to warn Mark, the running round the outside of the house to reach the French windows rather than going more swiftly through the house so possibly giving Mark time to get away, and Cay’s initial reluctance to contact the police.

The other guests are sent home, apart from Bill who Antony and Cay think could be useful. The police arrive, there is still no sign of Mark. I’m thinking then that really the main characters/possible suspects are Mark and Cay and Bill and Antony, that doesn’t seem a very wide circle to choose from, I’m thinking it can’t be Mark, unless the author is doing a sneaky double-bluff, so that leaves the other three, but then Bill wasn’t there at the time of the murder and he can vouch for Antony, having known him some time, so we’re just left then with Mark and Cay. Cay tells the police inspector that Robert had been sent out of the country in disgrace 15 years ago but he wasn’t sure why as he was only young at the time, that Mark was ashamed of Robert and rarely talked about him, that Robert had written a few times in the last five years asking for money but that Cay thought Mark rarely answered the letters and never sent money. Cay says Mark didn’t show him Robert’s letter of that morning at first but that Mark showed him it later. I was wondering if anyone had seen the letter, as we only have Mark’s word otherwise for the contents of it. The letter just said he was coming at about 3pm the next day, the postmark was London. Cay doesn’t say he saw Robert at any point, it seems strange he didn’t greet him, even just out of curiosity or to try and demonstrate to him that he would be supporting Mark. Cay says he was sat in the hall and that Mark appeared after Audrey had gone outside searching for him and he told Cay that Robert had arrived, Cay presumes Mark heard the bell or the voices, that Mark then went into the office after telling Cay to stay close as he may need him, then Cay himself went into the library and then heard a shot. Antony reflects and believes he also faintly heard a shot as he approached the house. When the servants are interviewed, one says she heard a man who she presumed was Robert say he’d worked his passage over and then Mark say ‘It’s my turn now’. 

Antony has discovered there were two shorter routes from the hall to the office, so again is puzzled why Cay chose the longest route, particularly as it seemed to be that Cay thought Mark was the one who had been shot with his relief when he viewed the body, so surely Cay would have wanted to get to the possibly injured Mark as soon as possible. I’m remembering there was also something earlier with Antony looking in the two rooms that led from the office and Cay talking to him from the doorway and Antony feeling surprised the door wasn’t shut, but he can’t quite trace in his mind why he feels that way, I guess I should remember this as it could be significant. Oooh, could it be that it actually was Mark who is dead and Robert missing, could Cay be trying to conceal that for some reason, did Robert and Mark look similar enough, would anyone else be likely to view the body who would know Mark, do the police know him? Audrey seemed to say she recognised Robert as Mark’s brother which implies they looked similar though she noted the contrast between his ‘rough-looking ill-dressed’ appearance compared to Mark’s ‘dapper…neat’ appearance. This could account for there being no sign of Mark, although where has Robert gone? Oooh, or could the Robert who appeared at the door actually be Mark for some reason disguised as Robert, as he and Robert weren’t seen together and Audrey couldn’t find Mark. In which case, is Cay also involved, and this is why he sent Audrey outside looking for Mark and why he chose the longest route to the office, in order to give Mark time to remove his Robert disguise? Perhaps Robert had actually arrived earlier and they’d killed him then but Mark has pretended to be Robert to make it seem that Robert arrived later, though again this doesn’t really help their alibis as Mark isn’t around and Cay presumably didn’t know Antony was going to appear in order to provide him with an alibi. Antony decides to become a private sleuth and investigate the crime, he likes to change his profession fairly frequently and was looking for a new challenge, he realises he is in a good and unbiased position to investigate this crime as he was on the scene as it unfolded, unlike the police inspector who arrived later, and he doesn’t know Mark or Robert so doesn’t have any bias for or against them. I’m wondering why no-one is thinking Mark may be injured somewhere or in danger, that it could have been someone from outside the house who killed Robert for some reason and that they then could have taken Mark away too?

