The Methods of Sergeant Cluff by Gil North

Behind the net curtains…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

the methods of sergeant cluffAlthough Sergeant Caleb Cluff is still on leave following the events in the last book, when the body of a young woman is found, as the only CID man in Gunnershaw, he is called to the scene. A local man, he knows the people of the town, so he recognises the girl as Jane Trundle and is immediately aware of who the chief suspect will be – a young man who was in love with her despite her constant rejection of him. But Cluff isn’t convinced that Jack would do such a brutal thing and begins to cast his net wider, much to the annoyance of his superiors who’d rather get the case wrapped up quickly.

For the first thirty or forty pages of this short book, I was a bit uncertain of whether it was going to live up to the previous excellent one, Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm. There are a lot of indications that Cluff and the other characters know things about Jane and some of the other characters, but for what seems like quite a long time the reader is kept in the dark. Happily, however, before it becomes too annoying, this background knowledge is gradually revealed, and the plot begins to darken.

Sergeant Cluff is allocated a uniformed officer to work with him, PC Barker. But Cluff is really a bit of a loner and an early version of the maverick cop who has become so ubiquitous now. His methods are mainly to use his local knowledge, together with a bit of intuition and his deep understanding of the passions of the human heart, to help him decide who committed the crime, and then to silently intimidate and harass his suspects until they either confess or do something that incriminates them. He has a strong sense of justice, but doesn’t think the law is necessarily always the best way to achieve that. And while he has a moral code, his methods sometimes step well beyond what would have been considered acceptable even back in those less politically correct days of the early1960s. At loggerheads with several of his colleagues, it is only his habit of getting results that allows him to get away with his behaviour.

Gil North
Gil North

North’s writing style seems improved from the previous book – fewer staccato sentences and a better flow. The dialogue remains somewhat stilted, but I’m delighted to note that his obsession with describing the breasts of every female character seems to have disappeared. (Perhaps some kindly woman hit him over the head with a hardback copy of book 1 – if so, thank you!) The real strength of his writing comes in his descriptions of this industrial town – all blacks and greys and browns, dirt from the mills and factories, and poverty hidden behind a façade of respectability and net curtains. This is a town set in the midst of Yorkshire moors and farming country, though, and himself the son of a landowning farmer, Cluff is as at home with these prosperous countrymen as he is with the townspeople. Some of his insights into his characters are beautifully written – sparsely, but with truth and a real empathy for the narrowness and hardships of their lives.

Cluff climbed to his feet, a mourner at the death of a marriage that could not be broken while they lived, because this was Gunnershaw and they lived in Rupert Street and were middle-aged and had to exist, both of them, on the pittance the man earned, because, more than anything, they were respectable and the wife could not tolerate, if the husband could, what the neighbours would say. The man could no longer deceive himself about the extent of his wife’s disloyalty. Everything between them was finished and had to go on still, as it had always done.

The climax of the book heads towards the over-dramatic and dangerously close to the credibility line, but somehow it works. The plot becomes very dark, and Cluff’s behaviour, to put it mildly, is morally dubious, but it seemed to me to echo the amateur detectives of the old school, who would often allow justice to take its own course outwith the confines of the law. Again, as with the first book, I found that from halfway through I was totally hooked, unable to put the book down until I saw how it all played out. The current trend of lengthy crime novels had almost made me forget the pure pleasure of racing through a book in one or two breathless sessions, and yet there’s as much depth and plot in this as in most books that are three times as long; and considerably more tension. (I suspect that may be why the credibility issue doesn’t matter so much – there’s not enough time for the reader to dwell on the details.)

Excellent – I hope the British Library go on to publish the rest of the series.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, British Library via Midas PR.

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20 thoughts on “The Methods of Sergeant Cluff by Gil North

  1. That’s the thing about the next novel in a series, isn’t it, FictionFan? You never know whether it’ll live up to the first (or the first one’s read). It’s very good to hear you enjoyed this one so well. I think it’s great that these are being re-released. I may just have to spotlight one of these novels, actually…

    • I know – I’m always a bit nervous about second books. But though his style is a bit strange, I really love these books – I do hope they intend to release the whole series. If not, I can see I’ll have to be hunting down second-hand copies. Great idea – you should! 🙂

  2. I’m fascinated by the author’s picture. How’d the photographer get the dog to pose one way and the author another?? Oh well, this sounds like an interesting read. Sometimes we’re in the mood for something that can be enjoyed in a short session.

    • I think the dog looks a bit odd, as if he only has two legs! Gorgeous, though. Yes, both short and long books have their attractions, but for this type of crime novel I do think short works really well – this was perfect to read over just a couple of evenings.

    • Thank you! Haha! yes, I was most pleased that he’d got breasts out of his system, so to speak! Perhaps his wife read it… 😉 These are really great books though – my favourites of the British Library ones so far. Maybe because they feel a bit more modern…

  3. Something short and fast paced sounds good. It seems all the books in my queue are 400 plus! I think you hit on something too; perhaps a shorter length allows for less egregious errors and less time allotted for unnecessary descriptions of breasts!

    • Yes, I love getting immersed in a long book sometimes, but especially with crime (or sci-fi) I do think short works better most of the time. And I love being able to read a book in one or two sessions. Haha! Poor man – I should really forgive him for his breast obsession, but I did chuckle at the thought that perhaps his wife read book 1… 😉

    • I know!!! Part of me wants to avoid them to stop the TBR getting even more out of control, and another part wants to just delete everything else on the TBR and read all of these instead…

  4. I’m glad you are enjoying these – I liked them very much when they came out and I think they still stand up quite well.

    • I’m pretty sure I never read them back in the day – they ring no bells. So I’m glad the BL has reissued at least two of them – interesting to see the maverick cop before he became ubiquitous… and drunken!

    • Haha! So was I! I figure his wife must have read the first one and had words with him… 😉 They certainly work as standalones, but the first one was great too, if you could overlook the fetish. I hope they republish the rest.

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