Last week, the British Library re-published the first of the Sergeant Cluff novels from Gil North, Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm, with the second, The Methods of Sergeant Cluff, due in early September. One of the prime movers behind the re-release of the Cluff books (and indeed, a large part of the British Library’s output) is Martin Edwards. As you know, Martin is a busy man – along with having written a bucket-load of his own mysteries, both short stories and novels, he’s also the author behind the multi-award winning The Golden Age Of Murder, the history of the Detection Club, and also currently serves as the President of that Club. He’s also an inverterate blogger as well, over at Do You Write Under Your Own Name?
I’ve had the privilege of meeting Martin a few times at various events, and he’s always had a kind word for the blog, so it’s a real pleasure to have been able to do a brief Q & A with him about Cluff, the British Library and other things.
Martin, you’re a prime influence on the choice of books for the crime classics range. What was it about the Cluff books that made you want to include them?
My memories of Cluff date back to the Sixties TV show of that name starring Leslie Sands. I was a small boy then, and don’t recall much about them, but my father enjoyed the shows, and I remembered that when reading the books. I was struck by the fact that the books are rather well written, and quite powerful, in an under-stated way. They are very different from most novels in the Classic Crime series, but part of the attraction of the list, I believe, is its diversity (something that will increasingly be appreciated by readers, I feel, as the series continues to develop; I think it offers terrific variety.)
Comparisons have been made between the Cluff books and Simenon’s Maigret. What are the similarities, and what, apart from the location, is the main difference between them?
The Maigret books influenced several British writers – Alan Hunter and W.J. Burley, as well as Gil North – and I think the attraction for those authors was the idea of a decent cop who worried away at problems in a credible way, rather than a brilliant maverick who specialised, say, in solving locked room puzzles or decoding dying message clues. The Cluff books are essentially rural stories, and landscape plays a huge part in the way North creates atmospheric scenes. Simenon tended to favour urban settings. But overall, the similarities are quite striking, more so, I think, than the differences.
The first book is out now and the second is due in September. Are there plans for the rest of the series?
That’s a decision for the British Library. I guess that to some extent it depends on reader reaction to the Cluff books, but a whole range of factors are bound to come into play.
The British Library Crime Classics range has been a huge success. First off, how do you go about choosing the authors, and, in particular, which authors you will return to (such as John Bude)? And once the author has been picked, how do you go about selecting which of their titles to publish?
I should say that my role as Series Consultant is just that – Rob Davies of the British Library and his colleagues consult me, and I offer my opinions, but I’m not in any way a decision-taker. For instance, I’d never read John Rowland until Rob mentioned to me that the Library wanted to publish two of the Inspector Shelley books. I see my role as one that involves coming up with ideas and suggestions – for instance, the idea of Classic Crime short story anthologies, which has succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve mentioned my enthusiasm for a diverse list of books, and I’m also keen to see books of outstanding quality reissued. An obvious example is Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case. I am so glad that I persuaded Rob to acquire the rights, and then commission me to write a new solution to the puzzle! There are other writers who I’ve been very keen to resurrect, such as Christopher St John Sprigg and Anthony Rolls, as well as some where Rob has had difficulty obtaining the rights – usually because nobody seems to know who owns the rights! John Rhode was one of a number of Golden Age stalwarts whom Rob and I discussed, although in that case, the idea of starting with two books written under the Miles Burton name came from the Library. All the John Bude books have been very popular – and there are more to come. The same is true of the Freeman Wills Crofts books – I am especially pleased the Library agreed to republish Antidote to Venom, a fascinating experimental crime novel. So there’s no simple answer, no single approach. Which makes the list all the more interesting, I think. It’s rather like a large scale version of an anthology where again I think variety is vitally important.
Finally, what’s next for your own writing?
Next year, the British Library will publish my The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, companion to the series, and a book that I really loved writing. I’m working on a new novel at present, though I have to confess that it’s a looooong way from being finished. And I’ve written a few short stories will be appearing in various anthologies here and in the US over the course of the next twelve months.
Many thanks to Martin for taking the time to do this.
The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards is published by HarperCollins. Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm by Gil North, which is being republished by British Library Crime Classics to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the author’s birth, contains an introduction by Martin.
If you want to take a look at Martin’s own work, then there’s a page of links to my reviews of his Harry Devlin and Lake District mysteries and be back here tomorrow for a review of his take on the Crippen case, Dancing For The Hangman.