Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Books of 1958: Coffin Scarcely Used by Colin Watson


My initial reaction to Coffin Scarcely Used was that it was very slow, with flashes of wonderful humor, and an interesting resolution. I think this is another series that will grow on me once I read a couple more of them.

Colin Watson wrote 12 novels in a series set in the fictional town of Flaxborough. Coffin Scarcely Used is the first of these. The main players in this series (at this point) are Inspector Purbright and Sergeant Love. Chief Constable Chubb is their boss. There is a series of deaths among the businessmen in the town, and Purbright is suspicious of foul play. The author slowly reveals why Purbright has these suspicions.


A brief sample of an exchange between Purbright and Chubb:
     "Well, you know best what lines to work along, Purbright," said Mr Chubb, "but do try and keep a charitable view of these people. Until you know the worst, of course. I don't believe in sentiment where criminals are concerned. But background counts for a lot with me. Chaps don't usually go off the rails overnight after years and years of being useful and respectable citizens."
      Purbright looked up from his papers and smiled. "No, sir," he said. "Some of them are off the rails all the time but manage to keep the fact to themselves."
Watson is also the author of a mystery reference book. At the Rue Morgue Press site, his book and Watson's fictional town are described.
In his entertaining and idiosyncratic study of English crime fiction, Snobbery with Violence, Colin Watson wrote that the English village and small town so popular during the Golden Age of detective fiction was really a mythical creation. He christened this idyllic village, where amateur lady sleuths competed with seasoned Scotland Yarders to nab the least likely suspect, “Mayhem Parva.” Describing it as a cross between a village and a commuters’ dormitory in the South of England, Watson wrote that Mayhem Parva was rural enough to be the picturesque locale so many English saw as the perfect place to retire, yet connected to the outside world by a reliable bus system. There would be a well-attended church, a chemist’s shop where one could purchase weed killer when the occasion required it, and “an inn with reasonable accommodation for itinerant detective inspectors.”
....
Such is not the case with Flaxborough, the fictional East Anglian city of 15,000 where Watson set eleven of his twelve highly original and extremely funny mysteries. If its citizenry was tight it was because they drank too much and about the only thing you could rely on them for was the persistent pursuit of sin. “It’s a high-spirited town,” commented one of its inhabitants, “like Gomorrah.” Assigned the unenviable task of policing its profligate populace is Inspector Purbright, a capable copper whose many virtues include politeness and a kind heart, and Sergeant Love, his able but innocent (in the ways of the world) assistant.
Even though this is the first book in the series, I don't know whether to recommend it or not. This one was too slow for my tastes, yet it gets a lot of praise. Maybe start with a later one and come back to this one. From my research into the author and his writings, I gather that other books in the series are more interesting. There is a character introduced in later books, Miss Lucilla Teatime, who is purported to be very entertaining.

Rich at Past Offences, who is sponsoring the books of 1958 challenge, reviewed this book in more detail here.

Some of the later books have intriguing titles, such as:

Broomsticks Over Flaxborough (1972), aka Kissing Covens
The Naked Nuns (1974), aka Six Nuns and a Shotgun

The only other book I have in the series is Hopjoy Was Here, and I have read good things about that novel, so that will probably be the next book in this series that I try.

This books counts as part of my skeleton cover collection because the missing puzzle piece on the back cover has a skull.

 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Dell, 1981 (orig. pub. 1958)
Length:      221 pages
Format:      paperback
Series:       Flaxborough Chronicles, #1
Setting:      UK
Genre:       Police Procedural
Source:      I purchased this book.

18 comments:

  1. Looks like Rich enjoyed this one more. Hmm. This does sound interesting and if I'm inclined to read this series, I'll remember to start with a latter title. Thanks Tracy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would recommend starting with a later one Keishon, although plenty of readers liked this one fine. I am also eager to read his reference book, Snobbery With Violence, which I have had for a while.

      Delete
    2. I bought one of his latter books, Charity Ends at Home. May get to this one sooner. I liked the sample I read.

      Delete
    3. Good, Keishon. Please let me know what you think of it.

      Delete
  2. I have heard of the author but never took steps to find out about the series. Probably not one for me to be honest.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Probably not, Col. I bet in 2015 I read some books you are interested in.

      Delete
  3. Tracy, there is something quaint and quirky about British fiction, especially crime and humour, which is often evident from the covers and titles of the books. I'll keep this author is mind.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do like the cover on this book, Prashant. That is a good description: "quaint and quirky."

      Delete
  4. Tracy - I know exactly what you mean about a series growing on you. I've had that happen too. About this one in particular? I have to admit the title of the book got my attention right away.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This series does have some great titles, Margot. He wrote the books from 1958 to 1982, so it will be interesting to see how they differ over time.

      Delete
  5. There is an old BBC show made from this series and I've seen a few. Never tried the books though. One day...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had read that there was a TV adaptation, Peggy. Sounds like it would be interesting.

      Delete
  6. I have never read watson, but was told his particular style might take some getting used to - great review TracyK - thanks. And I do recommend SNOBBERY WITH VIOLENCE, the book that coined the 'Mayhem parva' soubriquet!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good, Sergio, I am glad you recommend SNOBBERY WITH VIOLENCE. I actually started BLOODY MURDER by Symons recently and found it an easier read than I expected. I have a ways to go to finish that one.

      Delete
  7. Like Peggy Ann I remember the TV series of these books. I read several of them 20 years ago, and then I think my interest drifted away. I might try again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Moira, I did not realize the series was still available. I will give that a try after I have read two or three more of the books.

      Delete
  8. His work has been broadcast on the radio a while back
    http://www.radiolistings.co.uk/programmes/c/ch/charity_ends_at_home.html

    ReplyDelete