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Sharing our love for authors, and the stories they are inspired to tell.

‘A Coffin For The Canary’ By Gwendoline Butler

Before I knew what they were about they had me off the 9:20 train from Harrow and on to the train named Corruption. I say ‘they’, but these people had my co-operation. I played a great character in the plot of my own destruction. We all do, granted, but not everyone assists, insists, even, you could say, the way I did.

I musn’t be bitter because I had, after all had quite a lot of pleasure along the way. Or it seemed like pleasure at the time, the sweet and sour inevitably get mixed. I am the centre of it all, I thought, without recognising my egotism. I am at the centre and the police and their investigation are peripheral.

But shift the position a little and you will see the police are the hub and I am on the periphery, just a tiny object spinning round and round at the edge of a greater wheel.

This book was written way back in 1974, is also known as ‘Olivia’ and is book 17 out of 34, in the John Coffin series.

Ostensibly, way back some 40 years ago, police procedural and murder / mysteries, were conducted and consequently written about in a  much more sedentary fashion and using much more ‘flowery’ and descriptive language.

The first lines of this book definitely seem to support this theory, with their descriptiveness and depth and although there is really no true sense of storyline in these opening words, I am definitely intrigued by them.


A picture button for book beginnings at Rose City ReaderWould the first few lines of your book make you want to read on?

If so, would you like to share them with us, (without revealing too many spoilers of course) ?

Click here and visit your host, Gilion @ Rose City Reader

You can then leave a link to your own book beginnings post, or just browse for some great reads, there are always plenty of new authors and titles to be discovered.

Don’t forget that Gilion and all the other contributors to this meme love to hear from you, so why not leave a comment or two at the same time?

I can’t wait to do a little blog hopping myself and check out all the great Book Beginnings you have!


This book comes from my own personal library and was originally a charity shop purchase.

Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which I may publish about this book.



Written by

I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

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  • This is a much slower beginning than many I’ve seen in more recent mysteries, but I’d keep reading. I like for the author to build the story, little by little, and draw me in.
    Thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to leave a comment.
    Sandy @ TEXAS TWANG

    • Hi Sandra,

      The book I am reading right now, is very much a modern murder / suspense story, however the author has done a great job at building the storyline slowly and methodically, very much in the vein of authors such as Gwendoline Butler. In ‘A Coffin For The Canary’, Gwendoline keeps the suspense bubbling away nicely, right to the very end.

      Thanks for taking the time to stop by and I hope that you have a good weekend.

  • I really like this beginning. It reminds me of, when I was eleven, I would borrow old crime novels from an uncle and they were all from the sixties and seventies and just beautifully written. There’s also something very lofty and elegant about them, especially in comparison to some of contemporary, more gory, crime novels. I hope you enjoy the rest of this one! Thanks for sharing 🙂 have a good weekend!
    My Friday post
    Juli @ Universe in Words

    • Hi Juli,

      I love the phrasing you use to describe this style of writing – ‘lofty and elegant’ is just so perfect.

      I have quite eclectic reading tastes, so I do also enjoy the harder hitting contemporary crime novels, with neither being my exclusive favourites and each style having its own merits and unique selling points.

      I too, can remember my youth and our regular family visits to the public library. Mum would always select a handful of slushy romances, whilst dad would choose from the western or crime sections. Once I had finished my own childrens reading material, I might, if I was lucky, get to read one or two of dad’s books, before their return date.

      Thanks for the visit today and I hope that your weekend is good.

    • Hi Katherine,

      As you comment, even by today’s standards, a series which can endure through 34 episodes, running from 1956 – 2002, has to be good!

      This is the only one of the series I have ever read, although whether Gwendoline’s books ever formed part of my teenage library book reading, I honestly can’t remember.

      Whatever the genre, I couldn’t read too many of the older style books all together, but to have the opportunity to mix it a little and incorporate one or two in amongst my more contemporary novels, is always a joy.

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment, I appreciate it.

  • While I don’t anticipate going back and immersing myself in this series, I do like the start of this book. I like police procedurals, even if they do sometimes seem a little more “plodding” than cozies or mystery/thrillers. In a vague way, this beginning reminds me of the Sue Grafton “Kinsey Milhone” series. Maybe it’s just the first person narrative.

    • Hi Kelly,

      I can read a good police procedural or murder / mystery any time you like, however I really do have to be in the mood to read a ‘cozy’.

      I think there is actually as much violence and gutsy content in a more classic police procedural, as a more contemporary murder mystery. It is just written and portrayed in a slightly different way, which makes the reader think that everything is moving at a much slower pace than it really is!

      I keep meaning to delve into the Sue Grafton series, as I have heard several good reports about it from friends and famliy, however as yet, hers is still a name on my ‘Want To Read’ list. I did check out some of the books on Amazon, where the first few pages are available to read and I can see the resemblance to the ‘John Coffin’ series of Gwendoline Butler, especially a few of the earlier ‘Kinsey Mulhone’ adventures. I really must get on and at least start the ‘Mulhone’ series!

      Thanks for the visit and I hope that your pre Christmas weekend is going well:)

    • Hi Elizabeth,

      I think it is more the case that the writing style and language used, reflects the era of the 1970s, in which ‘A Coffin For The Canary’ was written.

      I am guessing that all the previous 16 books in the series, written before this time, will have pretty much the same format, although I should be interested to read one of the more recent books (the last was written in 2006), to see if either style or language has been updated for the times, or if the character of John Coffin has aged with the series and has maintained his personality traits to reflect this!

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I hope that all is well with you and have a good weekend.

    • Hi Nyze,

      I can read a good murder / mystery at any time, so there is no danger of me not enjoying this one.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, it is always good to talk with you.

    • Hi Sherry,

      I thought that Katherine’s comment – “There’s definitely a trend in the 60s and 70s for more cerebral type mysteries with more thought and less action” – was spot on with regard to this story.

      Gwendoline Butler, AKA Jennie Melville, had a long and distinguished career, predominantly known for her crime fiction writing, which spanned the period 1956 – 2006, with news of her death announced in 2013.

      This is the only one of her books I have read to date, but I shall certainly be on the look out for any more of her work.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by, I appreciate the comment.

      Wishing you a very Happy Christmas, with Good Luck, Health and Happiness in 2015.

Written by Yvonne