Monday, January 11, 2010

Coffin Scarcely Used

One of the things Miss Lemon finds especially charming about the classic British mystery is the vast number of murders that take place in small villages, like Midsomer. Or in the vicinity of certain persons, like Miss Marple.

Things are no different in the small and forgotten English seaport town called Flaxborough, where bodies drop like the proverbial fly. Indeed a coffin is scarcely used before the makers of such capacious conveyances to the netherworld are called upon to provide once again their ministrations for Death. Unnatural death, in this case, caused by person or persons unknown.

Coffin Scarcely Used (1958) has many of the Flaxxy features Miss Lemon has come to expect from Colin Watson -- including a cast of fantastically named, if not fantastically quirky, characters. To wit, there's Harold Carobleat, proprietor of Carobleat and Spades, and the first to find his coffin lowered to the earth.

Carobleat's cohorts include Dr. Rupert Hillyard, with grotesquely splayed teeth and an innate love of scotch; Rodney Gloss, solicitor; Marcus Gwill, owner of the Flaxborough Citizen and a repugnantly self-indulgent eater of sweets; and, lastly but not leastly, Mr. Jonas Bradlaw, undertaker and one-time joiner of said coffins.

But in some ways, Coffin Scarcely Used didn't quite live up to Miss Lemon's expectations. Perhaps because this one is missing the inimitable Miss Teatime -- the yang to Miss Lemon's yin. Or perhaps a slightly overwrought phony antiques racket unnecessarily complicates an already complicated motive for mass murder.

But it's still all in good fun, and Miss Lemon regrets not a moment she spent in the company of the Carobleats, Glosses, and Gwills, traipsing with Inspector Purbright through Flaxborough and looking for the clues that will unearth a gentle murderer.

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