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Published January 22, 2020

ISSN: 1930-0018

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The Long Call
The Long Call
The Two Rivers Series Book #1
by Ann Cleeves

Hardcover (3 Sep 2019), 384 pages.
(Due out in paperback Jul 2020)
Publisher: Minotaur Books
ISBN-13: 9781250204448

From Ann Cleeves - bestselling and award-winning author of the Vera and Shetland series, both of which are hit TV shows - comes the first in a gripping new series.

In North Devon, where two rivers converge and run into the sea, Detective Matthew Venn stands outside the church as his estranged father's funeral takes place. On the day Matthew left the strict evangelical community he grew up in, he lost his family too.

Now, as he turns and walks away again, he receives a call from one of his team. A body has been found on the beach nearby: a man with a tattoo of an albatross on his neck, stabbed to death.

The case calls Matthew back to the people and places of his past, as deadly secrets hidden at their hearts are revealed, and his new life is forced into a collision course with the world he thought he'd left behind.

From Ann Cleeves, bestselling author of Vera and Shetland, beloved by readers and TV viewers alike, comes a spectacular new series, told with deep compassion and searing insight.

Chapter One

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. When the small group of mourners went inside, he moved closer. Nobody questioned his right to be there. He looked like a respectable man, a wearer of suits and sober ties, prematurely grey-haired and staid. Not a risk- taker or a rule-breaker. Matthew thought he could have been the celebrant, arriving a little late for the service. Or a diffident mourner, sheepish and apologetic, with his soft skin and sad eyes. A stranger seeing him for the first time would expect sympathy and comfortable words. In reality, Matthew was angry, but he'd learned long ago how to hide his emotions.

He checked his feet to make sure that no flowers had been crushed, then walked between the headstones towards the path. The door to the chapel of rest had been left open – it was a warm day for so early in the year – and he could hear the service underway inside. The rich and passionate tone of a voice he'd have known anywhere: Dennis Salter, rousing his troops, persuading them that Andrew Venn was in heaven and they might be sad for themselves, but they should not be for their brother. Then came the heavy breathing of an electric organ and the slow and deliberate notes of a hymn that Matthew recognized but couldn't name. He pictured Alice Wozencroft bent double over the keys, dressed entirely in black, hands like claws, a nose like a beak. As close to a crow as a woman could be. She'd been old even when he was a boy. Then he'd been a member of the Barum Brethren by birth and by commitment. His parents' joy and hope for the future. Now he was cast out. This was his father's funeral but he wasn't welcome.

The hymn ground to a dreary close and he turned away. Soon the service would be over. His father's coffin would slide behind the curtain and be turned to ash. The small group of mostly elderly women would gather in the sunshine to talk, then they might move on to his mother's house for tea and home-baked cakes. Tiny glasses of sweet sherry. His name might be mentioned in passing. These people would understand that a bereaved woman would be missing her only son at a time like this, though, despite their sympathy, there would be no question that he should have been invited. It had been his choice to leave the Brethren. Matthew stood for a moment, thinking that lack of faith had little to do with choice. Doubt was a cancer that grew unbidden. He pushed away the guilt that still lurked somewhere in his body, physical, like toothache. The root of his anger. And the tattered remnant of belief that made him think that his father, the spirit or soul of his father, might be somewhere watching him, still disappointed in his son. Then he walked quickly back to his car.

The call came when he was nearly there. He leaned against the perimeter wall of the cemetery, his face to the light. It was Ross May, his colleague, his constable. Ross's energy exhausted him. Matthew could feel it fizzing through the ether and into his ear. Ross was a pacer and a shouter, a pumper of iron. A member of the local running club and a rugby player. A team player except, it seemed, when he was at work.

'Boss. Where are you?'

'Out and about.' Matthew was in no mood to discuss his whereabouts with Ross May.

'Can you get back here? Someone's found a body on the beach at Crow Point. Your neck of the woods.'

Matthew thought about that. 'Accident?' It happened, even in still weather. The tides there were treacherous. 'Someone out in a small boat and washed ashore?'

'No. The clothes are dry and they found him above the tideline. And there's a stab wound.' Matthew had only heard Ross this excited before in the run up to an important match.

