Review The Long Call By Ann Cleeves

Review: The Long Call By Ann Cleeves

Review: The Long Call By Ann Cleeves

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The Long Call is the first book in an exciting new series from award-winning author Ann Cleeves.  I’ve always heard great things about Cleeves’ writing so when I heard she had a new series coming out, I was eager to request a copy and dive right in.  Well, I’m thrilled to report that everything great I’ve heard is 100% accurate.  Set in the small town of North Devon, England, The Long Call grabbed my attention from the opening scene and kept me thoroughly under its spell until the very end.

The protagonist of The Long Call is a police detective named Matthew Venn, and when the story opens, he’s attending his father’s funeral but only from a distance, and he makes no contact whatsoever with any friends or family members who are in attendance.  This drew me in immediately and made me want to know more about Matthew.  He’s clearly an outsider in his family and community and fears that he won’t be welcome at his own father’s funeral.  Within a few short paragraphs, we learn that Matthew grew up in a strict evangelical community until the day he renounced his faith and was ostracized from the Brethren.  He also clearly feels a sense of guilt about everything that transpired and that he and his father didn’t make amends before his death.  I loved the complexity that this whole backstory added to Matthew’s character, especially when the case he is working on forces him to go back and make contact with some of the people from the Brethren, including his mother.

What can sometimes make a crime novel a miss for me is when I don’t feel any kind of connection to the main characters, so I appreciated that Cleeves took so much effort to make Matthew someone I was immediately invested in.  I also loved that in addition to what was going on with Matthew’s family and former church, we also got to see a more intimate side of him as well, as there were domestic scenes between Matthew and his husband, Jonathan.  Jonathan is a great character as well, basically Matthew’s opposite in every way, so it was interesting watching the two of them interact and how their personalities complimented each other.  The author allows us a glimpse into the personal lives of other members of Matthew’s team as well, particularly Detective Jen Rafferty, who is constantly plagued by guilt that she rarely sees her kids because of work.  By the time I reached the end of the novel, I was fully invested in the entire team of detectives and was eager to get my hands on the next book so that I could continue my journey with them.

As I’m sure you’ve deduced by now, even though it’s a murder mystery, The Long Call is a very character driven story.  That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of plot to drive the story as well.  The murder case itself is actually quite riveting.  A man with an albatross tattoo has been found murdered on the beach and it’s up to Matthew and his team to figure out who he is, who murdered him, and why.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers so I’m not going to say too much about that beyond the fact that I loved that the story takes place in such a small town because it made the investigation take all kinds of awkward and potentially uncomfortable twists and turns as friends, neighbors, and even family had to be questioned and considered as possible suspects.  I also loved that Cleeves had several intricate yet seemingly unrelated threads going at the same time and then masterfully had them intertwine for a surprising yet satisfying conclusion.  She really kept me guessing as to who the murderer was all the way until the closing pages.

If a small town setting, a well drawn cast of characters, and a twisty murder mystery sound like they’re up your alley, I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of Ann Cleeves’ The Long Call.  It’s an immensely satisfying read.


The Long Call by Ann Cleeves―bestselling and award-winning author of the Vera and Shetland series, both of which are hit TV shows―is the first in the gripping new Two Rivers series set in North Devon and featuring Detective Inspector Matthew Venn.

It’s cause for rejoicing when British mystery writer Ann Cleeves gifts us with a new series. The Long Call is the first of her two-part Two Rivers series set in North Devon. The two rivers are the Taw and Torridge. As a teenager, Ann Cleeves lived in North Devon, and that familiarity infuses The Long Call with accuracy and a certain nostalgia, particularly since Detective Inspector Matthew Venn has to revisit his past in the course of the investigation.

The opening is so bleak.

The day they found the body on the shore, Matthew Venn was already haunted by thoughts of death and dying. He stood outside the North Devon Crematorium on the outskirts of Barnstaple, a bed of purple crocus spread like a pool at his feet, and he watched from a distance as the hearse carried his father to the chapel of rest.

