Monday, November 24, 2008

Book Report/The Coffin Trail

The Coffin Trail
by Martin Edwards
mystery, 2004
finished, 11/14/08

In older days, when there was no local church, a dead person was put on a packhorse, and led to the closest church on what is called a "coffin trail" or "corpse road." If you look closely at the beautifully designed cover of this book, you'll see a coffin, a cottage within it, and the mountains of the Lake District. Each figures prominently in this wonderful mystery. The cottage has just been bought, quite on impulse, by a new couple. They each want to get away from their present lives, and look forward to what they think will be a quiet, relaxing country life. Well, we know that won't happen, don't we? The cottage they've bought is known to the man, Daniel Kind, from a childhood holiday spent in the area. The boy who used to live in the cottage has been widely accepted as the murderer of a young woman several years ago, though he died soon afterward and was never tried in a courtroom. Daniel knew him briefly, and liked him. The boy, Barrie, was autistic - not known of in those days - and was thought crazy.

So, this is one story; a youngish couple beginning a new life together. A second story is that there is a new team in the area, formed of present and former police to work on cold cases, murder cases which were never solved. The case of Barrie and the murdered girl is one of them. Daniel's late father, Ben, was the police officer on the original case, and the lead officer on the cold cases used to work with him. The way these situations overlap, and connect further with all the other villagers, past and present forms the basis for an intriguing, surprising book. As you know, I was gripped by the story, and couldn't sleep after reading it just before bed one night. There is great detail about people and about the natural world. There is the tension between old-time residents, and people new to the area. We see the extraordinary beauty of the place, and its isolation. The book is in the mystery genre, yet it is also a great character study, as the best mysteries are. I completely enjoyed my time within the book, and thoroughly recommend it. I'm thrilled there are more in the series, and I can't wait to get back to this area and its people.

A moment in the book which I found refreshing and all too unusual in the world of detectives, was the account of the woman police officer:

Her face had a few freckles and was faintly tanned by wind and sun. [not a tanning place!] She wore no make-up or jewelry and didn't have a single ring on her long fingers. He couldn't detect a perfume. He guessed her attitude was take me as you find me. When they shook hands, her grip was firm.

Very often police women, particularly on television or in movies, wear revealing clothes and high heels, and have salon hair which is always falling in their faces as they run after a criminal. Hannah Scarlett in The Coffin Trail is a real police officer, one concerned with her job, not her appearance.

One of my favorite lines comes from Daniel's description of himself:

Seldom happier than when I'm on my own, lost in a book.

I wonder if the author might describe himself this way.

It cheers me that even with the world getting smaller, there are still differences between British English and United States English. And though many words and phrases have become common to each, there are still some that haven't traveled "across the pond." The Coffin Trail offers many examples which I jotted down as I read the book.

British - mobile; US - cell phone
British - on second thoughts; US - on second thought
British - duvet; US - comforter
British - off-comer; US - newcomer
British - sorted; US - finished
British - ground floor; US - first floor
British - lorry; US - truck
British - row (pronounced like cow); US - argument or fight
British - panda cars; US - police cars
British - bins or dust bins; US - trash or garbage cans
British - wind-cheater (a coat); US - wind-breaker
British - kitted out; US - dressed
British - half five; US - half-past five

And then there are all the words and usages that are different. Though over here, we now use "pub" as often as "bar," we still don't offer pub meals. I often read the word, cardigan for sweater in British books. And while we do call a button-up sweater, a cardigan, I rarely hear anyone say she is putting on her cardigan; we would just say, sweater for both pull-overs and cardigans. I love the British usage of "lads." We just don't use it over here. And I love the British spelling for the informal word for mother; mum. In the US, it is mom, whether pronounced "mum" or "mom" (as in Somerset Maugham). I like the British expression, "she keeps herself to herself." I love the money words in Britain - bob and quid. And I'm fond of stone as a measure of weight - 14 pounds to us. The most puzzling to me is the "bank manager" whom people in books are always concerned about. Becky Bloomwood in the Shopaholic books is perhaps the most famous character with bank manager problems, but I read about them and wonder. Are they like accountants who help people with their money; telling them what they should and shouldn't spend? I must admit, I'm not familiar with accountants either, so I'm rather guessing what they do.

