THE COFFIN TREE by Gwendoline Butler


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Once again, Chief Commander John Coffin, of London's mythical Second City (A Coffin for Charley, 1994, etc.), is beset by career-threatening problems. This time, he's recruited onetime lover Phoebe Astley from Birmingham to head a top-secret, three-person unit--working with heavyweight financial interests, Internal Revenue, and Scotland Yard--to investigate local conduits suspected of money-laundering (a chain of expensive boutiques is high on the list). Felix Henbit and Mark Pittsy, two of Coffin's most promising officers, both died--supposedly in accidents--on this assignment, and Henbit's wife, Mary, has disappeared. Phoebe soon does her own vanishing act while Coffin tries to assess the significance of the female corpse found burned to death on the ramshackle property of recluse Albert Waters; attempts to find the source of rumors and unrest among his men; and fends off pleas for information from stylish Geraldine Ducking, a much-read journalist and TV interviewer. There's comfort to be found in his new marriage to one-of-a-kind actress/entrepreneur Steila Pinero, who's even consented to share his apartment, but there are more corpses to surface--and some crucial connections to reveal--before Coffin can wrap this one up. The author's style grows ever more idiosyncratic, with Coffin's inner musings and cryptic asides proliferating, but there are enough quirky characters, action, and menace in the air to grip the reader to the finish. Not the best in this offbeat series, but good enough.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 1996
ISBN: 0312291892
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's