Cover Image: The Long Call (Two Rivers #1)

The Long Call (Two Rivers #1)

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My first book by Ann Cleeves (I've been wanted to read her for ages).  With a wide cast of characters, this was a slow burn that kept me guessing and thinking about the connections of the different players here.

Thanks for the opportunity to review.
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For the past two weeks, I’ve been reading Ann Cleeves’s The Long Call, first in a new series, “Two Rivers.” It wasn’t lurid, or tense, or anxious; it was well-written, methodical in its movement towards revelations of truth and justice and, for the most part, with a few quibbles, I loved reading it … when I could immerse myself in it.   

Long_CallIn North Devon, where two rivers meet, the Taw and Torridge, which then flows into the Atlantic, DI Matthew Venn watches his father’s funeral from afar. Matthew is a case of “you can’t go home again.” Rejected by the religious cult his parents belonged to, the Barum Brethren, Matthew is doubly “condemned”: by his rejection of the Brethren’s precepts and because of his sexual orientation. He lives nearby with his husband, Jonathan Church, but never interacted with his father, or still-living mother, not since he left and became a policeman. Not far from Andrew Venn’s laying-to-rest, a body washes up on the shore, Simon Walden’s body, a chef who volunteered at the Woodyard Centre, a community arts and education hub, where local parents send their Down’s syndrome grown children and which Matthew’s husband, Jonathan, manages. The dead man, Simon, sports an albatross tattoo on his neck, which makes his identification easy and obvious, sparing us the John Doe scenario and making brilliant allusion to Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. The novel focusses on Matthew and his team members, DS Jen Rafferty and Constable Ross May, as they unearth Simon’s story and bring his murderer to light. Into the mix, Cleeves throws the various characters who interacted with Simon and the visitors, students, employees, and volunteers of the Woodyard Centre, including Jonathan Church.

There were two reasons I loved The Long Call and the first one is Matthew Venn. Matthew is straitlaced, always in a neat, pressed suit and tie, punctilious, logical, analytical, and disciplined. He never raises his voice to his team, keeps order and exercises authority with a careful, knowledgeable, diplomatic hand. But he suffers from uncertainty, a lack of self-worth, especially when he wonders at his husband’s beauty and goodness, and often doubts his ability to solve his case. He is deeply, consciously, conscientiously, and intelligently ethical. He is moral, wondering if his case, given Jonathan’s connection to the Woodyard, is a conflict of interest. I wondered if the free-spirited Jonathan had any love or loyalty towards him. I also found it hard, and never quite managed, to warm to Jonathan who, despite cooking for Matthew, always seemed to be lolling with friends, drinking too much, spending too long at the pub. I wanted Jonathan to “stand at moral attention” (to quote F. Scott) to honour Matthew’s wonderfulness. I went so far as to think Matthew might be better off without Jonathan … but he seemed to love him so. And I’m willing to live with glamor-boy to spend more time with stiff-upper-lip Matthew in Cleeves’s next installment (and I hope there will be a next one).

At times, I thought Matthew might have a spot of the old OCD when he grew annoyed with Jonathan’s mess, or anticipated one, which, in fairness to Jonathan, he neatened, but I only loved Matthew the more for it. There were also quite a few moments where Matthew near lost his temper out of a sense of moral outrage at injustice, or cruelty … and again, this made me love him more. When he was peevish with Jonathan, totally justified. Sorry, Jonathan.

The second reason I loved The Long Call was the smooth, steady way in which Cleeves had the murder investigation reveal the victim’s motives and character, Simon Walden’s. At first, according to people who knew him at the Woodyard, Simon was a homeless, alcoholic drifter who found solace and purpose at the Woodyard and ended up rooming with its social worker, Caroline Preece, and her roommate, Gaby Henry, the centre’s artist-in-residence. But Matthew and Jen’s (she’s a beautifully irrepressible character herself) investigations reveal a man wracked with moral guilt, hence, the albatross, and on a profound personal campaign for redemption and restitution. When I started the novel, I was curious about Simon Walden and his albatross tattoo; by the end of it, I mourned him, a testament to Cleeves’s ability to build our sympathy.

