THE LONG CALL BY Ann Cleeves (Macmillan, $A29.99)
British crime writing veteran Ann Cleeves is best known as the author of the books behind the highly popular television shows Vera and Shetland.
In The Long Call she takes a break from her usual characters and heads to the Two Rivers region of North Devon and a new detective, Matthew Venn. Venn grew up in the region, but left when he had a falling out with his strict evangelical family and the community that they were part of. Now he has returned with his husband, Jonathan, and is the Detective Inspector at the local Barnstaple police station. When the murdered body of a man is found on the beach near his new home, Venn is put in charge of the case.
The man is quickly identified as an alcoholic former prisoner who is trying to get his life back in order. He had been helping out at the Woodyard, a local day centre for adults with learning disabilities and a craft/art centre. The Woodyard is managed by Jonathan, and as the case progresses and more links between the murder and the community centre are revealed, Venn wonders whether he should take himself off the case. The DCI in charge of the station, however, is lazy and does not want to be involved and Venn must deal with the mounting pressure by himself. When another crime occurs, Venn realises that he must quickly identify the killer before others are hurt.
The Long Call is a very well-constructed murder mystery that moves along at an engaging pace. Cleeves is good at planting red herrings and hidden clues, and as the detectives uncover details about the victim’s life the crime takes on a different perspective. A kidnapping adds tension to the story and the suspense gradually builds as the plot moves towards the surprising outcome.
As usual, a real strength of the book is Cleeves’ ability to create credible, interesting characters. Venn is a smart, astute detective, who, unlike most fictional detectives, is not an alcoholic or a lone wolf, but a well-adjusted team leader who is in a healthy relationship. The other detectives, particularly the vibrant, witty Jen, are well crafted and complex. Central to the story are two girls with Down syndrome and Cleeves does a marvelous job of fleshing out their characters in a way which is not condescending, but realistic and poignant.
As with her other novels, Cleeves is also very good at depicting the community, both physically and socially, in which the crime has taken place and bringing it alive for readers.
I am not a huge fan of traditional British police mysteries, but I really enjoyed this one. The plotting was clever, there was enough happening to keep it interesting and Cleeves tackled some serious issues in a mature and engaging manner. A couple of time I thought that I worked out who did and why, but I was way off! A superb murder mystery.
Four and a half stars out of five!
The Long Call is released in Australia and the United Kingdom in late August/early September.
Thanks to the Canberra Weekly and Pan Macmillan for an advanced copy of the book.