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Coffin, Scarcely Used (Flaxborough…

Coffin, Scarcely Used (Flaxborough Chronicles) (original 1958; edition 2008)

by Colin Watson

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2122097,788 (3.59)16
This is the first book in the Flaxborough Chronicles, often considered one of the funniest of the English detective series, and introduces Inspector Purbright who looks in varius crimes in what one inhabitant calls A high-spirited town--like Gomorrah. This is no genteel English village and Purbright's first case involves a doctor's surgery that is being used as a brothel. First published in England in 1958 and in the U.S. in 1967.… (more)
Title:Coffin, Scarcely Used (Flaxborough Chronicles)
Authors:Colin Watson
Info:Rue Morgue Press (2008), Paperback, 160 pages
Collections:Your library

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Coffin, Scarcely Used by Colin Watson (1958)


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I enjoy "discovering'' mystery authors that I somehow missed over the years. Colin Watson wrote a series of mystery novels, The Flaxborough Chronicles, in the 1950s. Set in a small English town, the stories follow the investigations of DI Walter Purbright. There are 12 novels in the series.

I am delighted that I found this book available for review or I might never have found this series! Reminiscent of Agatha Christie, the story is a semi-cozy mystery (no spurting blood, over-the-top cussing, or gory details, etc) and rather light, but still a police procedural. There are a few adult moments, but nothing too bad. PG-13 sort of stuff. With plenty of dry wit and humor, the mystery moves along with insights into small town life, gossip and quirky residents. I'm definitely going to read the rest of this series!

The Basics: Six months previous, a well-known resident of Flaxborough died. There really wasn't anything strange about the death, other than the smallness of his funeral (insert small town gossip here). But now, one of his neighbors has also popped off this mortal coil....and this time there is something very strange indeed. At first it appears to be a suicide, but closer inspection shows it may have been staged to hide a murder. What's going on in the seemingly sleepy hamlet of Flaxborough? DI Purbright is on the case!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! It is a bit dated....but I love classic whodunits and this book reminded me so much of the wit and fun of Agatha Christie novels. Purbright is a delightful main character....a bit bumbling,but dedicated to his job and doing things right. He is also not swayed by social position, power or money. He wants to know the truth....no matter what that truth is. To me, Purbright is like an English version of Columbo. He might seem a bit lacking occasionally to those on the outside, but he's actually quite astute and watching/observing everything.

Great book! I will definitely be reading this entire 12-book series! The humor and mystery combine into a wonderful story! Classic mystery lovers will enjoy this series!

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Farrago via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.** ( )
  JuliW | Nov 22, 2020 |
Anybody new to the Flaxborough Chronicles by British writer Colin Watson might not be aware of the author's body of work. Born in 1920, dying in 1983, Watson wrote twelve Flaxborough novels in total, renowned for their dry comic styling, set in the small fictional town of Flaxborough, widely believed to be based on Boston in Lincolnshire. Watson worked as a journalist in the area and the characters in his books are rumoured to be caricatures of people he met during his journalistic time.

There are two main people in the novels - Inspector Walter Purbight, a solid, good old English chap type bloke who is a decent, if not slightly dull, fictional police detective. The other is Miss Lucilla Edith Cavell Teatime, the sometimes ladylike, sometimes gloriously vulgar, conwoman with a liking for dominoes, whisky and the finer things in life.

These two are less of a pairing and more of a coincidence when it comes to Flaxborough daily life, but each, in their own way, add a glorious sense of very British-ness to what's a quintessentially British, slightly batty, ever so mildly sexist (remembering the timing of the writing) series of novels that I return to time and time again to kickstart my brain into a love of reading when I've lost the plot.

COFFIN, SCARCELY USED is the opening salvo of the series, written in 1958, introducing in a perfect, low key manner, Inspector Walter Purbright, who finds himself investigating a most unexpected crime spree in the quiet, respectable little town of Flaxborough, particularly as the spree is amongst it's leading citizens. Starting out with the supposed natural death of esteemed councillor Harold Carobleat, followed by the distinctly odd electrocution of newspaper owner Marcus Gwill, a very unlikely scenario of illegal goings on starts to reveal itself.

Remember, when you're reading these novels, that this was written in 1958, so there are some mildly sexist stereotypes with most of the women either devious or hysterical, but it is fortunately, on the mild side, played mostly for humour rather than as a blatant put down. Having said that, the stuffed shirt men don't always come off much better and the digs at the "commercial classes" are there if you look closely as well.

