Thursday, July 28, 2016

Two books, same hook...

Basil Thomson, The Case of Naomi Clynes
1934 (as Inspector Richardson, C.I.D.
Republished by  Dean Street Press, 2015 as an ebook

Gil North, Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm
British Mystery Crime Classics, 2016
(Reprint of 1960 edition)

Interestingly, the two most recent mysteries I’ve read both involve the death of a woman by inhalation of gas.  In the first case (The Case of Naomi Clynes), the woman is unmarried, has recently had a mystery novel accepted for publication, and has completed her second manuscript.  She moved to London after losing her job (for a Liverpool solicitor, who retired after being in a horrible train crash in France).  In the second case (Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm) a 40-something woman, recently married to a man 20 or so years younger, is found, in her bed, dead from gas inhalation, by Sergeant Cluff, in the Yorkshire town of Gunnarsward.

These two books could not be more different.  In The Case of Naomi Clynes, Inspector Richardson investigates patiently and methodically, uncovering facts that suggest that Clynes was murdered.  (Among other things, the suicide note is inexpertly typed, and she was an expert typist.  Also, he discovers a man’s fingerprints on the typewriter, indicating that something was typed after she died.)  He travels to Liverpool to see if he can discover something about her life there, and finds that she had been engaged during the Great War and though that her fiancé had died in combat (17 years before the time of the book).  His subsequent investigations take him to France, where he finds out what actually happened to the fiancé, and what actually happened in the railway accident.  We learn everything he does as the book progresses, and, while there is no suspense and no unexpected final revelation, there is a clear, patient progress toward the identification of the murdered.

Sergeant Cluff’s method of investigation is, well, not really to investigate.  He concludes—on the basis of exactly no evidence—that the dead woman (Amy Wright) was murdered by her much younger, somewhat feckless husband (an outsider, whose first name we have not learned by half-way through the book).  Having concluded that it’s murder and that young Wright did it, Cluff proceeds by intimidation, threats, and harassment—which will presumably result in a confession (as this is the first of 11 Cluff books, and it is not, in tone or style, a book in which the police will err).

So two books, with the same starting point, with vastly different treatments.  In neither is there much, if any, suspense.  Thomson is much the better writer, and Inspector Richardson is an actual investigator.  North’s writing is, well, lifeless springs to mind, and Cluff is, as presented, apparently a bully and (in my opinion) not very bright.

Guess which one I would suggest…Right you are.  Thomson wins—easily.

No comments:

Post a Comment