Death Lives Next Door: John Coffin's First Case

Gwendoline Butler, Author St. Martin's Press $16.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-312-08175-1
This unusual--and unusually good--murder mystery with a deftly turned, surprising psychological ending is the first of Butler's 19 Inspector John Coffin series, published in the U.K in 1960, but not previously issued here. Set in Oxford, it presents a gentle Max Beerbohm-like caricature of resident eccentrics, including a man who seems to be writing a book in a delicatessen and a professor whose ideal world ``would be one without any undergraduates in it.'' The novel centers on the lovable, strong-willed anthropologist Marion Manning, her spiteful scarecrow of a charwoman, Joyo Beaufort, and her friends Ezra Barton (a ``perpetual scholar'') and his girlfriend Rachel (who comes from a family of dotty academics). When Ezra tries to kiss Rachel and receives a sharp kick in the shins in return, we suspect correctly that love is just around the corner. Onto the scene comes the menacing Watcher, who spies on Marion and her weed-choked house on Chancellor Hyde Street. Refusing to call in police, she says in her Alice-in-Wonderland mode, ``The man is seen, but I shall pretend he isn't. Then he will go away.'' He doesn't, and ends up dead by stabbing. Enter London Inspector Coffin, hunting for a missing person. Wise and compassionate, the observant young Coffin can't save Marion, but his acuity does help some of her friends in this, perhaps his weirdest case. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/28/1992
Release date: 10/01/1992
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