Written by Ann Cleeves — Jimmy Perez and the Shetland series are no more. Time for a wee break from writing then, Ann Cleeves? Errr, no. Instead, this prolific author has taken it upon herself to begin a whole new opus. Meet Detective Matthew Venn, based in the Two Rivers region of North Devon. In her introduction to the book, Cleeves says she’s as nervous as if she were introducing a new boyfriend to her parents. No need Ann, this one’s a definite keeper!
Venn is a local man who has quite a history associated with the area but is gradually settling back into life in North Devon after previously working in Bristol, where he met his husband Jonathan. The pair live in a cottage near Crow Point, where the body of a man is found, stabbed to death. It’s Venn’s first big investigation in his new job and he wants to do everything right. When the dead man is identified as Simon Walden, an ex-con and former soldier who had been volunteering at the Woodyard in Barnstaple, a multi-purpose community centre run by Jonathan, Venn is all ready to withdraw from the case. He is not a man to bend the rules.
Luckily, he sticks with it, and Venn’s calm, analytical presence is a little oasis in the midst of an investigation that soon becomes very, very complicated. The Woodyard’s facilities include a cafe, meeting rooms, classrooms, an art studio and a day centre for vulnerable adults. When one of them goes missing, Venn is sure there’s a connection between Christine Shapland, who is 42 and has Downs Syndrome, and the murder of Simon Walden. But what is it? Don’t expect answers quickly, just sit back and enjoy the ride, folks!
This is a series opener that hits the ground running, and Cleeves soon has the readers up to speed with the characters we are likely to encounter. They’re an eclectic bunch too. Venn’s boss is DCI Joe Oldham, a veteran officer who seems to be marking time to retirement. In short, if he can get out of doing any work, he will. His protege is DC Ross May, who is part of Venn’s team and also serves as a bit of a spy in the camp for Oldham. May is an impatient, impulsive cop who finds Venn’s more measured approach difficult to handle.
Last but not least is DS Jen Rafferty, single mum of two teenagers who moved from Liverpool to North Devon to end an abusive relationship. Venn and Rafferty are definitely my favourite characters here, they’re both excellent detectives and are so chalk and cheese it’s a pleasure to watch them interact.
Creating a new series in a brand new setting must be a tricky move, but Cleeves makes it all seem so easy. The endpapers of the book show a nifty map of the area covered, while within its pages you’ll be treated to a subtle but thorough mental workout. It’s a very effective approach, and by the final pages Venn and his team will seem like old friends. The plot is sinuous and packed with little surprises and, as to be expected from an Ann Cleeves book, the settings are lushly and realistically rendered.
The Long Call is possibly my favourite series opener since Renee Ballard appeared in Michael Connelly’s The Late Show and I can’t wait to see where Venn and his team go next. I suggest you grab a copy and settle down for a right good read!
CFL Rating: 5 Stars