Cay tells Antony and Bill that the police inspector has put out a warrant for Mark’s arrest. Cay says he believes that Mark shot Robert by accident, that Robert pulled the gun on Mark who wrestled with him and the gun went off killing Robert, and that Mark then panicked and ran away. Antony says this doesn’t fit with the locking of the office door, as he can imagine that Mark may have locked the door in order to give himself time to escape but that most downstairs doors have their keys on the outside and Mark wouldn’t have wanted to risk going outside the door and being seen in order to collect the key, particularly as he had told Cay to be close at hand, which meant Mark must have taken the key into the room with him which infers premeditation, also if Mark wasn’t intending to kill Robert why would he choose to lock himself in with someone he disliked plus he had asked for Cay to be close at hand in order to help so why would he then make it hard for Cay to enter by locking the door, plus thinking that Mark ran away implies that Mark was scared of Cay and didn’t consider he could help him which seems strange given Mark’s dependence on Cay. Antony says to Bill and Cay that of course if the keys were on the insides of all the downstairs doors then his theory is wrong. Cay asks Antony if he’d noticed where the keys were as he himself can’t remember, Antony says he’s not had chance to look as has only just thought of it. Antony and Bill then walk to the inn to collect Anthony’s bags. I’m thinking Antony has already seen the keys are on the outside of the doors, and wants to see if Cay will now put them on the inside. Antony questions Bill about Mark and Cay while they walk to the inn, and from Bill’s description Mark seems quite controlling and quick to take offence, and Cay seems quiet and reticent and doesn’t join in fun things including following up with a Miss Norbury in the village who appears to like Cay, mostly because Cay is kept busy by Mark, but both men seem to depend on each other a lot and to be ‘lost’ without each other. I’m thinking again how strange it seems that Mark didn’t immediately turn to Cay for help if the shooting happened suddenly and unplanned. 

At dinner later, Bill remembers about the keys and then he looks around the room and notes that most are on the insides of the doors but the library key is on the outside of the door. That evening, Antony and Bill walk around the grounds looking for a place to talk privately where they won’t be overheard. Antony tells Bill he thinks Cay moved the keys to the inside of the doors, as he had already noticed earlier that most were on the outside, and that Cay kept the library key on the outside as the police inspector had been in that room and may have noticed the key, and this act therefore leads Antony to believe Cay locked the office door himself using the key on the outside of the door as Antony arrived at the house and that Cay knows how Robert died that afternoon. Bill suggests Cay locked the office door in order to give Mark time to escape after the accidental killing, but Anthony says that can’t be the case as Cay would have had to know it wasn’t Mark who was dead so must therefore have gone into the room, plus why would Cay advise Mark to run away knowing that made him look guilty, and that if Cay had wanted to help Mark he could have lied and said he was in the office and saw the accident happen. 

The private place Bill and Antony choose to chat is at the bowling green which is set quite a distance from the house and sunk down so is quite well concealed. Bill had previously told Antony the story of Ruth Norris pretending to be a ghost and appearing to them all at the bowling green, Antony begins to wonder how she appeared there without being seen crossing the park, and suspects there is a secret passage that leads into the croquet shed by the bowling green, and this is confirmed when they hear a noise and realise that Cay is coming along the secret passage to check on them. They pretend to talk together outside while Antony sneaks back to the croquet shed and sees Cay’s head appear. This idea of a secret passage also occurred to Antony as he was suspicious of how keen Cay was to get rid of the other guests, particularly Ruth, which made him suspect she had some knowledge that Cay was worried she would share and this knowledge must be the existence of the secret passage, this makes Antony wonder if Mark is hiding in the secret passage. Oooh, a secret passage, it’s all getting very delicious! I just really really hope the ending won’t let the book down.

The following morning, Cay tells Antony that the police inspector is going to drag the pond, presumably for Mark’s body. Antony also chats to Elsie, the servant who overheard Mark threaten Robert, he doesn’t feel the threat means that Mark was about to murder Robert as the wording of the threat ‘it’s my turn now, you wait’ seems to imply something in the future, but he’s interested that Elsie’s evidence seems to mean that Mark was actually there in the office with Robert. Antony and Bill determine to search for the house entrance to the secret passage, as the one in the croquet shed is now locked so they’d have to break it to enter and this would let Cay know they’ve discovered it. They consider which room is the most likely to have the entrance and decide on the library and think they can explore there fairly unobtrusively as they can pretend to be looking for a book. I like the line, ‘Antony could never resist another person’s bookshelves’, this confirms that I like Antony, and clearly he can’t be the killer as he’s a booklover, tee hee! Eeek, Antony mentions Three Men in a Boat, one of my favourite books! Bill mentions that Mark had redesigned his library about a year ago which makes Antony certain Mark did this in order to better hide the secret passage that he had just discovered, Antony therefore searches for the dullest books that people would be unlikely to touch, namely Victorian sermons, and also looks for a likely sounding title that Mark may have used to mark the entrance and finds a book called The Narrow Way, they pull at that part of the bookshelf and the passage is revealed. Bill is keen to immediately explore but Anthony says Mark may be in the secret passage and they need firstly to decide what they are going to do as regards Mark, whether to have him arrested or aid him to escape. Antony also begins to say there could be something horrible in the secret passage, but he stops himself, saying he won’t think about that. Oooh, does he think Mark’s body may be there? They discover from the police inspector that it was Cay who suggested dragging the pond, this leads Antony to suspect Cay wants to hide something in the pond after the police have searched it. Oooh, again, is it Mark’s body? Antony and Bill determine to watch the pond that night. Antony then goes to the rooms off from the office to try and discover why he felt surprise yesterday seeing Cay standing in the open doorway. Oooh, I’m glad we’re coming back to this bit of mysteriousness. He gets Bill to re-enact Cay’s movements when he left Robert’s body to get some water and a sponge, Antony then realises the shadows and sunlight meant that for some reason Cay quietly shut the door on the room he went into so Antony couldn’t see his actions, Anthony deducts Cay must have then opened the window in that room as he had realised he hadn’t done this earlier which meant no-one would believe that Mark had escaped out of the window. 

