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A Different Kind of Summer

A Different Kind of Summer - Jennie Melville Gwendoline Butler (b. 1922) had limited success as a writer before she began a police procedural series featuring a young Scotland Yard Inspector, John Coffin, penning eight Coffin novels between 1956 and 1962. When Butler's husband took a job teaching in St. Andrews, Scotland, the author decided she wanted a change from Coffin and found her inspiration one day when she saw a young red-haired Scottish policewoman. She later asked the local police chief about the young officer and was told she was a recent graduate on a rapid promotion track. Thus was born the character of Detective Charmian Daniels of the fictional Deerham Hill CID and, as some have given credit to the author (written under her pen name of Jennie Melville), the birth also of the woman's police procedural.

In Butler's A Different Kind of Summer, dating from 1967, the fifth outing for Detective Daniels, Daniels is still a sergeant when an unidentified body arrives on a train into town in a coffin minus head or hands. It's up to Daniels to figure out which of many missing women this could be, including an increasing number of young girls vanishing in London. As she gets deeper into the case, she tries to stay objective and focused even as she starts receiving menacing phone calls and has to deal with a new young assistant, Christine Quinn, and a hysterical troublemaker who claims she's lost her sister.

Butler has a low-key writing style, blending social commentary with quirky characters, detailed plotting and thoughtful writing for the most part, although in general, it's her novels with Inspector John Coffin where she's had her greatest success. One wonders if writing from a woman's point of view was too close to home to provide the inspirational distance required or if perhaps the fact the author's brother was Warden of the Toynbee Settlement in London gave her more of a first-hand experience with male protagonists. In either case, with Butler's Daniels or Butler's Coffin, there's a lot of good material there, enough to show that grouping her with the "Four Great Founding Mothers" isn't that much of a stretch. If you're a fan of the "Golden Age" of detective fiction, then you'll enjoy this series.