Although I am not familiar with Colin Watson’s work, when I read the title of Coffin, Scarcely Used, I just had to request the novel from Netgalley. Watson began writing in the late 1950’s and published more than a dozen books by the early 1980’s. This novel is his first.
No one thinks anything of the death of businessman Mr. Carobleat until the more unusual death of Mr. Gwill, the proprietor of the local paper and Carobleat’s next-door neighbor. Mr. Gwill was found in a field near an electric plant, apparently electrocuted. Inspector Purbright of the Flaxborough police wonders if the death could be suicide, but this seems an unusually cruel way to go. Purbright is also interested in the comments of Mrs. Poole, Mr. Gwill’s housekeeper, hinting at some kind of supernatural events from next door.
When Inspector Purbright begins looking into Mr. Gwill’s affairs, he is struck by some advertisements Gwill has clipped from his own paper that seem to be coded in a particular way. Whatever Gwill was involved with, it seemed to also involve several other local businessmen—Dr. Hillyard, the undertaker Mr. Bradlaw, and the lawyer Mr. Gloss.
This mystery is fairly complicated, but aspects of it are relatively easy to figure out. I was well ahead of the inspector in regard to what was going on with the ads but did not guess what else was going on. The novel is characterized by a wry sense of humor, particularly in discussions among the various police. I found it mildly entertaining.