Ann Cleeves

The Long Call – Ann Cleeves

91NnYUCQyaLTitle – The Long Call

Author – Ann Cleeves

Published – September 2019

Genre – Crime fiction

It can’t be easy to embark on a new series with new characters when you’re already known for two really successful ones (Vera and Jimmy Perez/Shetland) but if Ann Cleeves had any worries then, in my view, they were unfounded.

The main character in the new series is Matthew Venn, a Detective Inspector based on the North Devon coast. He’s a quiet, thoughtful character, something of a contrast to both Vera and Perez. His parents raised him in a strict evangelical community that he rebelled against in his teens, but he’s returned to the area he grew up in and as the plot unfolds he has to face some of the events and people from his past.

A body is discovered on the shore not far from Venn’s own home, the victim is a man with a complex past and it takes some time for the team to unravel where he came from and who he is. The first witness to come forward with information is a young girl with Down’s Syndrome who attends The Woodyard, an arts and crafts community hub that incorporates a day centre for adults with learning difficulties. The Woodyard is run by Venn’s husband, ensuring the story centres around a confined group of characters.

The location of the book was one of those odd moments of synchronicity. I had just started the book when I had a weekend away in Devon and we drove to Staunton, driving through Barnstaple, across the rivers (the series is the ‘Two Rivers’) and through Baunton which features in the story. As with her other series the location is important to the story but nothing beats being able to go ‘I know where that is’ when you’re reading.

The story is quite a slow one and is more character-led than action, in some ways it has the sensibilities of ‘cosy crime’ but in others it’s unflinching in the issues it confronts. It would be hard to read it and not notice the diversity of the characters but it didn’t feel as if any of them didn’t have the right to their place in the book or felt shoe-horned in.

If you follow my blog you will know that UK police procedurals are my favourite sub-genre of crime fiction and I’m thrilled that this didn’t disappoint. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Starlings & Other Stories edited by Anne Cleeves

51B71-aqlgLTitle – The Starlings & Other Stories edited by Anne Cleeves

Author – Murder Squad and accomplices

Published – Sept 2015

Genre – Crime fiction

The Starlings & Other Stories is a compilation of crime and mystery short stories inspired by 12 photographs taken by David Wilson of rural Pembrokeshire. David takes atmospheric and evocative black and white pictures of the Welsh landscape and these have inspired a series of equally dark and tense short stories. The authors are a collective of six crime writers from the North of England (the Murder Squad) and six ‘accomplices’, and it is edited by one of the authors, Anne Cleeves, who has also written a short ‘Vera’ story as her own contribution. The authors all chose a different one of David’s photos to inspire their stories – and the use of the images provides a theme which links the stories, rooting them in the Welsh setting.

The stories themselves take a mix of approaches, from the contemporary to the historical, from conventional crime to stories with a more supernatural slant. For me the standout story was actually the first one  in the book, ‘Homecoming’ by Cath Staincliffe. As I’ve discovered with other fiction I’ve read of Cath’s she does a brilliant job of developing the emotional aspect of a mystery and that’s not an easy feat in the context of a short story.

The collection is accompanied by the glossy photos that were the inspiration and this makes for an unusually beautiful crime fiction book. As well as being excellent photographs, using the set of images as a theme for the anthology gives a similarity between the stories that makes this a cohesive collection making this a worthwhile buy for any crime fiction lover.

Many thanks to Graffeg for the review copy.

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The Sleeping and the Dead – Ann Cleeves

Title – The Sleeping and the Dead

Author – Ann Cleeves

Published – 2002

Genre – Crime fiction

With a shortage of books to read which would fit in my handbag I was lucky to get a boxed set of mixed crime titles from WH Smith. I thought I would start with the Ann Cleeves title. She’s not an author I had come across before but had heard of her through the recent TV adaptation of her Vera Stanhope books.

Detective Peter Porteous has been called to Cranwell Lake, where the body of a teenager has been discovered. After trawling through missing persons files, he deduces that the corpse is Michael Grey, an enigmatic and secretive eighteen-year-old reported missing in 1972.

Prison librarian Hannah Morton is about to get the shock of her life. For Michael was her boyfriend, and she was with him the night he disappeared. The news report that his body has been found brings back dreaded and long-buried memories from her past and begins a deadly chain of events.

A drought leads to the discovery of a body in a man-made lake. The detective called in to investigate is Peter Porteous – a policeman who seems to have suffered from stress and moved to small town to help him avoid too much pressure. The body has been in the lake for over 10 years and the evidence suggests a murder. Taking a calm approach to the investigation, Porteous begins by reviewing the files of missing persons to narrow down the list of potential victims. As with all good police / detective stories Porteous works closely with an assistant – in this case Detective Sergeant Stout. He’s a local copper, older than Porteous, and a lay Minister for the local Methodist church. During the case his local knowledge proves invaluable, but he also fosters a grudge against someone who crops up as a possible suspect.

While the police work on the identification, we’re introduced to Hannah Morton, a prison librarian, recently separated from her husband, and living with her teenage daughter. After a particularly difficult day at work Hannah decides to take a break and attend a school reunion. And this is where the two strands of the story meet. The victim is identified as Michael Grey, and Hannah was his girlfriend at the time of his disappearance.

The book then really gets underway as the police try to piece together more about Micheal’s past and Hannah starts to feel as if she may be a suspect.

I liked Hannah – I thought her character was realistic. She was trying to manage her relationship with her daughter while overcoming the break-up of her marriage – she had moments when she seemed to lack confidence and (risky) ones where she was more spontaneous.

I wasn’t sure about the “anti-stress” detective, perhaps I prefer more running about & action from my policemen?

The book reached a conclusion where we found out who the murderer was and tied up some loose ends along the way. Without intending to give anything away, I wondered if the resolution was too neat. There was the conventional spotlight on suspects that were red herrings and you could probably have figured out the killer before then end, but I didn’t.

I didn’t find that the author had a particularly enjoyable style of writing – not the easy-going style of Peter James or the more literary style of David Hewson. I also struggled with the timeline – this was yet another book that jumped around between the past and present, and I couldn’t always get the sequence of events right. This was a decent read for the daily commute and I’m sure I’ll read more by Cleeves.

Score – 3/5