7 September 2019
Well known for her Shetland and Vera series, Ann Cleeves is opening yet another beginning with THE LONG CALL and introducing us to DI Matthew Venn. A prolific crime writer, Cleeves captures the essence to the location and the characters with an enthralling plot that continues to surprise from beginning to end. Her unique style is captivated on every page as she addresses and incorporates some of the societal prejudices towards homosexuality as well as the mentally impaired. She does this cleverly and with sensitivity.
The locale is North Devon. In the opening scenes, Matthew Venn is secreted in the bushes of a church on the fringes of his father's funeral. He knows he would not be welcome there, his mother blaming him for his father's death with his "marriage to a man". And yet he hovers to say his goodbyes.
Matthew was raised in a strict fundamentalist religious sect called the Barum Brethren. But his faith was questioned upon going to university in Bristol and his eyes being opened to life of a different kind. Rebelling against the restraints of the Brethren, upon his return Matthew publicly shunned all that he had been taught and lead to believe. As a result, he became an outcast - not only to the Brethren but to his family also.
His decision to join the Police gave Matthew the structure he had been brought up with and for which he now craved. The order and the routine was something he was familiar with and without it he became anxious. As a result of his upbringing, Matthew is socially reserved with a conservative wardrobe of suits and ties and a need for cleanliness. Jonathan, on the other hand, is his polar opposite dressing in shorts, t-shirts and sandals, is messy and loves to entertain. A perfect match, they compliment each other.
Now settled in Barnstaple - the same town in which his mother still lives as well as the members of the Brethren community he rejected - little does Matthew know that the investigation he is about to begin will bring him back into contact with that life that will bring his full circle.
A body has been found on a beach at Crow Point just short of the home Matthew shares with his husband Jonathan. There is no name and no ID - nothing to identify him except for the tattoo of an albatross on his neck. And the only witness to the murder - a herring gull with its long mournful cry. The man is soon identified as Simon Walden, a recovering alcoholic with a past, who volunteered at the Woodyard - a multi-use community centre run by Matthew's husband, Jonathan.
As the story unfolds, we become more familiar with the Woodyard and its characters therein as we meet a social worker, an artist, a priest and some of the people who attend programs that are run there. In particular, the day centre for the mentally disabled and those with learning difficulties where 30 year old Lucy and 42 year old Christine attend - both who have Down Syndrome.
Things begin to get complicated when Matthew and his team discover that not only did Simon have ties to the Woodyard, but that some of the board members of the Woodyard have ties to the Brethren. Matthew begins to wonder if he should recuse himself as SIO due to a conflict of interest. But a murder investigation doesn't come along every day in Barnstaple...and a case like this is what he thrives on.
Then one of the women with Down Syndrome disappears and Matthew receives a call for help that he never thought he would. Tensions mount and the intensity rises as Matthew and his team - DS Jen Rafferty and DC Ross May - frantically try to find out what happened to Christine and why she was taken. And then Lucy disappears while out with her father. Who has taken these women and what do they want from them? Could the motive be something more sinister?
As the investigation gains momentum, so does the pace as the team sift through information, clues and red herrings to get to the truth. Everyone appears to be hiding something as it all begins to feel incredibly secretive and sinister. But someone knows something. They secret is to find who that someone is...and to uncover what it is they are hiding.
There are so many facets to this story - as well as Venn himself - and the key is trying to figure out how it is all related. I remained blinded throughout without a clue as to who was doing what and while there was no real earth-shattering reveal, when the pieces began to fall into place only then did it complete the full picture.
I really enjoyed this story, despite its slow start (although it wasn't too slow), and I loved the intricacies of each story that was cleverly interwoven with the others. The humanity characterised in each person and their stories was beautifully and sensitively written. To see the sunshine in the smile of someone with Down Syndrome, their innocence and their kindness, amidst the more sinister tale that is woven within.
I really liked Matthew and Jonathan, and I look forward to learning more about them in future novels. I love how Matthew is not your typical brash, aggressive, alcohol drinking, divorced detective. He is compassionate, empathetic and sensitive whilst also being complex and a deep analytical thinker. I like that he is in a loving relationship, one that compliments him and not works against him and vice versa. I also like that this first book gave us the perfect introduction to Jonathan and his position in the community - both professional and personal. I also like that Matthew and Jonathan are so different and yet they compliment each other perfectly with grace and understanding.
Another character I look forward to seeing more of is DS Jen Rafferty. She's a single mother of two teenagers having escaped an abusive ex-husband in Merseyside. We caught a glimpse of her life outside of the police force which I thought was a nice touch, and no demands on her to fulfill her duties as a police officer rather than spending time with her children. I like that Cleeves has tried to find that balance. DC Ross May is someone we don't particularly take to at first, but as the story unfolds and the investigation barrels towards the end, we see a different side to Ross than what is at first portrayed. As a young DC, he is someone who wants to be part of the action now without the benefit of learning through experience. I think he could become a good asset to the team if he keeps his impatience in check. And I hope we don't have any of that in-house fighting that is all too stereo-typically common.
And the victim? Although he had his secrets, he had made a serious mistake for which he was desperately trying to redeem himself...and it cost him his life. From what we could see through others' perspectives in hindsight, he seemed a decent enough bloke trying to make amends.
And of course, there were your genuinely unlikable and horrible people. Some of which I'd hoped were guilty in one way or another and held accountable for their sins, if not their abhorrent behaviour.
I wonder if we will see much in the future about the Brethren and the part it has played in Matthew's life. It is a tough topic, but a very interesting backstory to have, as the Brethren are a very strict and secretive community. They don't allow outsiders, they live a simple lifestyle (some without technology), and they truly do shun any member who dares to leave their tight-knit sect - including family. I think it's an interesting subplot to include to a major character's backstory. I look forward to seeing how this develops.
As in true Cleeves style, THE LONG CALL is a character-driven police procedural with an intricate plot that keeps you guessing. An old-fashioned type murder mystery that builds, weaving an intricate tapestry that erupts in a vast array of colour to reveal the final picture.
Recommended for fans of British mysteries and of course Cleeves' own fan base, THE LONG CALL is a brilliant introduction to a new series I can't wait to delve further into. And of course, recent news that THE LONG CALL has already been optioned for TV and is currently in development from the makers of Shetland and Vera, is fantastic! I look forward to seeing the portrayal of Matthew Venn and his team.
"Fans of @AnnCleeves's absorbing crime novels will be thrilled to hear that a TV adaptation of her new book The Long Call - the first in a brand new series - is in development from the makers of Shetland and Vera.
— Waterstones (@Waterstones) August 28, 2019"
I would like to thank #AnnCleeves, #NetGalley and #PanMacmillan for an ARC of #TheLongCall in exchange for an honest review.