Today I am delighted to share my thoughts on The Long Call, the first in the brand new Two Rivers series by Ann Cleeves, featuring DI Matthew Venn. My thanks to publisher Macmillan who provided a copy of the book for review. This is actually the first book I’ve read by Ann Cleeves, but what a perfect place to start. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
The Long Call is the captivating first novel in the Two Rivers series from Sunday Times bestseller and creator of Vera and Shetland, Ann Cleeves.Available from: Amazon | Kobo | Waterstones | Google Play | Apple Books
In North Devon, where the rivers Taw and Torridge converge and run into the sea, Detective Matthew Venn stands outside the church as his father’s funeral takes place. The day Matthew turned his back on the strict evangelical community in which he grew up, he lost his family too.
Now he’s back, not just to mourn his father at a distance, but to take charge of his first major case in the Two Rivers region; a complex place not quite as idyllic as tourists suppose.
A body has been found on the beach near to Matthew’s new home: a man with the tattoo of an albatross on his neck, stabbed to death.
Finding the killer is Venn’s only focus, and his team’s investigation will take him straight back into the community he left behind, and the deadly secrets that lurk there.
I seem to be having a year of firsts this year, continuing a theme with reading my first ever Ann Cleeves book. It’s not the first I’ve bought, or necessarily the first piece of writing I’ve read by the author, as I’ve read short stories, but it is the first full length novel. And being the first in a brand new, North Devon set series, it seemed a perfect place to start.
The story sees DI Matthew Venn called to the scene of a murder, the body found in a location not far from his own cottage, at the point where the two rivers of Taw and Torridge meet. The man has no I.D upon him, but a rather distinctive tattoo which could be the only clue to his identity. As Venn and his team try to track down the victims name, and his past, it brings the investigation worryingly close to home for Venn, and to a family and a community he thought he had turned his back on for good.
Venn is an awkward character, not necessarily instantly likeable, but the more time you spend with him, the more you realise why and the more I can to understand his motivations and his reticence in sharing much of himself with his team. There is a kind of uncertainty about him, a vulnerability, that takes time to be revealed, but his personal relationships and his ability to understand and bond with some of the more vulnerable witnesses in the story help to make him appear a more empathetic character than his staid approach might first suggest. There is a fire in him, a determination to do right, but it is slightly muted compared to other characters you might read about. I loved the inner turmoil he feels and the way in which the author made the reader party to his thoughts and the trouble this caused him as he is caught between his desire to solve the mystery and a potential conflict of interest between duty and his personal life.
The story itself is complex, so many facets are not immediately obvious not the reader. The story is topical, it examines issues surrounding guilt, religion and abuse of power. It features characters with special needs, vulnerable adults, people with differing levels of mental ability, but does so in an empathetic way, highlighting the strength of character that is so often overlooked in portraying adults or children who have Down’s Syndrome for example. The characters feel real, beautifully drawn and the character of Lucy especially being fiercely independent, very astute and an absolute joy to read. And then we have the investigative team; not quite as cohesive as a normal team would be, a slight conflict of personalities and motivation between them all, the frustrations that exist between them adding to the tension in the story.
What I enjoyed most about this book was the way in which Ann Cleeves wove the two elements of the story together – the current investigation and the slow revelation of Venn’s own past. They do not seem to fit together at first, the opening funeral scenes providing perhaps context to Venn’s character, but not necessarily the story. It is only as the threads are pulled together that the full picture starts to emerge and a mighty fine picture it is too, if somewhat darker than you may initially imagine.
The story is not fast paced, but it suits the idyllic rural setting perfectly. If you are looking for high octane, it’s fairly safe to say you won’t find it in Barnstaple anyway. But it does not mean that the story isn’t without tension, or dramatic showdowns. There is real jeopardy to behold, real danger to the central characters, and towards the end, as the investigation reaches its climax, you can feel the pace and your pulse, begin to pick up speed.
For the first book in a series this is a really strong start, establishing characters, especially Venn, that I am keen to learn more about. Ann Cleeves has also sold me on the area, highlighting places I was not fully aware of before, painting them so perfectly that I now want to go an visit to see them for myself. North Devon makes for a wild landscape, not quite remote but rural enough, even in the big towns, to allow for some very unusual characters to be brought to the fore
An intriguing and complex story that I’d definitely recommend to mystery lovers.
About the Author
Ann Cleeves is the author behind ITV’s Vera and BBC One’s Shetland. She has written over twenty-five novels, and is the creator of detectives Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez – characters loved both on screen and in print. Both series are international bestsellers.
In 2006 Ann was awarded the Duncan Lawrie Dagger (CWA Gold Dagger) for Best Crime Novel, for Raven Black, the first book in her Shetland series. In 2012 she was inducted into the CWA Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame. Ann lives in North Tyneside.