In the time-honored tradition of the classic British mystery, a house party goes terribly awry when one of the guests is murdered and the host disappears. Mark Ablett, owner of the Red House, enjoys collecting people around him, so the house party includes such diverse characters as his private secretary, a military man, an actress, and several idle young people. The party appears to be going well until Ablett learns that his brother, the black sheep of the family who had been living in Australia, will be visiting the Red House for an unspecified but sinister reason. When Robert is inevitably murdered, Mark is nowhere to be found. Is he the murderer, or did someone else in the house party do the deed? Young man-about-town Antony Gillingham just happens to arrive on the scene at a pivotal moment, so he decides to try his skill as an amateur detective; but ultimately he discovers that the solution to the mystery is far more tragic than amusing.
When I came across this book a few years ago, I was delighted to discover that the creator of Winnie the Pooh had written a mystery story! It follows many conventions of the classic Golden Age mystery — such as being “fair,” with all clues presented to the reader as the detective discovers them — but it turned out to be a bit darker and sadder than I was expecting. Tony discovers the murderer’s identity fairly early in the book, so the bulk of the mystery lies in discovering how and why the deed was done. And the thing is, I found the murderer very sympathetic! So I was disappointed that this character turned out to be the guilty party. Also, unlike many mysteries from this period, this book doesn’t contain much humor, nor are there any subplots to lighten the mood of suspense and doom. Tony’s sidekick provides a few funny moments, but otherwise the tone remains pretty dark. Finally, Tony’s character isn’t developed very much, which disappointed me; he seemed really interesting, and I would have liked to know more about his backstory. The book is still worth reading if you enjoy Golden Age mysteries, but I have to admit, it wasn’t my favorite.