I’ve just been looking back at the details given of Mark’s early life to see if there’s any clues there to explain possible bitterness from Robert or Cay. I am now being influenced by Antony’s suspicion that Mark is a victim and is probably dead. It says Mark was the son of a curate but that a spinster took a shine to him and educated him at her expense, he then went to London and was accruing debts but then the spinster died leaving him all her money which enabled him to clear his debts and buy several properties including The Red House. Was there maybe another relative of the lady’s who felt he should have got the money instead of Mark, could this person be Robert who isn’t an actual blood brother to Mark but actually a relative of the spinster? And with Mark doing the same thing for Cay as was done for him by the spinster and paying for his education, could this mean that Cay is actually really something to do with the spinster and Mark’s generosity is to assuage his guilt over gaining the money that was due to go to Cay instead? 

Bill and Antony decide to explore the secret passage, Antony goes down it leaving Bill to keep watch. Bill hears Cay outside the library door and quickly pushes closed the entrance to the secret passage and grabs a book pretending he is looking up a reference to prove Antony wrong with a quote he has made. Cay stays in the library and begins writing, so Bill knocks a tune on the walls, apparently aimlessly, in an effort to warn Antony from not re-entering the library through the passage. Eventually Antony appears in the library doorway, he had heard Bill’s warning and gone all the way through the secret passage to exit into the croquet shed. He says there was no sign of Mark but there was a locked door that he tried to open and called to Mark through, but got no response. He tells Bill he suspects Cay is keeping something behind the locked door which he will then throw in the pond that night. Oooh, that was a dramatic chapter, I have to admit I had to glance ahead to find out if Anthony had discovered Mark’s body in the passage, and also that Cay didn’t discover Antony coming back through the passage. This is such a good book! 

Cay asks Antony and Bill to take a letter to Angela Norbury for him when they say they are going for a walk, Antony suspects Cay wants them out of the way for a while. Antony chats to Mrs Norbury while Bill chats to Angela, Mrs Norbury says Angela and Mark were practically engaged and that she had to warn Cay off when she could tell he was falling for Angela. Antony realises this gives Cay a reason to be jealous of Mark. Mrs Norbury also says something about Mark coming over to tell them his brother was visiting and that this was the day before yesterday. I’ve lost track now of the days, but did Robert’s letter arrive yesterday morning and him murdered that afternoon, so does this show Mark knew about Robert’s visit beforehand? I’m also thinking there is some relevance to Antony noting there is no obvious front door or driveway to the Norbury house and that cars can’t get any closer than the road, I wonder why this is important?

Oooh, it is such a good book, such a great mix of tension and action and mystery. Antony and Bill hide by the pond and watch Cay drop a bag into the water, they retrieve it and it contains Mark’s clothes that he was wearing yesterday and the letter from Robert and the office key and another key that Antony presumes is to the locked cupboard in the secret passage. They go to the cupboard in the secret passage but there are only a few old bottles there. Hmmm, what can this mean? I’m also remembering that when putting away the clothes in the bag again, Anthony had questioned if there were more and looked on the ground where they had tipped the items and said ‘it’s funny’, so what was he expecting to see, and then again when they’ve locked the cupboard in the secret passage, Anthony looks again on the ground saying he’s looking for something that isn’t there, what could it be? I’m back to my idea that Robert was actually Mark, perhaps as some kind of a joke to the others after Ruth’s ghost prank, but am now wondering if Cay took the opportunity to shoot Mark while he was dressed as Robert so he therefore doesn’t have Mark’s body to get rid of as there aren’t two bodies, there is just Mark’s clothes to get rid of which Mark discarded to get dressed as Robert. Antony tells Bill that Mark had known on Monday that Robert was coming as he told the Norburys that day, then told his guests on the Tuesday. Antony talks to Bill again about Mark’s clothes and says the collar was missing but he remembers they found this in the basket in the office, so he wonders why this wasn’t collected up with the other clothes that Cay got rid of. Hmmm, so it’s this collar that Antony was expecting to see in the bag and outside the cupboard, what does this mean?

It is the day of the inquest so Antony presumes he and Bill will leave The Red House after this so he packs to go to the local pub, Bill tells Cay he will go to London but he will actually go to the local pub with Antony. After the inquest, Antony tells Bill he has guessed the solution. He sends Bill to the other inn in the town to find out surreptitiously if a stranger stayed there on Monday night, Bill discovers this was the case and that it was a woman.

