Reading the Detectives discussion

The Red House Mystery
This topic is about The Red House Mystery
42 views
Group reads > The Red House Mystery - SPOILER thread

Comments Showing 1-35 of 35 (35 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9292 comments Mod
This is the spoiler thread for our group read of The Red House Mystery.

If you haven't finished the book yet and don't want your read spoilt, please stick to the other thread. Thank you.


message 2: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 540 comments I'm not sure whether Milne intended it as parody, farce, or a legitimate mystery story (though the last I doubt; there was too much of parody and farce in it.)

Really, now, secret passages, dropping secrets in lakes, a stranger showing up at exactly the wrong moment to throw a monkey wrench into a well laid plan, Ye Olde Manor House as the site of the murder, a ghost walking in the bowling alley, a rich eccentric, the mysterious brother returning from overseas -- what cliches did he leave out??


message 3: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 540 comments Lest anybody doubt that just shaving one's beard could make that much difference, a true story. I had a boss who sported a heavy, full, black beard. A brilliant guy, but very unconcerned about appearance. But we were thinking of taking our little company public, so he had to think about getting at least a bit respectable. So for one Halloween he shaved off his beard and put on a suit and tie and showed up at the community Halloween party where there were dozens of people who knew him well. And nobody recognized him. Nobody. (I wasn't there because we were having a children's party, and the other was an adult party with adult beverages flowing freely), but I can tell you that when I went to work Monday morning I was totally shocked.

So yes, I know from direct experience that shaving off a full beard and changing to clothing one has never worn before can easily fool even people who you would think should know better.


Betsy | 170 comments Although I have only started the book, I guess I must not have been paying close attention because all of a sudden I was inundated by lots of characters and I didn't know who any of them were. Now the murder has been committed and I'm just beginning to wade through their identities as well as the strange goings-on.


Susan | 10356 comments Mod
Betsy, I know. Everyone came down to breakfast and I was trying to get everyone straight in my mind!

Everyman, I can well believe it. We rely on visual clues, don't we? We need to look past those and then we see someone - but a party is the perfect place to come 'incognito.'


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9292 comments Mod
I've found with quite a few Golden Age mysteries it's hard to keep the different characters straight, and this is certainly one of those where that applied!


Sandy | 2935 comments Mod
I really enjoyed this book. I agree with Everyman that all possible clichés were used, but they were amusing and did not seem forced. I wonder if the book was a joke between Milne and his father based on the dedication. I have been reading Milne's stories from Punch (available free on kindle in US) and enjoy them as well. I like this style of humor.


Susan | 10356 comments Mod
Whatever his faults, Milne certainly demonstrated his ability to write a really competent novel in a style he hadn't attempted before. Sandy, from the dedication, I would agree that this was something he certainly did for his father and it may well have been a little joke between them.


message 9: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 540 comments Judy wrote: "I've found with quite a few Golden Age mysteries it's hard to keep the different characters straight, and this is certainly one of those where that applied!"

Perhaps because one of the "rules" of the Golden Age mysteries is that the murderer must be a character introduced fairly early in the story, so the author has to introduce enough possible murderers to be able to scatter plenty of red herrings around.


Susan | 10356 comments Mod
Out of interest, what did everybody think of 'Mr Mark' Ablett? Were there any other characters that anyone particularly liked/disliked? I was a bit confused about Major Rumbold - he didn't seem to fit in with the house party.


message 11: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9292 comments Mod
I rather liked Audrey, though I suppose she is a stereotyped comic servant - she's fun and I hoped she would come in more than she actually did. The way she constantly mentions her beloved Joe in nearly every sentence is so true to life for anyone who has just fallen in love!


message 12: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9292 comments Mod
I thought Mark was an interesting character - loved this description of him early on - "He was supposed, by his patron and any others who inquired, to be "writing"; but what he wrote, other than letters asking for more time to pay, has never been discovered."


message 13: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9292 comments Mod
Everyman wrote: "I'm not sure whether Milne intended it as parody, farce, or a legitimate mystery story (though the last I doubt; there was too much of parody and farce in it.)."

I'm not sure about this either - it does feel very playful and light. Having said that, it certainly kept me guessing! Did anyone guess the big twist in this book? I was completely puzzled by the clothes turning up in the lake and didn't work it out at all.


Susan | 10356 comments Mod
I did guess the ending fairly quickly, Judy, which is most unlike me!