The humour, and the sense of caricature is the vital part of these novels, although the plots themselves are well developed, with plenty of red herrings, and more than enough intrigue to keep the reader interested and guessing.

As mentioned though, I have used this series for years now, after first discovering it in the mid 1970's, as a way of kickstarting a jaded reading brain. They are fun, they are more than a bit daft, but they are well crafted, endlessly entertaining and just the thing, particularly if you're a fan of the very best of British, slightly dotty, entertainment.

The full series, in order is:

Coffin, Scarcely Used (1958)
Bump in the Night (1960)
Hopjoy Was Here (1962)
Lonelyheart 4122 (1967) (in which Miss Lucilla Teatime makes her first appearance)
Charity Ends at Home (1968)
The Flaxborough Crab (1969) - U.S: Just What the Doctor Ordered
Broomsticks over Flaxborough (1972) - U.S: Kissing Covens
The Naked Nuns (1975) - U.S: Six Nuns and a Shotgun
One Man's Meat (1977) - U.S: It Shouldn't Happen to a Dog
Blue Murder (1979) (Miss Teatime does not make an appearance in this one)
Plaster Sinners (1980)
Whatever's Been Going on at Mumblesby? (1982)

It's also worth reading his study of interwar thrillers (if you can find a copy) Snobbery with Violence which Watson wrote in 1971. ( )
  austcrimefiction | Apr 16, 2020 |
Flaxborough series starring Inspector Purbright. Veddy English. Hard to understand, really. An effort to read. And if the mystery was decent, it was lost in the slog.

‘Respectable’ business men and professionals are being murdered. Had to do with a prostitution ring they were running and the first of the lot to ‘die’ not really dying, but going incognito to a neighbouring county.

But it had this very lovely word: INGLENOOK: a corner by a fireplace
"They took refuge in one of the inglenooky seats and Mrs. Carobleat gave her order to a girl exhausted with the effort of carrying roast-lamb-onces to relays of predatory female shoppers." Pg 58) ( )
  ParadisePorch | Oct 12, 2018 |
Six months ago, Councillor Harold Carobleat, of the town of Flaxborough, died unexpectedly, but otherwise unremarkably. His heart failed, his physician, Dr. Hillyard signed the death certificate, and his widow had him quietly buried. His business was quietly closed up.

Now his next door neighbor, Marcus Gwill, publisher of the Flaxborough Citizen is dead, found electrocuted at the foot of a power pole. Suicide? A bizarre accident? An equally bizarre murder? Inspector Purbright, of the Flaxborough Constabulary, has to look into this death, however unfamiliar such investigations are in quiet Flaxborough.

It's not long before he and his assistant, Sergeant Love, have many questions about the other respectable citizens who are also neighbors of the two dead men, including Dr. Hillyard, physician to both men, and George Gloss, solicitor to both men.

This book was first published in 1957, and reflects its time, but it's a solid, interesting mystery. Purbright and Love are interesting, likable characters, and others, including the Chief Constable and a couple of the uniformed constables, show signs that as the series progresses (there are at least two more books), they may become so.

The "of its time" social mores caveats include the roles and status of women, and the fact that, as far as I can tell, Every. Single. Person. Smokes.

Nevertheless, an enjoyable light mystery.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. ( )
  LisCarey | Sep 19, 2018 |
An entertaining and humorous mystery from the mid-twentieth century. The first death seems reasonable p, the second...not quite as straightforward.
And then we’re running down the path of crazy along with Inspector Purbright and Sergeant Love, trying to find out what on earth is happening in Flaxborough. Who could be responsible for all these deaths?
If you’re a fan of Golden Age mysteries, or you like humorous mysteries, this is a wonderful series for you. If you prefer something with gore, guts, and vulgarity, this won’t work for you. ( )
  bohemima | Aug 5, 2018 |
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This is the first book in the Flaxborough Chronicles, often considered one of the funniest of the English detective series, and introduces Inspector Purbright who looks in varius crimes in what one inhabitant calls A high-spirited town--like Gomorrah. This is no genteel English village and Purbright's first case involves a doctor's surgery that is being used as a brothel. First published in England in 1958 and in the U.S. in 1967.

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