A Cold Coffin (John Coffin Mystery, Book 32)
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The discovery of a pile of infant skulls and a grisly triple murder are just the start of Chief Commander Coffin's worries in this gripping crime novel from one of the most universally admired English mystery writers. London's Second City has been the scene of many a terrifying crime, but the discovery of a pile of infant skulls unearthed near police headquarters is particularly horrifying. Another major worry for John Coffin, Chief Commander, is a triple murder on his patch, that of a midwife and her two daughters. The obvious suspect is her son, Black Jack Jackson, a local villain, but both Coffin and DI Phoebe Astley are reluctant to accept his guilt. Two further murders add renewed urgency to both investigations: one of a doctor, discovered in a hospital laboratory surrounded by grisly trophies, might well be connected to the disinterring of the children's skulls; the other, of a notorious Second City criminal, with the brutal midwife killings. Coffin is able to take all this in his stride, however, until the growing violence comes closer to home – directly threatening the safety of his wife, the actress Stella Pinero.
She was not always a sympathetic wife but she was one who could read his face. ‘Farmers?’ ‘Yes, I feel like a nice straightforward English meal.’ Farmers was a small restaurant not far from Greenwich Park that they had discovered together. It had a faithful and discriminatory clientele. ‘We haven’t been for a bit. We used to take Gus there.’ ‘When he was up to it.’ ‘Oh, he will be again.’ Gus was the dear old dog who had just undergone a triple bypass in the local pet clinic, his heart
establish identity . . . The rest will be done by forensics when the clothes come off.’ Subdued hint of reproof here: You know the ropes, sir. Coffin knew them. To Phoebe Astley, he said, ‘Keep me up to date.’ ‘I will, of course.’ Underneath, they were conducting a different dialogue. Coffin was saying that this was a particularly bloody murder in which he had been named and called in, and he wanted to know why. From Phoebe, proving that great minds do not necessarily think alike, came the
boy, so you get off lightly.’ ‘I don’t see another,’ worried Coffin. ‘Just arriving. That’s her car.’ She nodded towards a little red Metro. Coffin looked relieved. The sun came from behind a cloud as they walked into the church, the light following them in so that pews and altar and font were touched with gold. The double doors behind them were wide open, so a soft breeze came through to ruffle his hair and disturb Stella’s fashionably bouffant hat. They began with a prayer, then the organ
He could see Paul Masters and Phoebe Astley in the outer office. He could read relief in their faces at the sight of him. He was welcome. This wasn’t always the case by any means. ‘Glad to see you, sir,’ said Paul. ‘We heard about what happened. How is Mrs Rudkin?’ ‘She was taken into the Southern Counties Hospital . . . She was alive then.’ Coffin nodded, still worried. ‘I’ll make a call, shall I, sir?’ asked Phoebe. ‘One of the surgeons there is a friend of mine.’ ‘Yes, do, Phoebe.’ She
crouching on the window sill, ready to bark at the passing cat on the roof. Coffin missed his bark, and often felt like doing his own barking up there. He felt he could do with Gus’s astringent but soothing company; he didn’t like the affair he was into. He took the file of Jack Jackson next because of the relationship with the rest of the family, although Dr Murray had been the next victim. He didn’t expect to get much there, nor did he. The file held no revelation. From the angle at which he