This book is the first in Ann Cleeves’s new Three Rivers series. Mystery fans know Cleeves from the Vera Stanhope and Shetland books and TV series, and it was exciting to discover her brand-new character, Detective Inspector Matthew Venn. He’s an unassuming, introverted sort who’s pulled into a murder case on the day of his estranged father’s funeral. A body is found on the beach not far from the home Matthew shares with his husband Jonathan. The victim volunteered at the community center Jonathan runs, and soon the case begins to involve people from Matthew’s present and his past.
Cleeves is a master at making the setting an integral part of her stories. As with the Shetland Islands in the Shetland books, or Northumberland in Vera Stanhope, she has taken North Devon and brought it to life around the characters in this story. Ms. Cleeves helpfully provides a map of the area in the book, and photos I found online show an absolutely stunning coastal area, which the British have designated an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.” Even the title of the book references a coastal bird: a “long call” is the cry of the herring gull.
Her characters are equally interesting. Matthew is a rule follower, determined to solve the case but willing to step aside due to his conflict of interest. His Detective Sergeant, Jen Rafferty, is a single mom, prickly and defensive, with great instincts for solving the case, while his Detective Constable is a young up-and-comer eager to make a splash in the department. Even the suspects are well-drawn, with complex potential motives.
If you’ve watched Shetland or Vera, it’s very easy to imagine The Long Call as a television event too. It has all the elements: the dramatic countryside, engaging characters, tricky plot. A great book for a chilly evening!