I hope this won't be confusing because I have another giveaway going, but each person who comments on this post only, who would like to read this first in Martin Edwards' Lake District series, will be entered in a drawing to win my copy of the book. I'll send it anywhere, so don't be afraid to leave your name if you live across any of the oceans. I'll do the drawing on Sunday, November 30.


  1. Hmmm... sounds interesting. I'll have to add it to my library queue.

  2. I enjoyed your thoughts about British and American English - interesting. Reading it isn’t too bad but there are some dialects - both in Britain and the States that I'm having a hard time to understand.

  3. Some of the English words you mentioned are 'slang' not always in general usage, but I agree the difference in our languages is fascinating. The first time I came to the U.S from Britain, was a revelation to me. I thought the girl in Bloomingdales who wished me to 'have a nice day' was charming, but by the end of the day I had heard it so often it had ceased to mean anything, shame.
    You say,'I could care less'. we (U.K.) say,' I couldn't care less'. Also pants here mean knickers, not trousers, that can get very confusing.!! C.B.

  4. When you read stories with British dialect, do you 'read' the sound of the dialect? I do...and isn't it strange, I can't for the life of me mimic it if I open my mouth. But I hear it so well; and it's always enchanting. A few years back I had reason to call to England from time to time and I loved it. "Brilliant" said the young lady on the other end of the line. And for a moment, I really thought I was! LOL

  5. I would love to be considered for this book; it sounds like it could be a good read. I also liked your take on the different sayings; what is that saying - something like, 'divided by a common language', I'm not sure that's true but it's interesting to hear what you think.

  6. One of the things I like about English novels - and I do love English mysteries - is the richness of the language. I guess I have been reading them for so long I hardly notice the differences between English and American. You comment on your site about how one book leads to another and I hope you have read The Commonreader by Alan Bennett which is a total delight and, to me, really describes how we become readers.

  7. I love dropping into a select few American blogs partly because of this:'divided by a common language' thing, as Winston Churchill said.

    Should point out that we actually say 'newcomer' and that 'offcomer' must be local to the Lake District.

    Another usage that surprises me is when you say 'knit' where I would say 'knitted' as in a 'hand-knitted cardigan!' And I've come across 'tardy' which is quite archaic here but was used on my children's report cards when they attended an American school in Egypt.

    And a bank manager is the man in charge of the local branch of your bank, my father-in-law was one. What would that be for you - bank president? Chairman? An important personage in small-town affairs, anyway.

    Finally, something that is a really odd difference: you eat 'macaroni AND cheese' but we just have 'macaroni cheese'.
    It's all fascinating.

  8. Having lived many years away from England, I hold dear, through reading, all the quirks and differences of language between English and French.American English seems much less strange to me... How about these "sayings" when we in England say "It's raining cats and dogs" the French say"it's raining ropes" or when we say "He has a bat in his belfry" the French say"he has a spider on his ceiling" So funny in both languages! The Lake District is one of the most pretty places in England,I will add the book title to my list, longer every day with all the really good book reviews that bloggers like yourself recommend and intrigue us with!

  9. Don't count me in the giveaway, Nan, as I've just read it, but I really enjoyed your review, and your comparisons of our languages. I'm hoping to find the next of the series in the library tomorrow.

  10. I love your list of British/American usage. I can't imagine life without a cardigan (or 'cardi'). 'Sorted' is a modern usage and really slang. I've never heard anyone say 'off-comer'. In this part of the world (Dorset) people say 'in-comer'. Endlessly fascinating!

  11. Nan
    Would love to be entered to win.. sounds delightful.
    Having many British friends from our 3 years in Singapore, it was common to hear all the usages you outlined.
    It is such an interesting comparison, our English to their Queen's English.

