Mystery author Ann Cleeves has long developed a following for her mysteries that are as much about the relationships between her characters as the crimes grounding the stories. Her Vera Stanhope and Shetland series, both adapted for television, have been particularly acclaimed. The Shetland series has ended with the recently published Wild Fire, but fans mourning the loss of Jimmy Perez and the evocative Scottish setting can take comfort in the launch of Cleeves’ new Two Rivers series. Set in rural present day North Devon, The Long Call opens with Detective Matthew Venn watching his father’s burial from a distance. He’s newly returned to his hometown, and the return is not exactly a warm one. Matthew had left Barnstaple in disgrace, having fallen out with the Brethren, the conservative religious group in which he had been raised. He’s rather reluctantly back in town heading up the local constabulary, while his husband, Jonathan, directs The Woodyard, a local nonprofit that doubles as center for the mentally disabled and a community center.
Matthew is still getting a sense of his new team when the body of a man is found on a local beach. The victim appears to be a drifter and recovering addict newly arrived in town, but Matthew and his team soon discover that the murdered man befriended a local woman with Down’s syndrome, and had volunteered at the Woodyard. The connections to his husband’s workplace raise the prospect that the case is already too close to home, but Matthew isn’t ready to recuse himself as details of the case keep niggling at him. Why would a man with no connection to Barnstaple have so much interest in one of the Woodyard’s clients? What motive would someone have to kill a man who seemed penniless? When another Woodyard regular disappears, Matthew realizes that the abduction is connected to the murder, and possibly has ties with his old foes among the Brethren. But finding the answers will involve confronting the rifts within his past.
Like her other series, The Long Call is as much about characters’ connections to one another as it is about the details of policing a small town with all its secrets and prejudices. Cleeves takes her time building up the story, placing more emphasis on a sense of the characters and place. In addition to Matthew, there are constables Jen Rafferty and Ross May, as different from each other as can be, but both promising back stories of their own. If there is some criticism to be leveled against The Long Call, it’s the sense that everything has a very introductory feel to it; for instance, the reasons for Matthew leaving the Brethren aren’t fully explored, and the exposition tends to slow the pace of the actual crime story. But given that The Long Call is simply the first book, there’s plenty of room for expansion in future installments. There’s no word yet if Cleeves newest series will make it to the small screen, but fans of her other series will find themselves quite at home here, and new readers with a taste for police procedurals with strong psychological elements will find it a rewarding introduction to Cleeves’ work.