Tag Archives: Reviews

The Red House Mystery by A.A.Milne

I discovered the existence of this novel by accident while reading up on Winnie the Pooh (as you do) and decided I had to have a copy. So I got my mitts on a bargain from eBay and revelled in reading a real old-fashioned murder mystery on my daily commute.

The first thing that struck me as I opened my battered copy, was the lovely dedication to Milne’s father at the start of the book:

Like all really nice people, you have a weakness for detective stories, and feel that there are not enough of them. So after all that you have done for me, the least I can do for you is to write one. Here it is: with more gratitude and affection than I can well put down here.

A.A.M.

It reminded me of something I read about John Buchan’s Thirty-Nine Steps, where he said that there weren’t enough of a certain kind of adventure stories so he wrote one! And then I felt sad, as in my copy, a re-print it had a further note alluding to the fact that Milne’s father died before he was able to read it. It seems as if Milne enjoyed writing for people very much which makes me feel that his stories are quite special.

The story itself is a typical mystery with an English country house setting. The Red House, belongs to Mark Ablett, and it is the scene for the dramatic murder of his brother Robert, who is something of a black sheep and has just arrived from Australia to visit Mark. Robert is found dead in a locked room on the day that Tony Gillingham decides to visit his friend Bill who also lives at the house. Tony and Bill decide to investigate.

I really enjoyed reading The Red House Mystery. Tony and Bill make the perfect Holmes-Watson partnership unravelling the many clues, and it was great to just read something a bit fun. I enjoyed Milne’s writing and found that I could see echos of Pooh Bear about Bill. At times Tony is a little arch in his manner but that’s part of what makes the dialogue between the two characters so entertaining. Tony, an amateur detective with a photographic memory ponders;

“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 detecting, and you can’t have people up to cross-examine them, and you neither have the energy or the means to make proper inquiries; and in short, when you’re doing the whole thing in a thoroughly amateur, haphazard way.”

It’s an entertaining journey trying to figure out has happened, and it’s possible to guess at least half of the situation from the clues while being kept in the dark enough to be surprised. What really makes it a joy to read though is Milne’s unique voice.

The Red House Mystery is the perfect book to snuggle up with on a cold night with a cup of mulled wine or hot tea.

Oh and you can read most of it for free on Google reader (although I think there are some missed pages), or get a taster to see if you want to buy a copy.

Have you read anything else by A.A.Milne?

Sophie Hannah’s The Other Half Lives

Other Half LivesThe Other Half Lives is Sophie Hannah’s fourth psychological thriller featuring DS Charlie Zailer & DC Simon Waterhouse. I’ve read every book in this series since the first one came out and have eagerly awaited each new arrival so when I spotted The Other Half Lives in Tesco at a bargain price I had to snap it up. Here’s the blurb:

Ruth Bussey knows what it means to be in the wrong and to be wronged. She once did something she regrets, and her punishment nearly destroyed her. Now Ruth is rebuilding her life, and has found a love she doesn’t believe she deserves: Aidan Seed. Aidan is also troubled by a past he can’t bear to talk about, until one day he decides he must confide in Ruth. He tells her that years ago he killed someone: a woman called Mary Trelease.

Ruth is confused. She’s certain she’s heard the name Mary Trelease before, and when she realises why it sounds familiar, her fear and confusion deepen – because the Mary Trelease that Ruth knows is very much alive…

For anyone who hasn’t read any Sophie Hannah thrillers, her hallmarks are dark plots and surprising twists. I have never once managed to figure out what was going to happen in either Little Face, The Point of Rescueor Hurting Distance and it was just the same with The Other Half Lives. What I like about this series is that despite revealing the darkest sides of human nature they are all set in the delightfully mundane setting of a small English town which makes them feel just a little bit too close to home!

