A review by Sandra Ruttan

One Large Coffin To Go, the latest in the Polly Deacon mystery series from H. Mel Malton, is one big step forward for Polly Deacon as well as the author.

The Polly Deacon series is primarily set in Ontario’s cottage country, told through the experiences of a back-to-nature puppet-maker named Polly Deacon. Polly has a knack for crossing paths with dead bodies and, much to the annoyance of local detective Mark Becker, an ability to get people to talk to her instead of cooperating with the authorities.

Polly has commitment issues, stemming from the childhood trauma she experienced
when both of her parents were killed in a car crash. The young Polly went to live with her Aunt Susan and has subsequently resisted all pressure to conform to the expectations of society. Polly’s cabin in the woods has no electricity or running water. She doesn’t own a vehicle. She takes contract work making puppets and helps her landlord on his farm in exchange for rent. She has a delightful, quirky sense of humor and is prepared to say and do things that the average person only wishes they could say and do. She is unencumbered by social conventions, seeming to feel no pressure to experience the typical milestones (such as marriage) that often mark the journey into adulthood, which makes her both refreshing and amusing to read about.

In One Large Coffin To Go, the on-again off-again relationship between Polly and Mark Becker is on-again and Polly is facing an unexpected pregnancy. She is not particularly fond of children and doesn’t have much experience in the child-rearing department.

The book begins with Polly’s examination of her own feelings about having a child, which anyone who has ever had a moment of frustration dealing with their own children or someone else’s child will appreciate. Again, Polly is thinking all those things that many of us have thought in our most politically incorrect moments.

Polly must also decide whether or not to accept a proposal of marriage from Mark Becker. This is not an attempt on Mark’s behalf to do the right thing because of Polly’s pregnancy. The proposal lingers from pre-conception and is now complicated by the unborn child, who Polly refers to as her ‘sprog’.

In the midst of decision-making about major life issues such as marriage and a family Polly learns that she has received a sponsorship to attend an international puppet- maker’s convention in England. Despite protests from Mark about traveling in the post 9/11 aftermath and in her condition, Polly plans to travel to England and refuses to let family or friends change her mind.

It is at this point that both Polly and the author make some big steps. Polly is on her own in a different country, faced with a different environment, different people and different perspectives on life. H. Mel Malton has moved Polly across the ocean and is exploring new terrain, both geographically and psychologically as the shift in environment exposes Polly to different perspectives and a different system of law enforcement. By removing Polly from the familiar Kuskawa, H. Mel Malton demonstrates her ability to take the reader into the scene in Canterbury and uses the setting as a catharsis, a safe haven away from Becker’s pressure and the opinions of family and friends, where Polly can make important decisions about her future.

Along the way, Polly thwarts a would-be robber who repeatedly attempts to steal her puppets, but when a pregnant woman who bears a strong similarity to Polly is found dead, Polly falls under suspicion from the local authorities. Why has someone been trying to steal her puppet case? Was the woman who was murdered the victim of mistaken identity? Was Polly the real target?

The answers lead Polly to a startling discovery about her would-be fiancé, and help her to make a final decision about marriage, family and her future.

The mystery genre is filled with talented authors who write hard-boiled, moody, brooding novels that take their readers into the back alleys of society and the darkest parts of their character’s soul. The Polly Deacon series is a refreshing change of pace. Polly has a pragmatic view on life, perhaps tempered by her own experiences with grief, and she’s developed her own coping mechanisms along the way, some of which aren’t strictly legal, which complicates her regular involvement with the local authorities. Her quirky sense of humor underscores the storyline of each book. No matter how devastating the crime, Polly seems to find a way to cope with the situation and her unique perspective on life makes her one of the most original sleuths in popular crime fiction today.

For more information about H.Mel Malton or the Polly Deacon books, visit


H.Mel Malton is the author of four novels in the Polly Deacon series and will be publishing The Drowned Violin, the first in a new series of mysteries for children due out in 2006. She also released a poetry book called Halfway to Elsewhere in fall 2004.

Her first mystery novel, Down in the Dumps was short-listed for an Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Crime Novel.

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