Saturday, September 16, 2017

A Coffin From the Past: Review

A Coffin from the Past (1970) by Gwendoline Butler presents Detective John Coffin with a scandalous murder. The newspapers have a field day when Thomas Barr, a rising M.P., and his lovely secretary, Sheila Daly, are found dead in the office area of the small house he had been using as a headquarters. It wasn't just that they were found dead together; their state of undress was suggestive to say the least. But if the two were having a torrid affair, would they really risk Barr's career by indulging their passions in the headquarters...on the very night that the M.P. held open hours for his constituents?

Coffin smells a set-up. But what kind of set-up? He's very interested in the fact that Barr's estranged wife Camilla had hired a private detective to follow his movements. Did she suspect an affair? Was she planning to disgrace her husband...even if it took murder to do so? Coffin is also interested in the fact that the private detective Camilla hired is an ex-cop who was suspected of being on the take. Martin Kelly seethes with anger and has a grudge against the police force and the government. Did he see an opportunity to settle his grudge? And who is Charlie Grinling? That was the name on dying secretary's lips when Clement Grove, one of Barr's volunteers, walked in on the dreadful scene later that evening. Coffin will have to answer that question and several others as he moves through layers of deception, love, and hate to find the killer who claimed two lives and who will attempt to take two more.

I have to say that Butler writes some pretty weird mysteries. She tends to use human nature's bizarre fantasies or modern paranoia masking deeply buried secrets to construct her plots and provide the foundations of motive.The motive for this one is pretty convoluted and a bit contrived. Without giving it away--if it were only half what it is, I could have swallowed it better; multiplying it by two really was a bit much. Butler does do well with her police procedure and Coffin is an interesting detective. I enjoy watching him work and interact with the suspects and witnesses. He is the calm face of orderly investigation in the middle of Butler's strange plots. ★★

[Finished on 9/11/17] ***********
This fulfills the "Hand Holding Weapon" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

1 comment:

Deb Atwood said...

This does look pretty quirky. The cover gives the appearance of a madcap mystery from a bygone era--older seeming than 1970.