Macmillan | 2019 (5 September) | 375p | Review copy | Bought copy
On the outskirts of Barnstable in north Devon, Detective Inspector Matthew Venn stands outside the church where his father’s funeral is taking place. When Matthew turned his back on the strict evangelical community in which he grew up, he lost his parents. And now, as far as his father is concerned, it is too late to rebuild bridges burnt down so long ago. But then Matthew receives a call. A man has been found stabbed to death on the beach near Matthew’s home, which he shares with his husband, Jonathan. Matthew soon learns that the man had links with the care centre for people with learning disabilities that Jonathan runs. It’s all too close to Matthew and it’s set to become closer still as the investigation takes him back into the community he believed he had left for good.
The Long Call is the first in a new series by Ann Cleeves – set in a different part of Britain (a long way from Shetland and Northumberland) and with a new detective at its heart. And it is magnificent. The mood and sense of place is presented perfectly from the very first chapter in which we meet Matthew Venn for the first time. Ann Cleeves is a genius in laying bare character so carefully, sympathetically and lightly – and quickly. Almost immediately I could believe that Matthew is a real person, in convincing relationships with his partner, colleagues and parents, newly part of this rural community in north Devon where the rivers Taw and Torridge converge. It’s a beautiful part of the world, yet also tucked away. When crime happens here it really does shock.
And Matthew has more than one case to deal with and it is all thoroughly engrossing and involving, especially the parts involving the young women who spend their days at Jonathan’s care centre. These vulnerable women are so beautifully portrayed, as are their relationships with their families.
There are plenty of characters here to interest and intrigue the reader, including Matthew’s team, Jen (his sergeant) and Ross (the constable and the favourite of the Chief Inspector). Each is given their own story, which I can’t wait to see develop through future novels, and the three as a team are thoroughly convincing and realistic – I enjoyed the give and take, the way in which Matthew tries to be a boss while still being equal, their irritations with one another, their loyalty. I also liked the way in which they all cope, or not, with the long hours demanded by a murder investigation. Jen in particular has much to juggle, but so, too, does Matthew. I loved the portrayal of the relationship between Matthew and Jonathan. Jonathan is an intriguing character in his own right.
Matthew is the star here, though, for sure. He is lovingly drawn. He stands alone but also is a keen observer. He’s gentle but at times surprisingly fierce. He feels unloveable but we know he isn’t. I loved getting to know Matthew.
I am a huge fan of Ann Cleeve’s Vera Stanhope series but Vera has undoubtedly met her match in Matthew Venn. I am in awe of the author’s power to create yet another convincing series with characters it’s impossible not to feel drawn to. It’s a remarkable achievement. Matthew Venn is a fantastic, fully realised and immensely likeable detective and this mystery is beautifully told, populated by fascinating characters and set in such a lovely, yet remote location. It moves slowly and it’s all the better for it. The Long Call is character driven and what characters they are. It is most certainly one of the finest crime novels I’ve read in a very long time.