The Long Call (Two Rivers #1)
by Ann Cleeves
Expected publication date: September 3, 2019, by Minotaur Books
The setting is a vital part of the British crime novel. Whether its a gritty story set in London during any time period or a cozy mystery set in a quaint village full of gardens and quirky people, that setting is as important an element as the detective it is. With her Shetland and Vera Stanhope series, award-winning writer Ann Cleeves chooses settings well off the beaten path, whether it’s the remote Shetland Islands or the coast of Northumberland. With The Long Call, Cleeves begins a new series in North Devon, an English county known for dramatic cliffs and medieval towns.
As the book opens, Detective Matthew Venn is standing outside the church where his father’s funeral is taking place. Once a beloved member of a fundamentalist religious community, Venn lost his faith and was estranged from his parents. Though he and his husband live in the same town as Venn’s family, he rarely sees them, choosing instead to lose himself in his work and his new life with his husband. But the past never stays buried, and when the body of a man with a bird tattoo on his neck is discovered on a nearby beach, Venn’s investigation dredges up old secrets that will shake him and his entire community to the core.
Though Matthew Venn is the primary detective, his is not the book’s only point of view character. There are also perspectives from Jen Rafferty, another detective; Maurice, the elderly father of a woman with Downs Syndrome; as well as Gaby, an artist and roommate of the murdered man. The shifting perspectives can be jarring at first, and it may not be obvious why they are present in the book, but part of Cleeves’s skill is to weave their stories together into a seamless web. People in small communities and rural areas live lives that are more connected than it seems at first glance. The trick is to find the connecting points and follow their trails.
“Perhaps because of the memory that had conjured up Salter, his childhood mentor, he [Venn] found himself back in the cemetery. He was watching the service to mark the death of his father from a safe distance. The crocus at his feet and the drone of the organ in his ears. He wondered if he’d felt a moment of relief too when he’d heard his dad had died? Perhaps. Because any decision about whether or not he should visit the hospital had been taken away. It made things cleaner, easier. And now he was feeling guilty again, bcause he hadn’t had the courage to visit, to make things right.”
Venn is not the only one with cause to second-guess himself. All the characters have reasons to look back and wonder if they’ve made the right decisions or the just easiest ones. It’s a mark of simple humanity that Cleeves grants her characters: basic human frailties instead of grandiose characters flaws, melodramatic backgrounds, or scheming serial killers with a score to settle. Cleeves’s culprits are humans who made a bad decision once, try to hide what they’ve done, and end up making the worst possible decisions in order to cover up their flaws. They may not be the flashiest or sexiest of mysteries, but their realistic characters and motivations ground them in reality so they linger in the memory far longer than the latest hyped bestseller.
Though it’s not set in a place as remote or lonely as the Shetland Islands, The Long Call is still marked by its setting. Sensory details like the cries of the gulls and the endlessly rolling waves create enough of an atmosphere that one can almost feel the spray off the water and taste the salt in the air.
If The Long Call has a major flaw, it could only come from the information dumps each character provides, but given its position as a series opener, the characters’ background descriptions are to be expected and Cleeves is skilled enough to know where to draw the line and return to the primary story. Combine the well-drawn and realistic characters, the all too human flaws of the criminal, and a beautiful, if somewhat lonely seaside community and you get a compelling start to what will hopefully be another excellent and long-running series.
Thank you to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for providing me with a free ebook in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book.