The next day Antony receives a letter from Cay, this is a reply to Antony’s letter to Cay telling Cay he plans to go to Mark’s dentist as he suspects Robert’s body is actually Mark’s. Cay goes on to explain in the letter that it was he who killed Mark. Cay explains that his brother Philip had got in trouble and needed money urgently, Cay asked to borrow the money from Mark knowing he could pay it back in a few months but Mark refused, Cay explains this was because there was no glory for Mark in helping Philip, that Mark only liked to help people when he could receive recognition for it, as when he helped Cay by paying for his education. Cay explains his brother was jailed and this killed their mother, so he secretly hated Mark from that point. Cay also explains that Mark had become a drunk and Cay was horrified at the thought of Angela Norbury marrying a drunk, so determined then to kill him. He states he suggested to Mark the idea of him playing a trick on Ruth Norris after she had scared him with the ghost and to do this using the character of Mark’s brother Robert who had died a few years ago but there was no-one else left in Mark’s family to know about Robert’s demise so Cay suggested that Mark pretend to be Robert and then beg money from the guests and make them uncomfortable particularly Ruth. Cay explains that Mark liked the idea and shaved off his beard to further look the part, as well blackening his nails and wearing poor clothes that he’d bought for the role. Cay explains that when the servant heard Mark’s voice in the office talking about ‘now it’s my turn, you wait’ he was actually talking to Cay about Ruth and it being her turn to be scared. Cay states he had bought a revolver in London when he went there to post the letter from ‘Robert’, and he shot Mark when he was dressed as Robert. Cay explains he was alarmed when Antony appeared but managed to cope with it. He explains he successfully opened the window in the next room to imply that Mark had escaped that way, he also acknowledges Antony’s alertness about the keys, he also explains about the secret passage saying Mark had used this to enable him to then approach the house as Robert, Cay also admits to throwing the bag of Mark’s clothes in the pond. I am thinking Cay clearly doesn’t realise that Anthony has already discovered all of this. Cay then states in the letter that he still has the revolver. I’m wondering if this revolver was also what Antony was expecting to find in the bag, along with the collar. Cay states he will be gone by the time Antony reads this letter, that there are no more Cayley family left to disgrace or to mourn him, and that he had hoped to be happy with Angela Norbury but can’t have her marry him now he’s a murderer.

Antony shows Cay’s confession to Bill and then explains how he had guessed, saying the main clue for him was the importance that Cay had attached to Mark’s clothes, and that finding the collar in the basket implied Mark had dropped it there, as Cay wouldn’t have overlooked it himself, so this meant that Mark had therefore changed his clothes himself and Cay had collected them afterwards not realising the collar was in the basket, and also that Mark had changed his clothes secretly as he’d done it in that room rather than his bedroom. Anthony says it also seemed strange to him that Mark would announce the arrival of Robert if he was intending to murder him. He adds that the empty bottles in the cupboard in the secret passage also prompted him to guess that Mark was a secret drinker and that Cay would therefore disapprove of Angela Norbury being married to a drunk and try to intervene to stop this happening. Antony says he also noted that ‘Robert’ had seemed to go out of his way to speak to the gardener, but had only been seen and spoken to within the grounds not by the man in the lodge at the edge of the grounds, so he guessed from this that ‘Robert’ hadn’t come from outside. Antony admits to Bill that sending him to ask questions at the other inn after the inquest was just to give him time to think quietly through everything. Anthony doesn’t know if Cay has shot himself, but he says he would feel glad if he had taken a possible way out. I’m bothered a little that we don’t have a resolution about Cay’s end. Antony thinks Cay’s crime would have eventually been suspected when time went on and there was no sign of Mark or his body. Anthony says he is puzzled about why Mark told the Norburys about Robert, but presumes this was just in case Angela Norbury heard from one of the guests about Robert’s upcoming arrival and then said that Mark had never mentioned Robert’s existence to her, Anthony says he guesses that Cay suggested this tactic to Mark as Cay wanted to ensure as many people knew about Robert as possible, but he had described this to Mark as a way to ensure the joke wasn’t spoilt. Anthony and Bill wonder about whether to tell the police about Cay’s guilt, they presume they should but wonder if Cay may have left another confession which will mean they won’t have to tell the tale themselves. I do admire the author’s thoroughness in explaining every last little bit, he obviously knows the annoyance when you’re left with unanswered puzzles. 

Well, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am sad to reach the end, it was a really good read and a great solution. I wish Milne had written more detective books.

The Red House Mystery by AA Milne available on Amazon
 Kindle  Hardback
 Paperback  Audiobook

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