Saturday, September 3, 2016

Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm - Gil North

When not thinking about, writing about, or even occasionally drinking, gin over the last month I did manage a bit of reading - though some of it seems a long time ago now. So before I forget any more details here are my thoughts on 'Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm', a treat from the British Library crime classics series.

This is the first in the Cluff series, and the one I should have started with instead of inadvertently taking 'The Methods of Sergeant Cluff on holiday with me instead (I wrote about it Here). At the time I was struck by how Noir-ish the general tone was and I found the same thing in 'Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm'.

So for example the hero is the strong silent loner type who is barely tolerated by his immediate  superior (Yorkshire touch, he lives in a cottage with a cat and a dog). The scene opens on a dark and windswept night (Yorkshire touch - it's a dark and stormy night...). There are women at the heart of this drama, both the victim - apparently a suicide, the older wife with money of her own married to a no good waster (Yorkshire touch, it's not a lot of money and they live in a 2 bed terrace), and the mysterious blonde in a photo the husband has (Yorkshire touch - she may be wearing a cardigan and wrinkled stockings when we finally meet her.) And so it goes on.

The scene is unmistakably Yorkshire, from talk of mills to walks on the moor, but the tome could be straight out of something by Vera Caspary or Sherwood King - and I loved that about this book. I assume that writing in the late fifties (this was published in 1960) that Gil North (or Geoffrey Horne if you prefer) was deliberately referencing the genre, and maybe sometimes having fun with it - though there's nothing at all tongue in cheek about the tone here.

What we get is actually quite shocking. The dead woman, Amy Snowden, seems to have had plenty of leisure to repent after marrying in haste, until finally she turns a gas tap on and goes to bed. It looks like a clear case of suicide (still a criminal offence at the time) but Cluff is dissatisfied, he doesn't like the husband and makes that fact clear. His investigation technique leans heavily towards intimidation at times, albeit of the silently but obviously watching sort, and sets in motion an absolutely terrifying train of events.

The other thing I loved about this book was how visual it is. I believe it was filmed as a series and I'd love to see it just to see if it looks the way I'm imagining it should. It's all the hanging around under lamp posts, striding across rugged moorland, and tramping the streets of Gunnershaw that make it come to life in my imagination - I can see it as I read, and it's all very satisfying.

5 comments:

  1. Thanks. This sounds great to me.

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  2. I really enjoyed it, it was tremendously atmospheric!

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    1. How nice to see that Cluff is tramping the streets of Gunnershaw again with his ever loyal, ever watchful, dog. The novels were originally published by Penguin Crime. Do you know they made a television series about Cluff, starring Leslie Sands? This was in the Sixties when television was still black and white. Sands was a burly, bull-shouldered actor and as Yorkshire as rugby league and millstone grit. The BBC haven't reissued the series as a DVD the way they did with the black and white Dr Findlay's Casebook (filmed around Callander, Perthsire). Sands appears as a fork-tongued Labour politician in Ken Loach's brilliant drama about the General Strike, Days of Hope, which you can find in a Ken Loach DVD box set. Sands did much theatre work in London; he had a major role in a David Mercer play, After Haggerty. I am as it happens called Haggerty, and I am a Glaswegian who believes in the Union and who enjoys travelling in the UK. I enjoy Desperate Reader because you are refreshingly honest about your eclectic taste. You never pretend to be anyone other than you are, and you love literature.

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  3. Hi James, thank you for your comments and for all the information. I'd really like to see the TV version of Cluff, maybe with the books coming out again they'll resurface.

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    1. I am glad you'd like to see Sergeant Cluff on the small screen. The BBC may have wiped the series as it did with so many dramas and comedies. Television in the Sixties and Seventies was perhaps more of a writer's medium than it is today. I am thinking of Z Cars, Softly Softly and Rising Damp, to name just three major titles. You can watch these on DVD, of course, as well as the original black and white Sherlock Holmes, starring the late Douglas Wilmer. I also enjoy watching the box set of Barry Foster as Van Der Valk, the Dutch detective, based on the wonderfully idiosyncratic novels of Nicolas Freeling. Public Eye, starring Alfred Burke as a down-at-heel private investigator, was filmed around Birmingham and Brighton, and stands up well on DVD. So do the episodes of Callan, starring Edward Woodword, about a professional assassin employed by British intelligence. Always I return to Joan Hickson's beautifully judged portrayal of Miss Marples; these are all in colour. The past is a safe place to be as Ian McEwan says, but I do keep informed about our world today. I have just finished watching a compelling DVD documentary about Noam Chomsky, one of my favourite writers, called Manufacturing Consent - strongly recommended.
      JACK.

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