Confession time: as much as I love the BBC series “Vera,” I have never read any of the books by Ann Cleeves that the show is based on.
Recently, I read that one of my favorite authors, Louise Penny, considers Cleeves to be one of her favorite writers. It was daunting to think about starting at the beginning of a series, so I was thrilled to get my hands on Cleeves’ “The Long Call,” the first in a new series.
Detective Matthew Venn and husband Jonathan have moved to North Devon, an English coastal town where Matthew grew up. The book begins with Matthew observing his father’s funeral from afar, knowing he is not welcome. He was disowned as a teen when he denounced the beliefs of the Barum Brethren, a strict religious sect.
During the funeral, a body is found on a local beach, and Matthew is given his first major crime to lead the local force in solving. It is the body of a homeless man, an alcoholic who had been struggling to get his life back in order. He was a volunteer at the Woodyard Center, run by a local church and community leaders. To complicate matters, Jonathan is the center’s director.
But the murder is not the only thing Matthew and his team have to deal with—several of the regulars at the center are girls with Down syndrome, and one of them goes missing.
Cleeves is a master at police procedurals, at painting realistic pictures of the countryside and creating realistic characters with a lot of depth. Louise Penny has said her goal is to make her readers feel they are walking beside her books’ characters. That might be why she loves books by Cleeves, who does the very same thing. I was walking the village of Barnstaple between the rivers Taw and Torridge, right alongside Matthew.
Although the well-groomed and introverted Matthew is intelligent, he’s also somewhat unsure of his abilities. His team includes single mother Jen, who is trying to be a policewoman and a party girl, and overconfident Ross. Together, they solve a complicated case, not without some fumbles, but they become more of a team by the time the case is solved. Honestly, the case is very complex, and I had no idea who the guilty party was until close to the end of the book.
Cleeves also does a masterful job of tackling important social issues.
The “Two Rivers” series is off to a grand start, and I’m now ready to tackle the books of the “Vera” and “Shetland” series.