My quibble with Cleeves’s novel has to do with her portrayal of the neuro-diverse characters who are part of the Woodyard and are embroiled, through no fault of their own, in Matthew’s investigation. They are adults and Cleeves does endow them with unique, engaging personalities. I loved her portrayal of their parents, whose love for their children was moving, pure, profound. I was puzzled and disappointed, however, in Cleeves’s frequent references to their “learning disabilities”. In their sensitive, overall portrayal, however, this is a quibble. What stands out in the end is, no matter how flawed, or too perfect in Matthew’s case, the characters are (Jen and Ross are something else and you know how I feel about Jonathan ) the moral triumphs. With Miss Austen, we would highly recommend this first book in Cleeves’s series and found within it, “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.

Ann Cleeves’s The Long Call is published by Minotaur Books. It was published in October 2019 and may be found at your preferred vendors. I received an e-galley from Minotaur Books, via Netgalley.
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I first encountered the work of Ann Cleeves when I read the first novel in her Shetland series some years ago. I've been a fan ever since. When I learned that her latest book was the beginning of yet another series, I couldn't wait to read it.

The protagonist this time out is quite unlike other police inspectors in that he is soft-spoken, solitary, introspective, fastidious, and... he is married to another man. He reminded be a little of P.D. James' Inspector Dalgliesh, except for the fact that Venn is gay. His relationship with his parents was a troubled one, and he carries that around as baggage.

Matthew Venn's team were an interesting bunch, especially the flamboyant DS Jen Rafferty who is at constant battle with her work/life imbalance. Escaped from an abusive marriage, Jen is the single mother of two teenagers. She is lonely for male companionship. Because she married young, she is now making up for lost time. Matthew disapproves of her life choices - yet feels she is the best detective he has ever worked with.

Also prominently featured was DC Ross May. In his late twenties, Ross is competitive, brash, and happily married, Ross is the DCI's golden boy so Matthew Venn feels he must tread carefully around him.

The setting of "The Long Call" was well described. Both the scenes on the coast, where Matthew Venn lives and where the murder took place, as well as the scenes at the police station in Barnstable.

The ending was satisfactory, though not completely surprising.

Altogether, "The Long Call" was a slow burn. An engaging police procedural which should appeal to fans of the genre. Recommended!
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I love books that create a setting that becomes a character in itself. Ann Cleeves is no stranger to this kind of literary device, having weaved the same haunting landscape magic into her series featuring Det. Vera Stanhope, and of course, Shetland. Like many, I eagerly anticipated this new series featuring Det. Matthew Venn in North Devon and I wasn’t disappointed. The novel can afford a deliciously slow burn because the characters and setting are so wonderfully rendered you are mesmerized right from the start. Ann Cleeves is a master in her craft and this book was yet another opportunity for her to showcase that talent.  She makes it look easy, but it isn’t.  

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review
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As the critically acclaimed television series based on her wildly popular Vera and Shetland novels continue to air around the world, author Ann Cleeves, 64, launches Two Rivers, a new series of novels in a new scenic locale and with a dapper new detective. The internationally bestselling author has been dubbed the queen of ‘village noir’ and in 2017 was presented the Diamond Dagger of the Crime Writers’ Association, the highest honour in British crime writing. On the eve of publication for The Long Call, the debut book of her first new series in over a decade, I spoke with the author at her home in Northumberland about community, belonging, and becoming an ‘overnight’ success after twenty years....
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The Long Call by Ann Cleeves is the 1st in the Two Rivers Detective series.

First, let me thank NetGalley, the publisher MacMillan, and of course the author, for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Series Background:   

The location is North Devon, where the rivers Taw and Torridge merge with the Atlantic.  DI Matthew Venn has returned to the area where he grew up,  where he walked away from the strict evangelical church, and away from his family.  He and his husband Jon have bought a small cottage on the marsh, and Matthew is now working for the local police.  Jon is the administrator of Woodyard Centre, where he created a space for artists, and a space for those with learning disabilities.  A space where everyone could mingle, and perhaps learn from each other. 

