- Alisa Williams
The Long Call by Ann Cleeves
Ann Cleeves is one of those authors I'd heard of but never read. I've only been reading suspense for about the last two years, but have fallen fast for this genre, and specifically women writers in this genre like Sue Grafton, Nevada Barr, Jane Harper, Rachel Caine, and more. So, when I saw an e-arc for the first book in Ann Cleeve's latest series, I jumped at the chance to read it (thanks, NetGalley!).
The Long Call is book one in The Two Rivers series. "In North Devon, where two rivers converge into the sea, Detective Matthew Venn stands outside the church as his estranged father's funeral takes place," so begins the book's synopsis. Ok, who wouldn't be hooked by that opening?! Main character Matthew was raised in a strict evangelical community and when he came out as gay, his father and whole community turned their backs on him. That was years ago and Matthew has gone on to become a successful detective with a loving husband, and a beautiful home on the beach, just a stone's throw from the close-knit community that rejected him.
The book opens with Matthew observing his father's funeral from a distance, with all those people who hurt him in attendance while he stands outside the church by himself unnoticed. Just as he turns to leave, he gets a call. A body has been found on the beach, and as the case unfolds it will force him to confront his painful past and the people who abandoned him. It will also cause him to ask: "Is one of them the killer?"
This was a leisurely-paced suspense that I very much enjoyed. Perhaps because I'd never read Cleeves before, I'd gone into the book expecting it to be high action and nail-biting suspense, but it is more a rainy day, hot cup of tea in hand, type of book, and once I realized that, I was able to settle in, relax, and appreciate Cleeves' characters and mastery of mystery.
I found Detective Matthew Venn to be wonderfully likeable and complex. I related to his struggle with a judgmental religious community and his push-pull relationship with it. Though he's tried to completely separate himself from his upbringing, that's easier said than done and it created a heart-aching and wholly believable tension that the character wrestles with, and will undoubtedly continue to wrestle with in subsequent books.
I adored Matthew's relationship with his husband, Jonathan, who as an artist and free spirit, provides a great contrast to Matthew's buttoned-up and serious demeanor.
The plot was interesting and well-executed, the characters were all well-rounded and believable (seriously, it felt like I was reading about people I know and interact with in real life), and the pace while slow, kept my attention.
My one nit-picky issue was with a particular writing tic that I noticed early on and then could not un-notice. I don't know if this is an issue in Cleeves' other books, but she had an annoying habit in this book of having all of the characters say things like, "as I've said," "as I've told you," "as you know," etc. which made the dialogue feel false and repetitive every time it occurred (which was A LOT, like every other page).
My impression was that this was a way for the author to reintroduce important information to the reader, but wow there could have been a better and more subtle way to do that! If it had just been one character doing it, and Cleeves was trying to show that they were an impatient person or uncomfortable in the situation, that would make sense, but it was ALL the characters ALL the time in EVERY conversation and it grated on my nerves so bad throughout the book, and really jolted me out of the story because it happened so often. Plus, it weighed the whole book down and added needlessly to the word count.
That caveat aside, the book was absolutely worth the read and I'll be eagerly anticipating book two in this series. In the meantime, I've already picked up another of Cleeves' books from my local library sale and will be diving into that soon!
This review originally appeared on NetGalley. I received a free Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) in exchange for my honest review of this title.
Alisa Williams is the managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org. She blogs at alisawilliamswrites.com, tweets at @AWWritesStories, and bookstagrams at @AllyWritesStories.
Photo by Alisa Williams.