Having read all four books I would say that along with the first one Little Face, this would be my other favourite. It’s quite chunky (over 500 pages) by comparison to the rest but it’s a real page-turner so doesn’t feel lengthy. The plot was original and a bit of a departure from some of the others – quite complex really, it had me wondering where on earth she gets her ideas from! Just like with the other books this is split between a third person narrative and also a sort of internal monologue of the main (very confused) female character in the novel which gives you a unique perspective on events as they unfold. I’m not going to go into any more detail because I don’t want to give anything away.

If I have one criticism it’s that I don’t find the police characters particularly likeable and I think if you were start reading a book in the wrong order you might be a little confused as there is an ongoing storyline. However I don’t think it detracts from the main story at all – it certainly doesn’t stop me. Each book can definitely be read on its own but I would advise anyone who wants to read Hannah to start by reading Little Face which is just brilliant.

The Other Half Lives is going cheap here on Amazon right now or maybe you can track one down in your local Tesco’s too! If you fancy reading more reviews of Sophie Hannah I did one for Hurting Distance.

I’ve just realised that it sounds like I’m being paid to rave on about these novels, but I promise I’m  not! I just stumbled on her after reading The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets (a collection of short stories) and was hooked since then as they are well written and make a nice change to the classic American cop thriller.

Has anyone else read any books by Sophie Hannah (thrillers, short stories, poetry)? What did you think? Who are your favourite suspense / thriller writers?

Wilkie Collins’ Armadale – Simply Sensational

ArmadaleArmadale first came to my attention through Savidge Reads’ Sensation Season. At 750- odd pages, it is a pretty chunky book, but after reading the synopsis I was raring to go;

When the elderly Allan Armadale makes a terrible confession on his death-bed, he has little idea of the repercussions to come, for the secret he reveals involves the mysterious Lydia Gwilt: flame-haired temptress, bigamist, laudanum addict and husband-poisoner. Her malicious intrigues fuel the plot of this gripping melodrama: a tale of confused identities, inherited curses, romantic rivalries, espionage, money – and murder. The character of Lydia Gwilt horrified contemporary critics, with one reviewer describing her as ‘One of the most hardened female villains whose devices and desires have ever blackened fiction’. She remains among the most enigmatic and fascinating women in nineteenth-century literature and the dark heart of this most sensational of Victorian ‘sensation novels’.

The novel centres around two distant cousins, both named Allan Armadale whose lives are tied together by the terrible secret which the elder Alan Armadale confesses on his death bed. Both Armadales meet again at the ages of 21 and 22 respectively and become friends (one of them under an assumed name). The curiosity of their shared names, the secret and a premonition leads them on a path that leads the reader to question whether they are simply hapless victims of fate. The books femme-fatale, Lydia Gwilt appears on the scene halfway through the book intent upon becoming the heiress to one of the Alan’s fortunes and turns everyone’s lives upside-down.

I don’t want to give much away about Armadale, except to say that I absolutely loved it. Collins uses letters and diaries throughout the novel to give the reader an intimate insight into the characters’ unique personalities. Lydia Gwilt is just the most fantastic villainess who I secretly wanted to be successful in her wicked plans. From a female point of view I find it funny because Collins often makes sweeping statements about womanly traits that are at first slightly offensive, but in reality he writes such strong and complex female characters who can surely only come from the mind of a writer who was forward thinking. I can’t get over how skilfully, Collins creates entertaining characters that are also very human. His writing is witty and absorbing in a way that makes you feel happy that the story is so long. I also love the fact that I couldn’t predict what would happen at the end.

If you’ve never read sensation fiction or thought that a book from this era would be dry and boring, I would urge you to pick up Armadale or another Wilkie Collins, and allow yourself to be swept away in a brilliant plot.

I just wanted to finish with a quick quote which made me giggle, where Lydia considers why jumping out of the window would be a bad idea:

“I must go to the window and get some air. Shall I jump out? No; it disfigures one so, and the coroner’s inquest lets so many people see it.”

Have you read any / many sensation novels? What do you like about this genre and if you haven’t read any what puts you off?