Full Excerpt

Excerpted from The Long Call by Ann Cleeves. Copyright © 2019 by Ann Cleeves. Excerpted by permission of Minotaur Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. The Long Call opens with a scene of Matthew Venn standing outside his father's funeral service, mulling over why he is watching from the outside rather than mourning with family and friends inside. How do the relationships between parents and children—Matthew and his mother, Lucy and Maurice, Caroline and Christopher—affect the events of the novel?
  2. When Jen and Ross first see Simon's room, Jen says "it could be a monk's room," and Ross responds: "Or a prison cell." As you learn who Simon was, throughout The Long Call, which of these comparisons doyou find most accurate?
  3. Matthew goes to examine Simon's body on the beach, and thinks: "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 howl of pain. These were the noises of home." Is it significant that the sounds that remind Matthew of home also remind him of pain? How does this relationship between homeand pain relate to his past? To his present?
  4. The Woodyard looms large in the novel—both as a setting that brings many of its characters together and as the site of the event that sets everything off. Do you think it's meaningful that the events in The Long Call revolve around a community center? How so?
  5. Jen is surrounded by men at her job, including, of course, her boss DI Matthew Venn. Does she get treated differently from Ross because she's a woman?
  6. Religion—whether it be the Brethren or Caz's beliefs—is important in this story. How do the beliefs of different characters affect their choices?
  7. Birds come into play more than once in The Long Call, for example the titular "long call" that refers to herring gulls, and the albatross tattoo on Simon's neck. What might these references symbolize? Are they connected?
  8. Lucy is a strong and sympathetic character throughout The Long Call, and in the end her strength becomes incredibly important. Do any characters in the novel to underestimate her? If so, who and how?
  9. Who did you feel is ultimately responsible for Simon's death? How did the culture of the surrounding area enable the murder to happen and the murderer to (initially) stay hidden?
  10. For readers who have followed along with the other detectives Ann Cleeves has created—in particular Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez—how does Matthew Venn and his method differ from theirs? Could you also draw comparisons with these other two distinctive protagonists?


Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Minotaur Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Ann Cleeves, the author of four successful mystery series, has started a new one with her latest book, The Long Call, set to be the first in the Two Rivers series.

Print Article Publisher's View   

Penning a great murder mystery seems like it would be particularly challenging. The story often fits into a standard template: there's a murder; someone investigates; clues and red herrings are introduced; and finally the person at fault is revealed. An author must find a way to fit his or her plot within that framework, however, while still managing to make it fresh. Ann Cleeves does this perfectly in her latest novel, The Long Call, pairing a memorable protagonist with a baffling crime that is complex yet believable.

Detective Inspector Matthew Venn, the book's central character, is attending the funeral of his estranged father when he's called to the scene of a murder near where he grew up in North Devon, England. To his shock, Venn finds that the crime happened a stone's throw from the house that he owns with his husband, Jonathan, the director of a daycare center for individuals with learning disabilities. As Venn and his team investigate, they uncover perplexing clues, scandalous secrets and bizarre coincidences that ultimately allow them to identify the killer.

Cleeves' characters across her novels unvaryingly are well written (See Beyond the Book). The Long Call is no exception; the cast is large, but each character stands alone, fully formed. The star of the novel, though, is undeniably the quiet, introspective and incredibly perceptive D.I. Venn. He's the type of person who makes coffee for his staff because "he'd never wanted to be the kind of boss who demanded that his minions wait on him." When a junior detective mentions thinking their victim was seeking society, Venn gives her theory consideration. "He'd been viewing this from his own perspective," he thinks to himself, and comes to the realization that he personally "needed solitude far more than he needed company, but not everyone was like him." Grateful for the insight, he compliments the woman publicly on her point of view. He's complicated, scarred by being banished in his youth by his evangelical parents and community for both his beliefs and his lifestyle, but he's also sympathetic and sure to appeal to Cleeves' fans.

A character-driven murder mystery is all well and good, but unless the mystery itself works on all levels, the book will fail. Over her long writing career Cleeves has mastered the art of creating the impeccable crime novel, and The Long Call is a real stand-out. The plot feels like a jigsaw puzzle: you keep turning over random pieces but can't see how they can possibly fit together into a complete picture. Then, suddenly, one part of the puzzle fits into place, then another, and the rest combines at a breakneck pace into an unexpected yet not completely shocking whole. So too with this particular storyline. Throughout most of the novel readers aren't really sure where the narrative will end up – how the clues, events and characters' actions are related – but the conclusion is ultimately very satisfying.

While The Long Call has a somewhat old-fashioned feel to it – it reads very much like a classic Agatha Christie whodunnit, easy to read and full of suspense – it's still surprisingly relevant. In an interview Cleeves stated:

Today we're looking for more than a puzzle, I think, and crime fiction takes itself more seriously. We're exploring violence, grief, big subjects, even if we're doing it in an entertaining way.

She completely succeeds in achieving this goal; in this novel, for example, she addresses social issues such as same-sex marriage, religious fundamentalism, and society's treatment of people with mental disabilities.

Readers should be aware that this isn't a book in which heart-stopping revelations come every other page. The author instead takes her time carefully constructing the stage for the final revelation and meticulously developing her characters into believable actors. (Unsurprisingly, Silverprint Pictures has optioned this new series for a TV drama. Silverprint has also produced five seasons of TV shows based on Cleeves' Shetland Island series, and their production of her Vera Stanhope series has just been renewed for a 10th season.) The Long Call is one of the best mysteries I've read in a long time, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves a good whodunnit; its examination of many topical issues also makes it a great novel for book group discussion.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

As usual with this talented author, the key is relationships, and the murder is an occasion to examine them and then, finally, to expose what rips them apart.