Yes, I also liked the comment about Mark's literary pretensions :)


Betsy | 170 comments To tell the truth, the only way I can judge Mark Ablett is by Cayley's late confession about the man and his iniquities. Talk about hearsay evidence, but I suspect it was true, and the fact that he "adopted" one of the boys doesn't say a great deal for him since we all know the result.
The person I am truly mystified about is Antony Gillingham. Milne was certainly correct in placing him in the persona of Sherlock Holmes. If the man had had so many different jobs before arriving at the murder scene, he was truly wasting his talents as an observer/analyst par excellence. He should have been doing this kind of stuff for a long time. He really irritated me when he knew everything but refused to reveal most of it to his "Watson" and the people reading his thoughts. I think that is a characteristic of mysteries that irritates me the most: the person who knows everything but keeps it all a mystery from the reader until the big scene at the finish when he reveals what went on. I think that is why Poirot irritates me so much. He always has to have the grand gathering so that he can reveal what we and the characters are too stupid to figure out.


message 16: by Judy (last edited Aug 06, 2016 12:04PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9292 comments Mod
I've just discovered that Raymond Chandler wrote a long criticism of The Red House Mystery in his famous essay The Simple Art of Murder - this is the piece where he wrote the great line "But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid."

Chandler totally gives away the plot of Milne's book and gives a list of 7 plot flaws, discussing each of them in some detail - must admit I think he has a good point about all of them, although none of them struck me for an instant while reading the novel!

WARNING - this essay also contains potential spoilers for several other classic crime novels, though I think this would probably only be a problem if you read the books immediately after reading the essay, as I have already forgotten them!

Anyway, here's the link - I'd be interested to hear what anyone else thinks of Chandler's comments about Milne's novel!

http://www.en.utexas.edu/amlit/amlitp...


message 17: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9292 comments Mod
P.S., If you want to avoid the spoilers for the other books, you could stop reading directly after the comments on why Chandler is unimpressed by Gillingham!


message 18: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 2147 comments It is easy to see what Chandler means now it is pointed out to us, but I think that maybe because nowadays we have excellent communications with places like Australia, we do imagine that way back then, it must have been very difficult. So we just accept it. After all ,only two thirds of the U.K. had electricity before the Second World War . The other situations, like the inquest, we accepted because most of us have no real idea how an inquest is run now, let alone one run before most of us were born.
Also I found that although I knew who the murderer was pretty soon into the book, the mystery was how it was done, and that is more likely to be the reason the book sold so many copies. Plus I liked the Gillingham character, so that kept me reading.
As Chandler pointed out, he would find fault with another author's book, being a detective book author himself.


message 19: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9292 comments Mod
Great points, Jill. I also think the "how-dunit" is the real fascination here, and that's a lot harder to work out than Chandler's comments suggest!

Milne is a very different type of detective writer from Chandler, although they are both very witty, so it's easy to see why Chandler can't sympathise with him - no mean streets in The Red House Mystery!


Susan | 10356 comments Mod
I think Chandler wanted realism, but, as we've said before, the Golden Age detective period was different in the UK largely because of the aftermath WWI. Nobody had any wish for more bloodshed and violence, and so a more puzzle oriented style was born. Neither style are better/worse, they are just different. Perhaps it was harder to see when you were in the midst of it, but, we can see WWI reflected clearly, especially in some of the LPW mysteries.


message 21: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9292 comments Mod
I must read a biography of Chandler some day - I always find it fascinating that this quintessentially American author largely grew up in the UK and was a pupil at Dulwich College, the same public school as P.G. Wodehouse, though Chandler attended a few years later!

Just found an article about this, "Where Jeeves meets a hard-boiled detective" :

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8784096.stm


Susan | 10356 comments Mod
That is interesting, Judy. I never knew that - thanks for the link.


message 23: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 2147 comments Thanks for the link Judy. Will be interesting to read Honrysuckle Cottage now as mentioned by one of the posts there.


Betsy | 170 comments Good point, Susan about the effects of WWI on Britain and on the perception of violence in novels, etc. How could writers in the post war years not feel the effects of such a devastating four years? With the hundreds of thousands of young men who never came back and the families who lost so much, it would be natural to expect writers to reflect that devastation in their thoughts as well as their writing, even if they didn't always refer to those years in actual words.
You mention the LPW series. Considering what those years did to Lord Peter, it isn't strange that Dorothy Sayers used those events so effectively in some of her novels. I think those sections of the books turned Lord Peter from a lightweight, humorous ass into the truly caring, thoughtful, and concerned person he really was and that's what Sayers wanted.


message 25: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9292 comments Mod
Jill wrote: "The other situations, like the inquest, we accepted because most of us have no real idea how an inquest is run now, let alone one run before most of us were born..."

