A. A. Milne brought his own brand of humor to the mystery story. One of his early essays for the British publication Punch was a satirical account of a Sherlock Holmes story. This tone stayed with him when he wrote his one famous mystery novel, The Red House Mystery (1922). The book borders on parody as both Milne’s characters and his readers play detective. Standing at the dawn of the Golden Age of British detective fiction, Milne helped set the tone for the other pre-World War II writers. To him, the mystery was a parlor game played by the idle rich, and murder was simply an excuse to engage in a fun-filled evening of puzzle solving. He created stock characters who engage in idle diversions and who float whimsically through life until their carefree existence is interrupted by a distasteful and indecorous murder—a situation replayed over and over again in many famous murder mysteries.
Milne sets his mystery in the pristine atmosphere of the English countryside and focuses on life in the country manor house. His detective is not as stodgy as Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin or as morose as Sherlock Holmes. Milne’s amateur sleuth is a whimsical, elfish character with a fine eye for detail and a keen sense of intuition, while his Watson character is a bright and dapper English gentleman with the zest and verve of a young prep school graduate. Milne avoids entangling his characters in romantic involvements and refuses to get his detective bogged down in the details of criminology. Violence is almost absent from his mystery, and no one is every really threatened by danger. Having a potential murderer lurking about is merely an excuse for playing a game of hide-and-seek. For Milne, his characters, and his readers, playing detective is great fun, a perfect leisure-time activity.