Why isn’t the dead man’s son inside the chapel properly mourning his father alongside the congregation? Matthew moves close enough to the open doors to hear the words of the service. He recognizes Dennis Salter’s “passionate tone of a voice.” He pictures the organist “bent double over the keys, dressed entirely in black, hands like claws, a nose like a beak.” When Matthew was a child, “he’d been a member of the Barum Brethren by birth and commitment,” and his estrangement from the oppressive evangelical faith of his father impacts his detective work.

He’s flaked out against “the perimeter wall of the cemetery” when his constable, Ross May, calls him. Cleeves skewers characters like an entomologist pinning a butterfly. Rugby player Ross is a “pacer and a shouter, a pumper of iron” and a “team player except, it seemed when he was at work.” A damning portrait in two sentences. Ross tells his boss to get back because “someone’s found a body on the beach at Crow Point,” where Matthew lives.

When Matthew hit the marsh, the sky widened and his mood lifted, just as it always did. If he still believed in the Almighty, he’d have thought his response to the space and light a religious experience.

There’s no serenity in a death scene; the corpse “lay out on his back on the sand, and Matthew could see the stab wound in the chest, the bloodstained clothing.” He spots a “subtly drawn” tattoo of a bird on the man’s neck. Matthew speaks to the officer on the scene and learns that a dog-walker spotted the body and that the elderly couple that live on the beach are champing at the bit to learn all the details.

Matthew can see his house, Spindrift, in the distance. “A family home though they had no family yet.” It’s a sign of Matthew’s equanimity or phlegmatic nature that he bought a place on the cheap “because it was prone to flooding,” thus making it affordable. These details not only heighten our interest in the protagonist but also impact the investigation.

He’d left the window down and now he could hear the surf on the beach and the cry of a herring gull, the sound naturalists named the long call, the cry which always sounded to him like an inarticulate how of pain. These were the noises of home.

It’s difficult for Matthew to deal with a corpse figuratively on his front stoop when his home and his husband are his refuge. He spots Jonathan through the kitchen window and marvels at their relationship.

Jonathan, his husband and love of his life, the endless optimist, who had lifted him from depression and brought him to what felt like home. He still wasn’t sure what Jonathan had seen in him, how they could be so happy.

Love in all its complicated permutations—like the love of Maurice, father to Lucy, his disabled daughter—weaves thematically through The Long Call.

The detectives eventually learn the identity of the victim: Simon Walden, described as a “lost sheep” by his flatmate, Gaby Henry. Ilfracombe, Simon’s home, was once a “grand seaside resort,” but with the advent of cheap flights to sunny European locales, “the place was trying to find a new role.” The neighborhood is a volatile mix of gentrification, earnest charities, and down-on-their-luck addicts. Nothing is obvious about why Simon Walden was murdered, which discourages Matthew no end, especially since a young woman goes missing.

He felt the old insecurity biting at his heels, telling him he was useless, an imposter in the role of Senior Investigating Officer.

Matthew’s carefulness, patience, and humility supersede his insecurities. He may not be “flashy or showy,” but he knows his community well. The Long Call is a complicated mystery full of red herrings and tempting segues. At its core are hubris and dark, hidden desires. Unraveling the secrets of Simon Walden’s life and death takes Matthew Venn deep into long-suppressed childhood memories.

It has been 20 years since Ann Cleeves embarked on a new series, but The Long Call was worth the wait.


A clever police officer in Devon, England, confronts anger and sorrow from his early life.

