The Long Call

Written by Ann Cleeves

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes.

The Long Call
RRP: £16.99
Released: September 5 2019

This is quite a change from Northumberland and Shetland, from the formidable Vera and Jimmy Perez. Cleeves sets her latest novel on the north coast of Devon, her new man being Matthew Venn: a gay DI subject to latent guilt and anxiety attacks but happily married to supportive Jonathan: gourmet cook, charmer, and manager of the Woodyard, a community hub incorporating the arts, a café and day centre for various vulnerable people.

The body of a man is found on the shore. He has been stabbed in the chest and is shortly identified as an alcoholic itinerant who had recently been rescued by the local curate. He is engaged to Caroline, a dedicated social worker who not only rented a room to the homeless man but secured employment for him in the Woodyard’s kitchen.

This is a traditional novel, the Woodyard providing the familiar role of closed community, and all the characters associated with it being murder suspects. And since Jonathan is so closely involved with the centre, was indeed the dead man’s employer, Matthew, heading the investigation, is deeply troubled by conflict of interests.

He delegates some initial interviews but both he and his leading detectives come up against a wall, not of silence but of subterfuge. It appears that the victim was a mystery man; drinking or sober he had given away nothing of his background other than his name, Simon Walden, at least according to his colleagues at work, or to Caroline, his landlady.  Caroline’s other lodger, Gaby, a painter and artist in residence at the Woodyard, had no time for Simon, resenting his intrusion into a household where she, a maverick herself, had found some kind of stability. Gaby is a friendly soul, connecting with DS Rafferty: voluble, articulate and lying in her teeth - as is her landlady, although Caroline, the humourless social worker, is more circumspect in her attitude to the police.

DS Rafferty is a discreet and perceptive young woman in marked contrast to the third man in the investigating team: DC Ross, who comes close to the familiar bumbling plod, obstructing Rafferty’s neat probing with infuriating interruptions.

The murder suspects are obvious and obviously prevaricating, even Lucy, the woman with Down syndrome who attends the day centre at the Woodyard, and tells her dad about the nice man who sits beside her on the bus and gives her sweets but who remains stubbornly mute concerning the nature of their conversation. And Maurice, her widowed dad, who is – naturally -- beside himself with worry, surely the father of such a vulnerable woman would do anything to protect her?

Less likely suspects but still secretive are the Marstons who live in a remote cottage close to where the body was found: he a keen bird watcher, his wife a busybody, and both tight-lipped or garrulous according to the type of questions asked. Marston has something to do with the administrative side of the Woodyard; there is the hint of a connection with its benefactor, Preese (who turns out to be Caroline’s father), and with Salter, a trustee and minister of the Brethren, a religious sect from which Matthew defected in his youth. A web is seen to form as the investigation progresses along predictable lines – and then the first bomb bursts.

Another woman suffering from Down syndrome disappears but this one is even more vulnerable than Lucy. The tension tightens, is released, tightened again as Lucy herself goes missing and the crescendo builds to a climactic scene on the mud flats at night with the tide rising.

A topical tale with its current issues, not so much a whodunit but a whydunnit? Motivation is all; spiced with abuse but with nothing louche or voyeuristic this is a novel comfortable in its skin.

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