#BookReview: Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm by Gil North

Cluff Stands Firm Book Review

‘He could feel it in the blackness, a difference in atmosphere, a sense of evil, of things hidden.’ Amy Snowden, in middle age, has long since settled into a lonely life in the Yorkshire town of Gunnarshaw, until – to her neighbours’ surprise – she suddenly marries a much younger man. Months later, Amy is found dead – apparently by her own hand – and her husband, Wright, has disappeared. Sergeant Caleb Cluff – silent, watchful, a man at home in the bleak moorland landscape of Gunnarshaw – must find the truth about the couple’s unlikely marriage, and solve the riddle of Amy’s death.

Published by the British Library in it’s Crime imprint, I actually received this from Poisoned Pen Press via Netgalley in exchange for a review.

When Sergeant Caleb Cluff is called out to the scene of a sudden death, it looks like a clear-cut case of suicide – Amy Wright is found lying on her bed, with the doors and windows shut and the gas turned on. She was 48 years old, having spent much of her life looking after her father (who left her well off in the money department) and then her mother. After the death of the mother Amy made a bad marriage to a man 20 years her junior who only married her for her money.  Although everyone holds Alf Wright morally responsible for her death, legally he seems to be in the clear. Cluff can’t accept the coroner’s verdict, however, partly out of guilt because he, like everyone else, knew that Wright was cruel to Amy but had done nothing to stop it. Since there’s to be no official police investigation, Cluff takes some time off and begins to pursue Wright himself.

This is a written in a very sparse style, where sentences are cut back to the bare minimum and with little in terms of exposition, back history etc. Cluff is not the easiest character to like – older and a confirmed bachelor, who is dogged in his approach and quick to anger.  He is a local man, who doesn’t seem the type to ever get above Sergeant, and there’s an implication that something happened to him during the war that has seen him back in his home village.

Beyond the first few chapters and the initial investigation of the death, little is said about Amy herself. The focus is on Wright, his behaviour after the funeral and the inquest, and his reaction to Cluff’s silent near harassment of him.  His departure after the inquest to a nearby farm he used as his alibi brings attention to the inhabitants of the farm, and the death of  farmer Cricklethwaite, who was much older than his young wife Jinny.  There’s an unhealthy relationship between Alf, Jinny and a second man called Ben, that results in highly wrought nerves and an unexpected turn of events.

Summary

This is a definite change in style and tone than previous books that I’ve read from the British Library. There is also a certain level of violence that pulls it away from the likes of the traditional “Golden Age” books, and pulls it certainly into the 1960s. I wonder when the change came about – it must have been before this book as it was the start of an 11 book run. I have the second of this series to read, and I’d like to see whether it is in the same vein or different.  My reaction to the second book will decide whether I’d take it further.

About this author

Gil North is the pseudonym of Geoffrey Horne, a British writer. He was born in Skipton Yorkshire and educates at Ermysted’s Grammar School and Christ’s College Cambridge. He married Betty Duthie in 1949. From 1938 to 1955 he was a civil servant in the African colonies. He has also written novels under his own name.

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