Coffin in Fashion

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

John Coffin is proceeding through the ranks on the basis of hard work and inspired deductive reasoning. Newly promoted to the rank of sergeant, he determines to use the extra money to purchase a house in the London of the “swinging sixties.” It is not much of a house, indeed it needs a great deal in the way of repairs. Still, it is a piece of property--it will assist Coffin in achieving the measure of respectability he must have in order to continue to advance in his chosen profession.

Unfortunately, the workmen whom Coffin hires to recondition his new house discover the body of a dead child beneath the floor. Although Coffin is not a suspect (the time elapsed since the child’s death rules him out), he finds it impossible not to involve himself in the case. In fact, he is drawn both professionally and emotionally toward a chief suspect in the case, Rose Hilaire, and her equally suspect son Steve. Moreover, Coffin forms a developing friendship with Rose’s attractive and talented assistant Gabriel.

In consequence, despite his repeated assertions that “it’s not my case,” Coffin pursues his investigation both in the exotic world of high fashion and in the working-class neighborhood that surrounds his new address--in the latter case, a milieu in which the police are perceived as anything but friends.

It is customary in a series such as this to move the central character carefully through a chronological sequence--adding nuances and new personages as circumstances dictate. Another method is to begin at a particular point and on occasion make reference to earlier periods when the protagonist was beginning the rise to the original point of acquaintance. Gwendoline Butler, on the other hand, prefers to operate in the distant past, but with frequent references to future success and impending tragedy on the part of her central character. Moreover, she also makes use of the literary device in which part of the story is told through the eyes of other individuals involved in the episode under examination. Thus, the reader is treated to seeing events through the eyes of Rose and Gabriel as well as John Coffin. COFFIN IN FASHION is the third in this series; it is to be hoped that it will not be the last.