This the second of the Sergeant Cluff novels of Gil North to be resurrected by the British Library this year – the first being Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm. Cluff is a detective in the Dales town of Gunnarshaw (apparently based in Skipton), where he annoys his superiors with his close-mouthed Yorkshire ways. He is not a man to be taken lightly, and in the rather dark first book he proved he would hunt a killer to the exclusion of all else and in the face of common sense.A pretty young pharmacist’s assistant called Jane Trundle has been killed, and her boyfriend seems the most obvious suspect. Caleb Cluff, though, suspects her boss Greensleeve, a ambitious type who has the town council in his pocket. This doesn’t stop Cluff from making it obvious whim he suspects, and bringing public opinion with him. In a town like Gunnarshaw, not too many steps away from puritanism, reputation is all that matters to a man like Greensleeve.
Like the first novel, Methods is much about Cluff’s relationship with his town and its surrounding countryside. He is depicted as something of a tutelary spirit, an archetype of a Dalesman. The whole town seems to Inspector Mole (Cluff’s non-local boss) to be…
populated with Cluffs, He was bedevilled with Cluffs, all dressed as the prototype dressed, with dogs the spit of Cluff’s dog, carrying sticks identical with Cluff’s stick. Their faces were as round and as heavy and as red. They looked just as solid and as slow.
He caught sight of the real Cluff and braked suddenly to avoid running down a man with a crook.
Some people understand Gunnarshaw, and the rest are somewhat out in the cold. Jane Trundle’s nondescript boyfriend Carter is depicted as an upstart fostered by industrialisation, weak and divorced from the farming traditions that built the town. The pharmacist Greensleeve thinks he fits, but becomes disillusioned:
Gunnarshaw wasn’t Greensleeve, go-ahead, modern, properly appreciative of the age in which it existed. Gunnarshaw had deceived him, smiling on him only to withdraw its favour. The town was Cluff, sprawling, untidy, rooted to the soil from which it sprang, akin to the hills that sheltered it, wild and unchanged from the beginning of time. Gunnarshaw […] clung leech-like to the past, spurning the progress that Greensleeve promised.
Again, not so much a mystery as a slice of northern noir with a down-beat ending that may surprise.
The Methods of Sergeant Cluff
First published by Chapman & Hall Ltd, 1961
This edition: British Library, 2016
Source: Publisher review copy – thanks BL!
Final destination: Hotel Sea Princess, Mumbai – let’s see if it ever turns up