  12. I wonder how much bank managers--and banking in general--has changed in the UK since this book was written! It used to be that you could overdraw your account with no more repercussions than a nice letter letting you know and suggesting that if this was going to be a common occurrence, perhaps you should arrange for overdraughts (spelling!) in advance. No interest or penalty was even charged on the overdraft! Got to love it.

  13. Sounds like good read for a snowy night. I looked at the Martin Edwards website when you blogged about him in an earlier post - all of his work sounds good. Your copy of the book has a prettier cover than the one on his site!

  14. Pl. don't put me in the draw for this book as I already have it (and very much enjoyed it!) I enjoyed reading your American equivalents of British terms. Of course, there are many more (not used in the book), such as American vest for our waistcoat. If we say a chap went out wearing vest and pants he would most certainly not be fully dressed, but in his underwear!
    A bank manager was the person in control of your local branch of your bank and, as such, decided whether or not you could have an overdraft (if needed, of course!) or not. You were always polite to your bank manager!
    Margaret Powling

  15. Lovely post, Nan! I love the British was of saying things, too. Throw my name in the hat for the book. It sounds brilliant! :)

  16. One of the sayings that has a completely differnt meaning between the US and the UK, is a word to describe one's home.....
    In England we say it is very homely, meaning cosy, and welcoming. I made the mistake early on as a newcomer in the US, of describing someone's home as such, not knowing that over here it means ugly, also true of describing people's looks.
    I won't make that mistake again ;)
    I used to work in a bank in England, the bank manager is the person in charge of that particular branch, and that position carries much esteem. I would compare it to the bank president in the US.
    Please consider me for your book give-away, sounds most interesting.

  17. Don't pick me, because I have the book. I'm glad you enjoyed it, as I did also.

    Your thoughts below on Thanksgiving were quite well put! Edward and I wish you and yours a happy day!

  18. Nan, I just had to put my two pennies worth into the discussion, as I have an interesting anecdote regarding the "divided by a common language" thing.

    My great aunt was a GI bride, she was my gran's favourite sister. They wrote to each other for years, and my gran finally got to visit her and her husband in the US in the mid-1980s. When she arrived at her home, my great uncle invited my gran to (ahem) "park her fanny on the couch." My mother had to gently explain to my gran that "fanny" had an entirely different meaning in the US...great uncle being in serious danger of receiving a face full of female, English, knuckles!

  19. I've only recently "discovered" Martin Edwards and have yet to read any of his books - soon to be remedied as I've borrowed The Arsenic Labyrinth from the library. Don't put me in the giveaway as I'll get this one out too.

    I'll just add to everyone else's comments that I find the differences between British and American English fascinating. I haven't come across the word "wind-cheater" I think it's what I call an "anorak" or a "parka" and I've never heard of "off-comer" - I'd say new comer. "Kitted out" is when you're dressed in the right clothes for a particular sport or event. Oh, and a "comforter" here is a soft comforting blanket, usually for a baby or young child; or it's a baby's dummy. How confusing!

  20. A previous commentor was correct when he/she wondered how much banking has changed in the UK. My husband actually was a Bank Manager. He retired in 2000 and that was just about when bank managers became defunct. Before that they were ultimately responsible for an entire branch, the lending, the staff, the cash, everything: the buck stopped at him. Now bank branches are a complete mish mash and no one seems to want to take responsibility for anything. I know this because my daughter now works for the same bank and it drives her insane at times, whereas my husband *loved* his job. I'm also convinced that bank customers preferred things the way they were. Many things it seems, just don't change for the better.

  21. Oh goodness, I am commenting years later, lol! Loved your post and all the comments! When we moved here 25 years ago from the UK it was as though everything was slightly out of focus....yes, the same language, sort of, but not as well. I say skedule but never tomayto, I do call not phone but continue with British spellings, I write cheques but I never lay down I go and lie down!

    We lived back in the UK for a couple of years recently and slightly scandalised people talking about wearing pants!

    Actually wasn't it G B Shaw..2 nations separated etc?


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