DI Matthew Venn was brought up by parents who were members of the Barum Brethren, a small religious sect. When he renounced his religion, he was shunned by his parents and the sect members, became a police officer, and married the love of his life, Jonathan Church, a sunny optimist who manages the Woodyard Centre, a restored factory that’s home to a covey of counseling services, artists, and charitable organizations. Venn is called from his father’s funeral by PC Ross May to investigate a corpse on the beach near Venn’s home. It’s been stripped of all ID but an envelope bearing an address in a nearby town. DS Jen Rafferty and May find a house owned by Caroline, daughter of Woodyard trustee Christopher Preece, who shares it with Gaby Henry and a short-time lodger whom Gaby identifies as Simon Walden, the body on the beach. Caroline, who works for her father’s mental health charity, felt sorry for Walden, who was living with crushing guilt from a drunken driving accident that killed a young girl, and offered him a place to stay. To Venn’s dismay, many of the suspects are involved with the Woodyard Centre. Caroline, Gaby, and Walden all worked there, Caroline’s father’s charity is housed there, and her boyfriend, Edward, is a curate who sometimes helps out. Whenever Walden rode on a bus, he always sat next to Lucy Braddick, a woman with Down syndrome who attended classes at the Centre. Walden had plenty of money, even if they can’t find it, so why was he scrimping on lodgings and transportation? A call from Venn’s mother returns him to the orbit of the Brethren after another member’s daughter with Down syndrome vanishes from the home of sect leader Dennis Salter. The search continues even as Venn ponders recusing himself from a case that hits so close to home.

Fans missing detective Jimmy Perez (Wild Fire, 2018, etc.) will find a worthy successor in the equally complex Venn, who presides over an excellent mystery in this series kickoff.


Ann is the author of the books behind ITV's VERA, now in it's third series, and the BBC's SHETLAND, which will be aired in December 2012. Ann's DI Vera Stanhope series of books is set in Northumberland and features the well loved detective along with her partner Joe Ashworth. Ann's Shetland series bring us DI Jimmy Perez, investigating in the mysterious, dark, and beautiful Shetland Islands...

Ann grew up in the country, first in Herefordshire, then in North Devon. Her father was a village school teacher. After dropping out of university she took a number of temporary jobs - child care officer, women's refuge leader, bird observatory cook, auxiliary coastguard - before going back to college and training to be a probation officer.

While she was cooking in the Bird Observatory on Fair Isle, she met her husband Tim, a visiting ornithologist. She was attracted less by the ornithology than the bottle of malt whisky she saw in his rucksack when she showed him his room. Soon after they married, Tim was appointed as warden of Hilbre, a tiny tidal island nature reserve in the Dee Estuary. They were the only residents, there was no mains electricity or water and access to the mainland was at low tide across the shore. If a person's not heavily into birds - and Ann isn't - there's not much to do on Hilbre and that was when she started writing. Her first series of crime novels features the elderly naturalist, George Palmer-Jones. A couple of these books are seriously dreadful.

In 1987 Tim, Ann and their two daughters moved to Northumberland and the north east provides the inspiration for many of her subsequent titles. The girls have both taken up with Geordie lads. In the autumn of 2006, Ann and Tim finally achieved their ambition of moving back to the North East.

For the National Year of Reading, Ann was made reader-in-residence for three library authorities. It came as a revelation that it was possible to get paid for talking to readers about books! She went on to set up reading groups in prisons as part of the Inside Books project, became Cheltenham Literature Festival's first reader-in-residence and still enjoys working with libraries.
Ann Cleeves on stage at the Duncan Lawrie Dagger awards ceremony

Ann's short film for Border TV, Catching Birds, won a Royal Television Society Award. She has twice been short listed for a CWA Dagger Award - once for her short story The Plater, and the following year for the Dagger in the Library award.

In 2006 Ann Cleeves was the first winner of the prestigious Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award of the Crime Writers' Association for Raven Black, the first volume of her Shetland Quartet. The Duncan Lawrie Dagger replaces the CWA's Gold Dagger award, and the winner receives £20,000, making it the world's largest award for crime fiction.

Ann's success was announced at the 2006 Dagger Awards ceremony at the Waldorf Hilton, in London's Aldwych, on Thursday 29 June 2006. She said: "I have never won anything before in my life, so it was a complete shock - but lovely of course.. The evening was relatively relaxing because I'd lost my voice and knew that even if the unexpected happened there was physically no way I could utter a word. So I wouldn't have to give a speech. My editor was deputed to do it!"

The judging panel consisted of Geoff Bradley (non-voting Chair), Lyn Brown MP (a committee member on the London Libraries service), Frances Gray (an academic who writes about and teaches courses on modern crime fiction), Heather O'Donoghue (academic, linguist, crime fiction reviewer for The Times Literary Supplement, and keen reader of all crime fiction) and Barry Forshaw (reviewer and editor of Crime Time magazine).

