I've waffled over whether the book is too cozy for my taste, but an informative short biography of Branch, available on the Rue Morgue Press Web site and as an introduction to the novel, may have resolved the issue in the book's favor. The biography likens Branch's "madcap black humor" to that of such British movies as Kind Hearts and Coronets.
Branch published the novel in 1951; Ealing Studios released Kind Hearts and Coronets in 1949. Throw in another Alec Guinness movie, The Ladykillers, and there's reason to regard The Wooden Overcoat as a literary version of a subgenre I'd known previously only through movies: the macabre cozy. (Be sure to watch the original Ladykillers and not the wretched Tom Hanks remake.)
(Branch's novel offers one big surprise in its opening chapters, at least for me. And wooden overcoat is slang for coffin. At least one source says the expression may be of U.S. origin, while others call it Cockney rhyming slang, without, however, explaining the derivation.)
© Peter Rozovsky 2009