Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Coffin Scarcely Used
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Dell published Colin Watson's Coffin Scarcely Used in 1958.
I picked the book up at Village Books here in town, an old smoke-smelling paperback. I could visualize it sitting on some smoker's bookshelf for fifty years or so until it came time to close that person's estate. Then the book ended up in a used book store.
Coffin Scarcely Used is a clever little British cozy except the detective is a small-town police inspector, Inspector Purbright, not an amateur.
I had never heard of Colin Watson. I bought this book because I was taken by its title. My reading tells me this is Watson's first book in a series of twelve with this character.
At first, I was intrigued with the unusual way of committing the murder. Then the story went from there. It was quick and interesting reading, much as I remember many of the books of the 1950's, about 50,000 words of puzzles or police procedurals.
I enjoy short books I can read in a single day. Because of the cost of books nowadays, they don't make them as short as they used to.
The book itself describes Purbright's crime solving theory: "Purbright supposed that a murder could be solved by the same procedure as was used to detect a bicycle thief or the perpetrator of a charabanc outing swindle, and he was probably right. But what was missing was the comfort of precedent, the reassuring patter of likelihood."
In other words, until now, they haven't had many murders in Flaxborough.
Purbright is no Hercule Poirot. At one point, a character in the book describes the inspector: "I know the man Purbright. He may not be brilliant but he perseveres. He makes himself a thorough nuisance and rubs it in by constantly apologizing. I had him to put up with this morning. I tell you he'll be on our backs until kingdom come with his 'I hate to trouble you' and 'Mightn't it be so' and 'Perhaps you'd care to tell me.'"
Does he remind you of someone we saw on American TV years later?
So this is a cute, mildly humorous book. It is easy reading. It pulls its punches in a way so you can see what's coming.
If I happened to run across another smoke-smelling Colon Watson paperback, I'd read it.