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by Gil North, Introduction by Martin Edwards
The British Library, September 2016
167 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 0712356479

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

On a rainy night the body of a girl is found in the main street on the Yorkshire town of Gunnershaw. Sergeant Cluff is called in, apparently just after getting home from the first book in the series. Everybody in Gunnershaw thinks it's a open and shut case - the dead girl was too pretty and knew it, and supposedly had a boyfriend from the the new and therefore untrustworthy part of town. Sergeant Cluff, because he's Sergeant Cluff and knows Gunnershaw better than anyone, disagrees with this easy solution and investigates further, bringing himself into conflict with authority figures outside the police force.

THE METHODS OF SERGEANT CLUFF (1961) is part of The British Library Crime Classics series. The series title is a bit of a misnomer, as all the books in the series so far are by authors who were famous in their time, but fell out of popularity and print when they stopped writing. They are all recent enough to be ineligible for scanning by the Gutenburg Project, and all have an informative introduction by Martin Edwards. They're all worth reading because they depict the past from within, rather than with hindsight.

Gil North's work was so popular that when he was approached by the BBC about a Sergeant Cluff television series, all the meetings were held in Skipton as North wouldn't go to London (apparently BBC commissioning editors had never ventured so far north before) and North wrote all the episodes in the series, which were all new stories and not adaptations of the novels.

The town of Gunnarshaw is effectively and matter-of-factly portrayed and is closely based on Skipton, where North was living when he wrote the Cluff series. The first Cluff book dealt with the difference between Gunnarshaw and the countryside around it. This, the second book in the Sergeant Cluff series, reveals the new Gunnershaw, a red brick development of straight roads, right angles, and red brick boxes posing as houses. A year later Jane Marple took a stroll around The Development in St. Mary Mead and met a murder victim, so there was obviously something in the air about newly built houses in the early sixties.

For most of SERGEANT CLUFF STANDS FIRM Cluff was on leave, lacking real evidence and relying on standing around unsettling his prime suspect. In THE METHODS OF SERGEANT CLUFF the Sergeant still spends a lot of time looming; this time he has a slightly confused constable to help him find evidence by climbing over walls in the middle of the night. Sergeant Cluff's methods would not be approved of in a modern police force.

The writing is clean, sparse and surprisingly modern for something written in 1960. Cluff's conversational style is wonderfully terse and there's a marvellous scene in which Cluff and an informant discuss a third person for several pages, only for Cluff to realise as he walks away that neither of them have said who they're talking about.

THE METHODS OF SERGEANT CLUFF is a well written story about a mildly quirky detective. It would be very pleasing if the British Library published some more books from the Cluff series, to go with the Cluff short story in the anthology THE LONG ARM OF THE LAW.

Rik Shepherd has been a computer programmer and a web accessibility consultant. He lives in the north West of England and is mildly surprised to have just realised he's been reading crime fiction for 45 years.

Reviewed by Rik Shepherd, October 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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