Classic Crime

Gil North

Geoffrey Horne (1916 – 1988) was 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. During the fifties, Horne returned to Skipton to pursue his love of writing. He published under his own name and when he created Cluff, brought them out under the pseudonym of Gil North. The author’s son is quoted as saying that much of his father was transferred in to Cluff. Four years after Cluff’s debut, the character was brought to the small screen with the actor, Leslie Sands playing the main role. These two series were transmitted in 1964 and 1965. The entire first series is missing from the BBC archives, but the second series survives.

Review: Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm

Amy Snowden is a middle-aged woman who lived a solitary life having looked after her elderly mother for many years. People of the tiny village of Gunnarshaw thought she would always be a spinster until she suddenly married a man much younger than herself. Only months later, Amy is dead – an apparent suicide – and her young husband, Wright has disappeared. A woman of some financial means, Amy’s money is worth killing for.
Sergeant Caleb Cluff feels that he has failed in his moral duty to keep the people of Gunnarshaw safe. Knowing there is more to Amy’s ‘suicide’ than meets the eye, Cluff ignores the accepted verdict of the coroner and embarks on his own mission to weed out the culprits who may not have had a direct hand in Amy’s death – but certainly drove her to take such desperate actions.

As Martin Edwards explains in the preface of this book, this is not a ‘whodunit’, but more about the human condition and the situations people placed themselves in. Edwards also points out influences of Georges Simenon and his Maigret novels. Cluff is portrayed as a dour avenging angel in a shapeless tweed hat, a walking stick and hooded eyes. A man of simple means who has never married and lives with a cat, dog called Clive, (all the dogs were called Clive) and a recalcitrant housekeeper. As with Miss Marple, he is removed from society, but in such a way he can observe his fellow man – or woman.

North’s prose is crisp and has a staccato style to it. He draws his characters in only a few lines – although when describing women he does have a thing about describing their décolletage – whether it is pendulous, pert, etc. It has been too many years to remember my short venture in to Simenon to say if this is a direct influence or simply the form of writing in 1960. Despite this small observation, North certainly brings his characters to life in such a short novel of 167 pages. All have their individual voices and this is not a simple police procedural. The star of the show has to be Cluff as I could feel his sense of injustice and indignation that a life had been taken during his watch. It is always a pleasure to discover a new classic writer and I am hopeful the British Library, who is doing such a sterling job with this series, will release more of Cluff’s cases besides his first two adventures.

Reviewed by: C.S.

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