Kirkus Reviews
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.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Cleeves makes good use of Devon local color and populates this subtle, expertly paced mystery with distinctive supporting characters.

Library Journal (starred review)
The plotting is complex and intriguing, the location comes alive, and the resolution of Cleeves lamenting the end of the Shetland series will find much to love in her new characters and setting.

Author Blurb David Baldacci, #1 New York Times bestselling author
As a huge fan of both the Shetland and Vera series of books, I had high expectations for Cleeves' latest. She easily exceeded those expectations with The Long Call. Matthew Venn is a keeper. A stunning debut for Cleeves' latest crimefighter.

Author Blurb Sara Paretsky, New York Times bestselling author of the V.I. Warshawski series
Brilliant, thoughtful and deeply engaging.

Author Blurb Hank Phillippi Ryan, Nationally bestselling and award-winning author of The Murder List
Ann Cleeves is a phenomenal talent. With unfailing skill, gorgeous setting, flawless plot and seamless voice, she brilliantly conjures new worlds in crime fiction. Her instantly iconic Detective Matthew Venn is a treasure?and we will all follow him anywhere.

Write your own review

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Victoria
So-so mystery title
Thanks to Minotaur Books and Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read this upcoming mystery. Overall, it fell flat for me. I didn’t find the mystery story that compelling and yet still felt it was wrapped up rather quickly towards the end. The main character is a detective and I hear this is going to be a new series. I’m not that interested though in reading more about him. I found him rather irritating. Well, all books are not made for all. I’m sure readers of British mystery series may like it.

Print Article Publisher's View  

Ann Cleeves' Five Mystery Series

Ann Cleeves (b. 1954) is best known for her mystery novels set in rural Britain, which have sold over five million copies in the thirty-plus years she's been writing. Cleeves has penned four series before releasing The Long Call, the first entry in her new Two Rivers series:

Bird in the HandGeorge and Molly Palmer-Jones (8 books)
Published from 1986 to 1996, these books follow George Palmer-Jones and his wife Molly as they travel throughout the English countryside, birding and solving crimes. The first entry in this series, A Bird in the Hand, was inspired by the author's personal experience. She met her husband, ornithologist Tim, while she was working as a cook in the Bird Observatory on Fair Isle. They quickly married. Soon after, according to the author's website, "Tim was appointed as warden of Hilbre, a tiny tidal island nature reserve in the Dee Estuary. They were the only residents…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." It's therefore not a coincidence that George is a naturalist and the first dead body he investigates is a murdered bird watcher. Overall these mysteries sold reasonably well, but many fans feel they lack depth.

Inspector Ramsay (6 books)
In 1987 Cleeves moved with her husband and two daughters to Northumberland, which became the setting for many of her subsequent titles. Her next mystery series began with the publication of A Lesson in Dying (1990), and focused on the investigations of Inspector Stephen Ramsay. More of a traditional police procedural than Cleeves' previous series, this set of books is relatively well regarded in comparison to her first, but it is also thought to be of a lesser quality than the author's later endeavors. The last book in the series was published in 1997.

the crow trapVera Stanhope (8 books)
Vera Stanhope may be Cleeves' best-known and most beloved character. Introduced in the 1999 mystery The Crow Trap, Vera is described as "cranky, driven, overweight and middle-aged," and compared to a female Colombo. The detective was something of a spontaneous creation on the part of the author. She was stuck on writing a funeral scene for a murder victim when she was struck by the idea of having a woman detective burst through the door of the chapel and take charge of the situation. "And there [Vera] was," the author has recounted in an interview with Radio Times, "like a bag lady instead of a detective." The book was meant to be a stand-alone novel, but Cleeves liked the Detective Chief Inspector she'd created so much she decided to bring her back, in part because she was annoyed with other authors who only wrote about young, fit, attractive police women. In 2011 the series was optioned for a BBC TV show starring Brenda Blethyn, and it has recently been renewed for a 10th season. The most recent Vera Stanhope novel was published in 2017.

Raven BlackShetland Island (9 books)
Cleeves introduced Inspector Jimmy Perez in the 2006 novel, Raven Black, a complex murder mystery involving the death of a young girl. The book won the inaugural Duncan Lawrie Dagger, the largest crime-writing prize in the world, and the series is widely thought to be the author's best writing to-date. The main character was more planned than Vera. As Cleeves has written, "I wanted a central character who belonged in the islands, but also didn't quite belong. Although Jimmy is a Shetlander, he's also a bit of an outsider. He comes from Fair Isle — the most remote inhabited Shetland island — and I gave him a Spanish name and heritage. There was an Armada ship wrecked off the isle and sixty survivors climbed ashore, so it's not impossible that one of them married a local lass." Like the Vera series, the books were dramatized for a BBC TV show, which ran from 2013 to 2019 and featured actor Douglas Henshall. The book series ended with 2018's Wild Fire.

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