Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Red Redmaynes: Review

The Red Redmaynes by Eden Phillpotts (1922) helps me fill in another year for the Century of Books Challenge as well as providing the reason that I asked Rich if we could do 1922 as November's year for his Crimes of the Century feature. Eden Phillpotts isn't exactly a household name in 2015. But his protégé is. Phillpotts is known in mystery and detective circles for offering encouragement to a young, hesitant writer by the name of Agatha Miller--later known as the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie. Phillpotts had a fairly impressive output himself, producing approximately 65 novels and short story collections from 1888 to 1959 though not all were mysteries. For more on this lesser-known crime author, please see Curt's informative piece on his very fine blog The Passing Tramp.

And now, on with the show: The Red Redmaynes is an atmospheric piece, set for the first half of the novel on the sinister, ominous landscape of Dartmoor. The bleak moorland and the beautiful Devon coastline emphasizes the gruesome story of the Redmayne family and the tragic way that its members die. Jenny, the youngest member of the Redmayne clan, marries Michael Pendean against the wishes of her three uncles. The uncles hold the Redmayne fortunes in their hands and can withhold Jenny's portion if they do not approve of her husband. The young couple attempt to win the gentleman over, but before they can find out if their efforts will bear fruit tragedy strikes. 

Robert Redmayne, one of the uncles who has a history of violent temper, begins a relationship with his estranged niece and her husband and all seems to be going well until one evening when the two men are alone at the bungalow that Pendean is building for his wife. When morning comes both men are missing and a bloody bungalow gives evidence that a most heinous crime has taken place. Everyone believes that the "great red devil" (Robert) has done away with Pendean and Jenny calls upon Inspector Mark Brendon of Scotland Yard who is holidaying in the area to take up the case. 

But, despite sporadic reports that Redmayne has been spotted, there are few clues and fewer leads. All signs point to Redmayne having gone mad and killed in an insane fury, but surely a madman would not be so difficult to track down. It doesn't help that Brendon is dazzled by the young widow and is not living up to his stellar reputation as a brilliant detective. Further deaths occur and it isn't until Albert Redmayne's friend Peter Ganns, a celebrated American detective, joins the hunt Italy (where Albert has lived for many years) that culprit is finally run to earth and the mystery is completely solved.

As a mystery connoisseur, there are many things to like about the novel. As mentioned, it is atmospheric and Phillpotts does the sinister undertones very well. It is also interesting historically because it one of the few, if not the only, mysteries with an American detective created by an English author. Phillpotts also provides an incredibly detailed look at both the mind of the detectives, the psychology of the protagonist, Brendon, specifically, and the personality and intellect of the culprit. 

One of the features that detract from the novel is, to put it bluntly, Brendon's lovesick nature. He's the first career detective I've met (so to speak) to go so completely off the deep end in love during the course of an investigation and miss nearly every vital clue put it front of him. It's hard to believe that a man who was so dedicated to and exemplary in his job prior to the advent of Jenny Pendean could fall down on the job so thoroughly. Especially after having his short-comings pointed out quite plainly by the elder detective. I expected him to come to his senses at some point prior to the denouement. Alas. Another problem is its length. There are a great many descriptive passages, whether about the countryside or the characters, that just go on forever and could have been better served in quick summation rather than rambling prose. It makes the reader long to skip pages and perhaps miss something vital. Things move much more swiftly once Ganns is introduced. The quicker pace and more action-oriented scenes provide an ending which helps redeem the novel. It's not difficult to guess the culprit but a few of the finer details may escape all but the keenest eyes. Overall, an interesting entry in the annals of crime, though not one destined to be one of my all-time favorites. ★★

1 comment:

fredamans said...

Going deep into the detective's minds is highly appealing if you love mystery. Seems more dark than I expected for the age. Great review!