Sunday, 18 January 2009

Coffin, Scarcely Used - Colin Watson

This is the first of Watson’s twelve Flaxborough novels and introduces us to the town of Flaxborough and Detective Inspector Purbright. For anyone who enjoys a quirky (without being absurd), complex (without being convoluted) crime mystery, it is an introduction well worth seeking out.

Watson writes with an economy and wit that is easy to read, the smooth surface of an assured and highly accomplished author who manages more in terms of characterisation, scene-setting and plotting, than many a ‘literary’ author. Indeed, he proves to me, beyond any doubt, that the best writing in the English language is to be found in genres such as crime or sf (along with what is undeniably some of the worst).

With no apparent effort, this book not only populates a believable provincial town with equally believable characters, it does so within the framework of a convincing mystery. On top of which it is funny. Not sly or witty (although there is wit), but genuine, good-natured humour. And whilst these books lack the dark and sometimes angry satire of Jack Trevor Story, they are on a par with his work in their observation of a place and time that also manages to convey a universal appeal.

As with all such accomplished writers, Watson’s novels (and his non-fiction study of crime fiction) are out of print. They are well worth keeping an eye out for next time you are browsing in a second-hand bookshop for they will entertain you and, if you are interested in learning what good writing is like, they will instruct you.