28 March 2010
Review: COFFIN SCARCELY USED, Colin Watson
Mr. Harold Carobleat had "for some time been the last twig on the dead trunk of his ancestry".
Despite his eminent position in the town of Flaxborough the funeral of Three-Car-Carobleat was poorly attended - the minister, only 4 or 5 immediate friends, and his grieving widow.
His business establishment, the ship brokerage firm of Carobleat and Spades, closed almost immediately.
The final outcome might have been very different had Carobleat's next door neighbour, Mr Marcus Gwill, not died within 6 months, apparently eloctrocuted when he climbed the electricity pylon in Callender's Field in the early hours of the morning.
His family were resigned to a verdict of suicide, but as Inspector Purbright observed
"If I had occasion to walk down the drive of that house and cross the road and then climb a railing and go twenty yards over a field before clambering up an electricity pylon, I really believe I'd have put my boots on first."
And then there is Mrs Poole, Gwill's housekeeper, who thought he had been very afraid since Carobleat had died, and seems to be going out of her mind herself, talking about walking ghosts.
Nothing adds up for Purbright and he tells the horrified Chief Constable they are looking at murder. His investigation uncovers some very strange goings on indeed.
COFFIN SCARCELY USED is the first in Colin Watson's Flaxborough series, all of which are characterised by a macabre sense of humour. But while other titles in the series, such as THE FLAXBOROUGH CRAB, which I reviewed as a Forgotten Book here, were clearly spoofs on Golden Age murder mysteries, COFFIN SCARCELY USED seemed to me to be less so. The result is a very readable and at the same time cleverly constructed novel, with plenty of light humour both in descriptions and in incidents.
Inspector Purbright is a tenacious investigator, a bit like a dog worrying at a bone, while his underlings don't always grasp the bigger picture.
Although Watson's novels were published over 50 years ago they have weathered the decades well, and are worth searching for in second hand book stores.
My rating: 4.4