Ann Cleeves is a bestselling British crime writer who, in 2017, was awarded the highest honour in crime fiction writing, the CWA Diamond Dagger. She is the creator of Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez, characters brought to life on television in Vera and Shetland by Brenda Blethyn and Douglas Henshall respectively.
In The Long Call, Cleeves moves away from her now familiar settings of Northumberland and Shetland to north Devon and introduces a new detective, Detective Inspector Matthew Venn, who "looks like a respectable man, a wearer of suits and sober ties, prematurely grey-haired and staid. Not a risk taker or a rule breaker". However, Venn is also a man who has learned how to hide his emotions.
Venn has returned to north Devon where he grew up in a strict evangelical community, the Barum Brethren, until he denounced his faith and was cast out by both his church and his family. He lives with his husband, Jonathan, at Crow Point where the rivers Tow and Torridge meet and run into the sea.
The body of a man is found on the beach near their house, with no identification except for a tattoo of an albatross on his neck. Venn and his team discover the victim worked as a volunteer chef at the Woodyard, a community hub with an arts centre, a café and a day centre for adults with a learning disability. The Woodyard, which is in the nearby town of Barnstaple. was conceived and is now managed by Venn's husband, Jonathan.
When two women with learning disabilities, who attend the day centre at the Woodyard, are abducted, Venn is convinced that the crimes are connected. Venn is determined in his pursuit of the truth even though in the process he must confront ghosts from his past, including members of the Barum Brethren.
Cleeves crime novels are distinguished by her ability to evoke a sense of place and fill it with credible characters. In The Long Call, north Devon and its towns and villages come to life in sometimes vivid prose. As Venn approaches the murder scene " he could hear the surf on the beach and the cry of the herring gull, the sound naturalists named the long call . . .the sun was low, turning the sea to gold, throwing long shadows, and he squinted to make out the figures in the distance. Tiny Lowry figures, almost lost in the vast space of sand, sea and sky".
The Long Call is a complex and disturbing exploration of secrets and lies, as well as the frailty of the disadvantaged and the hypocrisy of the powerful. It is therefore not surprising that the novel has already been optioned for television by Silverprint, the company which produced both Vera and Shetland. This reviewer can't wait.
- Anna Creer is a Canberra reviewer.
- The Long Call, by Ann Cleeves. Macmillan. $29.99.