It’s a bit daunting knowing that in order to try a new-to-you series author (that everyone else raves about), a reader faces ploughing through quite a long back catalogue. It was good news to discover that the award-winning author Ann Cleeves has created a fresh protagonist for this brand new British crime series. Crime and mystery readers it seems are universal in their fondness of the structured modern police procedural, and with these works being rather more difficult to get right with the real world protocols that need to be observed, The Long Call needed to deliver the goods straight out of the gate. It does.
It might be that that crime fiction readers are more than ready for a police protagonist who doesn’t run around in a crumpled suit, can manfully drink anyone under the table and continually finds it hard to maintain a relationship. Detective Matthew Venn has issues, sure, but they aren’t of the willfully self-destructive variety.
Married to the adorable Jonathan, Matthew now has a secure home life but that wasn’t always the case. Purposefully distanced from his religious family, Matthew is no longer a member of the strict evangelical group that still counts Matthew’s emotionally distant mother as one of its most stalwart members. Matthew’s father has passed away, yet Matthew cannot come closer to the funeral than the outside of the church. Something still holds him back.
When a body is found on a beach in North Devon, close to where Matthew grew up, the new detective is tasked with investigating his first major case in the Two Rivers region. The deceased man was stabbed to death; not quite giving credence to the image of a dreamy seaside town that the locals would like to foster for the cashed up tourists. The victim is found to be connected to a local arts and support centre, the Woolyard, which houses an adult day care facility. When one its day residents goes missing, Matthew must deal with a community terrified by the thought of other vulnerable young women never making it home.
The assurance of a successful crime writer who knows her craft is evident from the opening pages of The Long Call. Matthew Venn is deftly delivered to the page with just enough literary brush strokes for the reader to begin filling in the gaps themselves. By novel’s end, we are quite confident of knowing what this fictional character might or might not be willing to do.
If you’re a fan of slow and steady wins the race, you will appreciate the careful plotting that you will encounter here in The Long Call. The fondness that Ann Cleeves has for her setting is evident and we are treated to gorgeously powerful imagery of air and place that does more for projecting the reader right into the landscape than a vividly described corpse ever would. The chapters featuring the fears of an elderly father of what will happen to his high care daughter when he dies are both relevant to the plot and to current societal dilemmas. Who will care for orphaned adults that need more support than day stay programs and occasional help is a very real world concern, and this is raised with great care and sensitivity.
There is so much to like about The Long Call none of which will be a surprise to regular readers of Ann Cleeves we’re sure. It is a very busy novel, expertly threaded for future works, and there is an immediate sense of a community going through necessary change rather than an inevitable decline. Strong characterization always wins, and the slow anxious building up of concern for what is really happening in this small town will keep the reader on edge. Can’t wait to read the next Matthew Venn outing. It would be good to catch up.
The Long Call has already been optioned for TV so get started soon with your fantasy casting. Ann Cleeves is best known for the ‘Vera’ and ‘Shetland’ books, both long running crime series which have been successfully adapted for television.
For more of Andy Thompson’s book reviews, check out AustCrimeFiction
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- I Only Killed Him Once (Adam Christopher) – book review
- The Nancys (R. W. R. McDonald) – book review
- See You at the Toxteth (Peter Corris; ed. Jean Bedford) – book review
Australian Crime Fiction began in 2006 to provide a database of crime authors and books from Australasia in the crime genre. Now featuring book reviews, the site is dedicated to crime fiction and thrillers, with a heavy emphasis on Australian and New Zealand content.