BookBrowse Reviews The Long Call by Ann Cleeves

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The Long Call

The Two Rivers Series Book #1

by Ann Cleeves

The Long Call by Ann Cleeves X
The Long Call by Ann Cleeves
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2019, 384 pages

    Paperback:
    Jul 2020, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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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.

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

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in October 2019, and has been updated for the August 2020 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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