Book Reviews for “The Part-Time Job” by P.D. James and “The Red House Mystery” by A.A. Milne.
Today I’m bringing you two short reviews of stories from two famous authors, both of which are not what we’d expect. We’ve all heard of A.A. Milne from his adorable children’s stories staring Winnie the Pooh, and his collections of children’s poems are no less lovely. However, Milne actually wrote one adult novel, and this is it – The Red House Mystery. As opposed to Milne, the name P.D. James has always been associated with adult crime novels, most notably her Adam Dalgliesh books. Those stories, along with several others of her novels were turned into TV series and mini-series, all of which I loved. However, James was not well known for her short stories. Despite this, Vintage decided to release The Part-Time Job as a stand-alone short story, to commemorate her upcoming 100th birthday on August 3.
Review for “The Red House Mystery” by A.A. Milne
In the Milne story, the title refers to a medium-large country home, where owner Mark Ablett lives with his cousin Mr. Cayley. When the story begins, Mark is at breakfast entertaining his group of house guests, when he gets word that his estranged brother Robert is coming to visit him, having recently arrived back in England from Australia. At the same time, Anthony Gillingham is in the area, and decides to come visit one of these house guests, his good friend Bill Beverley. When Anthony arrives, he finds that not only are all the house party off playing golf, but Mr. Cayley is in a panic after having heard a gunshot from the study. When they eventually get inside the locked room, they find Robert dead on the floor and Mark nowhere to be found.
So starts the mystery into this murder, with Anthony and Bill doing some amateur sleuthing on their own, where Tony decides to take the part of the Sherlock of the duo, calling Bill his Dr. Watson! The thing What struck me the most about Milne’s story is how the trope he used here – the locked room murder – which would be considered a cliché today, felt so utterly fresh in his hands. This is mostly because of how delightfully Milne writes, with a very light, and playful tone in his style. There’s a solid tongue in cheek attitude here where the men about town, have to be terribly serious to figure out what really happened. However, it is all good fun, is it not? Who could deny that it can be quite a thrill to go snooping about, between smoking their pipes, pondering the evidence, and enjoying the countryside!
While the reveal of what really happened isn’t quite as rousing as the route they need to use to get there, I still have to say that overall, this was such a charmingly written story, I cannot find fault with it. By the way, I have a feeling that Milne had fully intended this to be the first in a series of mystery/crime novels with Tony and Bill being the bon vivant pair of casual investigators for these books. They would have been a lovely cross between the adorable, but meddling Miss Marple and the more intellectual and somewhat ireful Holmes and Watson. Such a shame he didn’t write more! I’m going to give this relatively short novel (211 pages), and quick read, a full five stars.
Review for “The Part-Time Job” by P.D. James.
I don’t want to say too much about this short story by James, because it is really very short, which could easily be read in one sitting (although I did mine in two, but I wanted to savor it). Leave it to say that the story begins with a confession of murder by the narrator, who describes in full detail how he pulled off this crime to get rid of the man who tortured him when they were in school together as boys. James uses a gruesomely cheerful tone to this narration, where we get the distinct feeling that we’re watching a man take true delight in his ultimate revenge by designing and executing this macabre event. Furthermore, James ends this tale with a perfectly ironic twist (which might make you laugh as well) that makes us realize the narrator is fully unreliable, even as he’s telling the whole truth. I really must read more James, since she really is the “Queen of Crime” (despite her less than successful attempt at writing a mystery novel as a sequel to Pride and Prejudice). I’ll also give this little tidbit of a book a full five stars. Happy Birthday, your dastardly highness!
Both of these works were published by Vintage Press. “The Red House Mystery” by A.A. Milne was originally published in 1922, and re-released as a Vintage Classic in 2009. You can purchase it through (affiliate links) Amazon, The Book Depository, as well as from Bookshop.org. Vintage released “The Part-Time Job” by P.D. James on July 14, 2020 for Kindle on Amazon, and on July 16 in print, which you can buy from The Book Depository.