The Introduction to this book is illuminating, providing a preview and critique of the book as well as background information about the author and the fictional character of Sergeant Cluff. “Gil North” was the pen name of Geoffrey Horne (1916-1988. The book was first published in 1961; the Sergeant Cluff stories were the basis for a two BBC series in the 1960s. The first of these, alas, is lost, but the second still exists in the BBC archives. Time to consider a new production?
The story is set in the fictional Yorkshire community of Gunnarshaw, which–we will soon recognize–is an integral part of the story. We meet the rain-sogged Sergeant Cluff and his faithful collie dog, Clive, before we learn of the victim: an attractive young woman, Jane Trundle, lying face down on the cobblestones of High Street.
There is an inexorable quality to North’s writing style: dense descriptions of setting and character set forth in a steady stream of short significant words. Before long, we feel the essence of Gunnarshaw in our very pores, while the story, like Sergeant Cluff himself, trods busily forward, carrying us along with a distinctive cadence that seldom seems to pause. There is a sureness of step and awareness of destination that leads us onward, not always aware of just where we are headed, but secure in the belief that Sergeant Cluff does know the way.
Caleb Cluff enlists the assistance of young Constable Barker, and shakes off efforts of officious Inspector Mole, who views the hapless young Jack Carter as the guilty party. Sergeant Cluff will have none of this. He knows his town, he knows this young man, and is quite certain that he’s not a killer. Sgt Cluff marches doggedly on, arriving at last at the solution–one that is not quite what we expected.
This is an extraordinary book: set apart from more pedestrian detective novels by the irresistible quality and relentless pace of the writing.