Matthew's team consists of DC Ross May, a rather egotistical but energetic man who is a personal friend of Matthew's boss, and DS Jenn Rafferty, rather too spirited and fun-loving for Matthew's taste, but the best detective he'd ever worked with.  Matthew's boss, DCI Oldham, is due to retire soon, is rather lazy, and prefers to drink and watch rugby, rather than run the precinct.

My Synopsis:   (No major reveals, but if concerned, skip to My Opinions)

When the body of Simon Walden turns up on the beach not far from Matthew's home,  he is concerned that he may have to excuse himself from the case.  Apparently Walden had volunteered in the kitchen at Woodyard, and although Jon did not know him well, Matthew thought there may be a conflict of interest.  His boss disagreed, so Matthew carries on.  It turns out that the dead man had many secrets.

When Chrissie Southcombe, a young woman with Down's Syndrome goes missing as she was leaving Woodyard, it is difficult not to draw the conclusion that the two cases are tied together.  

Everything is circling back to Woodyard, and both Matthew and Jon are concerned as to where this may lead.  Matthew is losing confidence in his abilities, and having to deal with the church elders and his own mother, are proving stressful.  He is seriously wishing he had been allowed to turn away from this case.

My Opinions:  

The author is no stranger to writing books, and in particular books in a series, and it quickly becomes evident in this first book. 

The characters quickly grew on me.  I loved the relationship between the detectives, as well as the relationship between Matthew and Jon, seemingly opposites.  The plot was interesting, and the twist was rather huge - to me anyway.  I loved it.

The author dealt with a number of sensitive topics including abuse, mental illness, disabilities, and religion.  She handled each with grace. 

I did, however, sometimes think that the book slowed to a crawl.  This did not stop me from reading, though.

Definitely recommend this to mystery lovers everywhere.
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The author did a great job with her portrayal of Down Syndrome individuals showing their genuine affection for all especially those blessed to care for them whether as a family member or in a facility designed to meet their needs.I was so impressed with her ability to show how including them is our society in every way is wonderful. Their uniqueness makes them so precious to all who have had  the opportunity to be in their presence . The mystery component of the book is done well also. Things are not what they appear to be and the meticulous police work of Matthew finally solves a complex mystery. The book deals also with gay / abusive / single parent /sexual relationships, religious cults , grief, secrets, and not fitting the mold of society. Lots going on .
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This is the first instalment in a new series entitled Two Rivers; it is set in North Devon where the Taw and Torridge rivers converge and empty into the Atlantic. 

Detective Inspector Matthew Venn becomes the lead investigator when the body of a man is found on the beach.  The victim of the fatal stabbing is identified as Simon Walden, a volunteer at Woodyard, a multi-use community centre managed by Jonathan Church, Matthew’s husband.  Matthew is assisted by DS Jen Rafferty and DC Ross May who end up interviewing several people, all of whom have some connection to Woodyard.  The investigation is complicated by people keeping secrets and the occurrence of other crimes.  

Since this is the first in a planned series, character development is paramount.  Matthew grew up in North Devon but is estranged from his family because he rejected the beliefs of the Christian fundamentalist community to which they belong.  His youthful devotion to the church has been replaced by his love for his partner whose surname is, appropriately, Church.  He trusts Jonathan “with a certainty that was almost religious.”  Though Matthew is competent and determined, he lacks self-confidence:  “The fear of looking foolish had haunted him all his adult life” and “He felt the weight of responsibility for all that was going on and worried again that he might be the wrong man for the job.”  

The two other members of the investigative team, Jen and Ross, are also developed to some extent. 
It is Matthew’s opinions of them that are interesting.  For example, though he approves of her work, he “disapproved of Jen, his sergeant.  She’d had her kids too young, had bailed out of an abusive marriage and left behind her Northern roots . . . Now her kids were teens and she was enjoying the life that she’d missed out on in her twenties.   Hard partying and hard drinking; if she’d been a man, you’d have called her predatory.”  When it comes to his constable, who is also the DCI’s “golden boy,” Matthew also has a negative reaction:  “Ross’s energy exhausted him . . . Ross was a pacer and a shouter . . . A team player except, it seemed, when he was at work.”