I've now looked up a bio of Chandler online and I see he spent some time as a newspaper reporter in the UK as a young man, so no doubt gained his knowledge of British inquest procedures during that period of his life!

I do think he has a point about the labels being cut out of the clothes and how that should probably have set alarm bells ringing about identity of the corpse, but must say I didn't think of this while reading the book.


message 26: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 2147 comments Yes the label business didn't bother me but think that maybe I took that as part and parcel of the whole dressing up bit. Also Robert had been in Australia for years and possibly they did things differently to the UK.


Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂  | 610 comments I've been away & didn't have much internet.

I read The Red House "straight" but the idea that it is a parody makes much more sense.

Way too many characters to keep track of, the book rambled a bit & I guessed the murderer & victim almost immediately.

I loved Anthony & Bill - the interplay between them was marvellous.

3* from me & I might search out more of Milne's adult works.


Jessica | 368 comments Thank you all for the interesting comments and links.
I actually really liked reading this book, right up until the inquest. I don't get why Cayley was allowed the "easy way out", why not let the police in on it earlier and let justice be done? Suddenly Cayley deserves our pity?

Also, I wonder about the meaning of the matches in the last chapter. They keep changing hands and pockets and get a lot of attention, what am I missing there?


message 29: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9292 comments Mod
Simone wrote: "I don't get why Cayley was allowed the "easy way out", why not let the police in on it earlier and let justice be done? Suddenly Cayley deserves our pity?"

Very good question. There seem to be a lot of Golden Age stories where the detective allows the murderer the chance to commit suicide - I suppose because hanging was so horrific - and quite a few where the murderer is deliberately allowed to escape!

I've just read through Cayley's statement again and I don't really see why we should excuse him - Mark didn't actually kill his brother, but just delayed over making a loan, and Angela was being pressured to marry him, but surely none of that excuses murder.

At the inquest Antony says to himself "Damn it, why do I like the fellow?" Maybe as readers we are supposed to like Cayley too, but I don't!


Leslie | 592 comments Judy wrote: "Simone wrote: "I don't get why Cayley was allowed the "easy way out", why not let the police in on it earlier and let justice be done? Suddenly Cayley deserves our pity?"

Very good question. There..."


I think that it was considered the 'gentlemanly' thing to do. Not always because of sympathy for the murderer but for their families -- a suicide would have been scandalous but not nearly as bad as having a family member on trial and in the newspapers.


Susan | 10356 comments Mod
Yes, there is also the feeling we have come across in the Wimsey books, where he feels that, as an 'amateur' he doesn't have the rights of the police. Or he enjoys the thrill of the chase, but not the reality of the hanging...


Susan | 10356 comments Mod
In the biography of Milne I am reading, he has just become successful writing plays. The Red House Mystery has been published and, in a letter, Milne suggests his agent/publisher showed little interest in it - or in his writing more. That surprised me, as I was under the impression they pressed for more and he refused. He is currently two years away from writing his children's books at this stage and concentrating on his writing for the stage, but he did like to try new things.


message 33: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 9292 comments Mod
Susan, that's very interesting. He makes it sound at the start of the introduction as if it his agent wasn't keen and it was turned down by a lot of publishers, but I'd also thought they wanted more afterwards!

At the start of the introduction in the Vintage edition, he writes:

"When I told my agent a few years ago that I was going to write a detective story, he recovered as quickly as could be expected, but made it clear to me (as a succession of editors and publishers made it clear, later, to him) that what the country wanted from 'a well-known Punch humorist' was a 'humorous story.' "

He then says they also weren't keen on him writing "nursery rhymes" (presumably his children's verses!)


Susan | 10356 comments Mod
Yes, so it seems I got completely the wrong end of the stick and we were denied more crime novels due to his publisher/agent. Such a shame, as that could have been a good series.


Susan | 10356 comments Mod
Oh, just read that an American editor was impressed by The Red House Mystery and offered £2000 for the serial rights of his new mystery, but, by that time, he never wrote another one for whatever reason. Possibly, just because he was having so much success in the theatre by that point?


back to top