Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Review of The Methods of Sergeant Cluff by Gil North (1961, Chapman & Hall, reissued British Library 2016)

On a wet and windy night in the Yorkshire town of Gunnarshaw the body of Jane Trundle is found in the passageway next to the town hall, her purse full of money.  A good looking girl who worked in the local chemist’s shop, Jane had ambitions to climb her way out of the poverty of her parents, who live in an area of tightly packed, back-to-back terraced houses.  Attention focuses on Carter, a young man who idolised Jane, who was seen with her earlier that night.  While Inspector Mole feels it’s an open and shut case, Sergeant Caleb Cluff is not convinced.  Instead he focuses his attention on Greensleeve, the chemist, despite the lack of evidence linking him to the death, the man’s position within the community, and his protestations of innocence.  Cluff has his own methods and he’s not about to let procedure and protocol get in the way of intuition and passive intimidation.

The Methods of Sergeant Cluff is the second book in the Cluff series, presently being re-issued by the British Library.  In this outing, Cluff is investigating the death of a good-looking, social climbing chemist’s assistant.  While his colleagues suspect a young man who doted on her and was seen in her presence earlier that evening, Cluff is convinced the man is innocent.  Instead he focuses his attention on the young woman’s boss.  As with the first book, Cluff’s method is to largely ignore his colleagues and to passively intimidate the focus of his attention, hanging around outside the shop, visiting his wife, and searching his premises and making it obvious he has done so, waiting for his quarry to crack under the pressure.  The problem is that the chemist insists he is innocent of the murder, though he’s clearly got something to hide.  The characterisation is excellent: Cluff is very much his own man, a stoic loner who ploughs his own furrow, Barker is a local constable who has a soft spot for his distant sergeant, Inspector Mole is an officious outsider who’s fond of the easy path, and Greensleeve is a self-important man with connections.  North has them talk past and ignore each other, with some nicely observed social interactions.  The plot unfolds in a somewhat linear fashion, though the tale rises in tension and there’s a couple of twists at the end.  Overall, an enjoyable police procedural.

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