Besides the murder case, the focus of the novel seems to be parent- child relationships.  Matthew has virtually no contact with his parents, and Jonathan is “nervous [and] jittery” around his parents who are “wary” around their son.  We see Jen’s relationship with her teenaged children, and Ross discusses his relationship with a surrogate dad.  There are several parent-child relationships that become relevant during the investigation:  Maurice Braddick and his daughter Lucy; Christopher Preece and his daughter Caroline; Susan Shapland and her daughter Chrissie; and Ron and Janet Holsworthy and their daughter Rosa.  

The plot is that of a typical police procedural.  It begins slowly but then tension is ramped up when others are placed in danger.  I did have an issue with how Matthew suddenly goes to visit a witness, one who helps unravel the case.  One minute he is pondering “the timeline since the opening of the Woodyard to look for a trigger” and then he rushes off to speak to someone.  There is no explanation of his thought process.  Are we just supposed to be impressed with his deductive skills?  The identity of Simon’s murderer is also somewhat unconvincing, considering the killer’s beliefs and assertion that “’Simon was a good man.’”  Are Jen’s falling for “a man’s blackmail or flattery” and Ross’s inability to refuse doing favours for a superior supposed to make the killer’s motivation more palatable?

There is little to distinguish this book from a standard murder mystery.  The element that might entice me to read the next instalment is the characters and the relationships among those characters.  Jonathan and Matthew are a couple but a description of their shadow as “one person, misshapen and weird” seems more than just an indication of their being polar opposites, especially when Matthew seems so insecure in his marriage that he worries that showing up late for a dinner “might be one step too far.”  Can Matthew become less judgemental of Jen?  Can Ross become less of a sycophant and more of a team player?  

I’ve enjoyed Ann Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope and Shetland mysteries, so I will be interested to see how this series develops and compares.  

Note:  I received a digital galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.
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DI Matthew Venn is convinced that there's a link between the fatal stabbing of a man found on a beach and the disappearance of a woman from the Woodyard, a local community and day centre. His suspicions seem to be confirmed when another woman goes missing during a shopping trip with her father; surely, the fact that both have Down's syndrome isn't a mere coincidence. More and more clues point in the direction of the Woodyard, and Venn may be headed for a conflict of interest, since the centre is run by his own husband... 

How refreshing to read about a detective who, although emotionally damaged, is a happily married gay man, solid, reliable, relatively well adjusted (save for periods of low confidence and barely contained anger at minor annoyances), with no obvious addictive behaviour on display! I also liked that we're shown people with disabilities portrayed as individuals, with their own at times contradictory personalities, having conversations, interacting with their families and the community, instead of serving as mere passive props.

As always, Ann Cleeves sets her story firmly in a very specific locale — here the North Devon coast — and introduces us to an extensive cast of characters. While her reliance on dialogue allows us to get intimately acquainted with them, it can tend to overshadow the plot's action scenes, which appear somewhat stilted. Although I enjoyed the major part of the novel, I found the conclusion a bit rushed, vague, and ultimately unsatisfactory. Still, I think this novel, the first in a new series, will please Cleeves fans.
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The Long Call is book one in the Two Rivers series by Ann Cleeves.  It is a great start to a new crime/mystery series that I will continue with.
I am a huge fan of British mysteries and this did not let me down.  In the spirit of her Vera and Shetland series we are transported this time to Barnstaple, North Devon between the 2 rivers, Taw and Torridge. I enjoyed a few weeks in North Devon and knew some  of the places described in the story.

In North Devon, where two rivers converge and run into the sea, Detective Matthew Venn stands outside the church as his father’s funeral takes place. Once loved and cherished, 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 into the community he thought he had left behind, as deadly secrets hidden at its heart are revealed, and his past and present collide.

In true Ann Cleeves format the story is more character driven, moving at a steady pace and all coming to a climax closer to the end. I enjoyed the inclusion of the learning disabled women, Lucy, Chrissie and Rosa Holsworthy and their central role in the mystery as well as touching on the difficulty of being different in a small village.  Kept me guessing till the very end, I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good mystery.