Ann's books have been translated into sixteen languages. She's a bestseller in Scandinavia and Germany. Her novels sell widely and to critical acclaim in the United States. Raven Black was shortlisted for the Martin Beck award for best translated crime novel in Sweden in 200.


#What a pleasure it is to read such a well written character-driven mystery!

British author, Ann Cleeves, has brought to life a very fine new character in Senior Detective Matthew Venn. He is not your typical drunken, wise ass detective. Instead, Cleeves has given us a compassionate and introspective mind. Matthew is a senior investigator who is unsure of himself when leading his evening briefings with his team, unbeknownst to them, which is very endearing. Also to my liking is the way Matthew’s mind works when deducting clues from all his sources of information. Smartly done.

Matthew’s background is very nicely brought to light in the first of Cleeves’ new series. A body is found on a beach in North Devon, England, which brings him back to his former life as a member of a strict religious group called The Brethren and his estranged family. The book explores the power of the church and the blind faith of it’s followers. Also, there are ties to the place of his husband’s employment called The Woodyard a sanctuary for the disabled and mentally impaired. A big highlight for me is Matthew and Jonathan’s relationship. Matthew likes to be dressed in suits, whereas, Jonathan can always be found in shorts and sandals no matter what season of the year (very much like my household).

THE LONG CALL is a slow burn mystery peaking at the back end of the book. It is a very compelling read with multiple plots and characters. The plots are interwoven well and more complicated than expected. Down’s Syndrome is touched upon with characters Lucy and Christine in an insightful manner.

This is a refreshing novel and a series which I intend to continue. Highly recommend.

#The veteran crime writer Anne Cleeves begins a new series set in North Devon, between the 2 rivers, Taw and Torridge, where DI Matthew Venn, a gay man is his 40s married to his husband, Jonathan, is about to lead his first big murder inquiry when the dead body of a man is discovered on the sands, the victim has a tattoo of a albatross on his neck and has been stabbed. Venn is a local boy who grew up with his parents, part of a strict evangelical church, known as the Barum Brethren. His family and the church ostracised him when he renounced their faith, their God a creation in their own image, as hard, cold and inflexible as they are. He is feeling a sense of regret, his father has just died, and he never got to see him as his health deteriorated. Venn's partner, Jonathan is the head of The Woodyard, a community hub combining the arts, a cafe, and a day centre for learning disabled adults.

Within Barnstaple Police, Matt is primarily helped by DS Jen Rafferty, a woman who left her abusive husband in Liverpool, settling locally with her children, although she still misses city life. The other main cop, Ross May, is deemed to be the eyes and ears of DCI Joe Oldham, a fact that makes others more wary of him. The victim turns out to be Simon Walden, a former forces man, whose marriage had broken down after he killed a child whilst driving under the influence of drink. He had been working as a seasonal chef at a hotel, been homeless, with alcohol and depression issues. He had been provided with a home by Caroline Preece and artist, Gaby Henry. Attending the Day Centre at The Woodyard are Down's Syndrome women, Lucy Braddock and Chrissie Shapland. As connections between the murder and The Woodyard begin to emerge, Venn is plagued by his personal connections to the case which should mean he should not be part of the investigating team, whilst his past history with The Brethren proves to be invaluable to the case.

Anne Cleeves provides her trademark vibrant sense of location, I felt as if I was right there in North Devon. I have high hopes for this series, a lot of effort went into establishing and embedding the sense of place and the characters. This is not a fast paced read, it's a more character driven novel, I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of the learning disabled women, Lucy, Chrissie and Rosa Holsworthy and their central role in the mystery. For the most part, this book was a 4 star read, but somehow in the last quarter it became a 5 star read as the multiple threads begin to come together so skilfully. I found this an absorbing and engaging crime read, although it might possibly be a little too slow moving for some readers. I am eagerly looking forward to the next in the series! Many thanks to Pan Macmillan for an ARC.

The Long Call, Ann Cleeves