Saturday, August 20, 2022

Four Days' Wonder

 Four Days' Wonder (1933) by A. A. Milne

We start right off in the first sentence with a corpse. Jenny Windell, who has been away from the family home for a while, decides to return to Auburn Lodge in a fit of nostalgia. She wants to see the old place and, despite its having been rented out to stranger, she hopes to see all the familiar things in their familiar setting. Since her Aunt Jane, one of those notorious flapper actresses, has been estranged from the family for over eight years, she doesn't expect to find her lying dead in the drawing room, but Jenny isn't really all that shocked either.

It was not surprising, then, that Aunt Jane should have been cut short like this; nor was it surprising that Jenny should drift upstairs and find a body in the drawing-room. Jenny was a well-read girl, and knew that people were continually drifting upstairs and finding bodies in the drawing room. (p. 11)

Then Jenny does all the things that one should not do after having discovered a corpse. She absent-mindedly picks up the heavy doorstop covered with blood, wipes it with her hankie, places the castle-shaped item on the piano, hears the current tenants coming in and so drops her hankie (conveniently marked "Jenny"), hides in the deep window, and then--when it's obvious the police are on their way--slips out of the window (leaving a dainty little footprint), and runs away. She then decides that she simply must "get right away" to the country. She will go on a hiking tour. But...she must have funds and extra clothes and she simply can't go home because the police may be hot on her trail right now. So, she contacts her best girl pal and arranges for clothes and to have Nancy pawn her diamond studded watch (conveniently marked with a "J" for Jenny). Nancy is secretary to the famous author Archibald Fenton and, not knowing the ins and outs of pawnbrokers herself, asks him to pawn the watch for her. And so begins a a madcap adventure with several name changes and mistaken identities, a police force who, on the skimpiest of clues, are in search of a short, stout, left-handed culprit of sedentary habits--as well as the missing Jenny.

As Jenny (now known as Gloria Harris and soon to be Naomi Fenton) is wandering from haystack to haystack in the country, she comes across the handsome young Derek Fenton (brother to Archibald). It isn't long before he has been acquainted with her mysterious past and has whole-heartedly thrown his lot in with hers. But they, Nancy, and the police will soon converge upon Archibald's country cottage (conveniently located in the same area as Jenny's last haystack) for a surprising ending to Jenny's mysterious adventures.

I've seen this billed as a mystery comedy and a comedic thriller. I'd say it's a romantic, comedic, mystery parody with a thrillerish slant. Four Days' Wonder is Milne's Red House Mystery with a heavy dose of Wodehouse thrown in. And it's perfectly delightful except for one spoilerish item [*encoded in ROT13]: Gurer vfa'g ernyyl n zheqre gb or fbyirq. V zrna, fher, gurer'f n zlfgrel--jvyy gur cbyvpr rire svther bhg jung ernyyl unccrarq naq jub Wraal vf naq jurer fur vf--ohg vg'f n ovg qvfnccbvagvat gb or pbasebagrq jvgu n pbecfr va gur svefg puncgre bayl gb unir vg pbasvezrq gung fur ernyyl qvq whfg fyvc ba gur fyvccrel sybbe naq onfu urefrys va gur urnq.

Other than my one quibble, I loved the story. The adventure was fun, the characters lively, and the action was fast-moving. I was able to read it in a day and enjoy every minute. There are several turns of phrase and stylistic points that are immediately recognizable as having come from the pen of Pooh's creator--not that the story is childish or juvenile. It was nice to have such a fun mystery parody from a beloved children's author. It was easy to imagine this as a B-movie...and an internet search reveals that such a one was made in 1936. I just might need to see if I can track it down to watch. Great fun as long as you aren't set on a fairly clued murder mystery. ★★★★

*To decode, copy and paste the coded text, go to the link, and follow the directions.

First lines: When, on a fine June morning not so long ago, Jenny Windell let herself in with her latch-key at Auburn Lodge, and, humming dreamily to herself, drifted upstairs to the drawing-room, she was surprised to see the body of her Aunt Jane lying on a rug by the open door. It had been known for years, of course that Aunt Jane would come to a bad end.

Although Inspector James Marigold had had a long and varied career in the Police Force, he had never actually taken part in a Murder Case. It was almost the one thing in which he hadn't taken part. (p. 48)

[Marigold] had begun by arresting George Parracot. There were three reasons for arresting Mr. Parracot. 1. He had been the first to find the body. 2. H had called attention to Jenny's handkerchief in a Marked Manner. 3. He was obviously Concealing Something. (p. 49)

The second discovery was unconditionally true: being the notorious fact that it is always the other side of the haystack which affords invisibility. (p. 87)

So now, Jenny Windell, could you get the pages of your murder story in the right order, and begin, unoriginal as it may seem, at the very beginning? (Derek Fenton; p. 146)

If there is one thing which stands out more than another in this world--and of course, one thing always does stand out more than another--it is that there are some things which you cannot explain to a policeman. (Derek Fenton; p. 146)

There's nothing you can't do. It's marvellous. We really ought to murder Archibald between us. We'd get away with it easily. (Derek Fenton; p. 151)

Last line: Then she curled up and went to sleep.


Deaths = 2 (one hit on head; one natural)


Kate said...

Glad you enjoyed this one too. I thought Milne did a good job of parodying the fugitive on the run trope.

Bev Hankins said...

Kate, yes, it was great fun. I loved the little squirt gun and how they managed to convince Archibald he'd been hit.