I requested and received an Advanced Readers Copy from the publisher and NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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I want to start by thanking NetGalley for my eARC for my honest review. I somehow am often lucky to find books with wonderful strong characters. Ann Cleeves writes wonderful mysteries with stong characters, this one not failing in that pursuit. It may take a few more editions for Detective Matthew Venn to become yet another well loved fixture. Looking forward to the next .
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The Long Call is the beginning of a great new series by Ann Cleeves who is a master story teller.

The book takes place in  North  Devon featuring Matthew Venn DI and his team of of two detectives that shine as brightly as Matthew.

I loved Matthew, he  deeply cares, he is at times unsure of himself but always determined.

When the body is found on the beach, the story begins and never lets up.  Ann Cleeves has written a very clever new series and I look forward to following Matthew Venn in future books !!  Can't wait !!

Thanks to Net Galley and Pan McMilian for the introducing me to the new series Two Rivers.
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The long call is a term used to describe the cry of the herring gull although to main character DI Matthew Venn, it always sounds more like someone howling in pain. This observation gives you immediate insight into Venn, a smart & tightly wound copper in North Devon.

There are a few things you need to know about Venn as they inform his character & how he conducts himself. His mother & father belonged to a strict evangelical community & he did too until the day he no longer believed in God. And it turns out when you’re banished from the church, you also lose your family in the deal. Years went by & Venn ended up living in the area so his family were aware he became a cop. Then he married another man….I’m guessing Mom & Dad probably didn’t see that coming. 

Needless to say they’ve had zero contact & as the book opens, we find Venn standing outside his father’s funeral service after reading about it in the paper. He doesn’t know it yet but he’s about to begin a murder investigation that will bring his life full circle.  

A man’s body has just been found on the beach at Crow Point. Eventually he’s identified as a recovering alcoholic who volunteered at the Woodyard, a multi-use community centre run by Venn’s husband Jon. 

It’s a place we become very familiar with as more characters join the story. In alternate chapters we meet a counsellor, an art teacher, a philanthropist, a priest & some of the people who attend programs there. All of them have ties to the Woodyard. And all of them have secrets. Venn & his team have their work cut out as they try to prise the truth from people who would rather it stay hidden. 

This is a good old fashioned murder mystery that reserves the chills & thrills for the final chapters. There are plenty of descriptions of the area & residents, lending the story a moody atmosphere. Sprinkled through the investigation we get details on Venn’s background & his relationship with Jon. The supporting cast is large & full of distinct, well developed characters. Standouts for me were DS Jen Rafferty, a smart cop who throws out comments that shock her conservative boss from time to time. And Lucy Braddick, a 30 year old woman with Down’s Syndrome who’s desire for independence ends up putting her in danger.

The plot takes its time as the team gradually accumulates information, clues & red herrings. It’s a book that is just as much about the characters as the investigation. Other crimes pop up & the trick is trying to figure out which ones are related. The pace is consistent until the last quarter when pieces fall into place & it’s a full on sprint to the finish. 

My one reservation is Venn himself. We understand where his baggage comes from through vignettes from the past. Behind his buttoned-up demeanor are conflicting emotions he goes to great lengths to keep in check. He’s a man who is never at ease, even with his husband & the result was I found it difficult to connect with him. But this is book #1 in a series. The groundwork is done & no doubt the author has great plans for how his character develops.

Like Cleeves’ other series, this is a character driven procedural with a plot that keeps you guessing. And maybe wondering if you know your neighbours as well as you thought. 

3.5 stars
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I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley.

This is the first in a new series set in North Devon, with a new DI, Matthew Venn. I loved the setting and Matthew's character and background. There are two more junior police officers who I assume will also continue to feature. It was mostly well-plotted, although the characterization was perhaps stronger. I had the odd niggle - why did the solicitor insist on coming into see Matthew, when the little he had to say could perfectly easily have been said on the telephone? When the murderer confessed at the end


was s/he turning on his/her conspirators, or was this some sort of mental break? The identity of the actual killer was a little unconvincing for me. 

I also found the way Christine and Lucy's Down's Syndrome was depicted was inconsistent at times - one moment they were independent and making plans for action and the next they were utterly innocent and naive.

On the whole though, I think this series is going to be excellent.
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