Author of the Month

Name: Ann Cleeves

First Novel: A Bird In The Hand

Most Recent Book: The Long Call

'...yet another excellent series from the imagination of Ann Cleeves. '

Detective Inspector Matthew Venn has returned to his roots in the Two Rivers region of North Devon. He finds himself in charge of his first case there when a body is discovered on the beach close to the new home he shares with his husband, Jonathan. Matthew left the area after a showdown with his family who were tightly bound up with The Barnum Brethren, a strict evangelical Christian sect. His fatherís funeral has just taken place but Matthew was not invited.The lifestyle of the members of this sect is important to the development of the story.

Matthewís husband is in charge of the local Arts Centre and Day Centre that provides support for vulnerable members of the community, including several young women with learning difficulties.When two of these women are abducted in strange circumstances, and also the man whose body was found on the beach turns out to have been a chef at the Centre, Matthew feels under pressure to remove himself from the investigation because of a conflict of interests. But his boss is reluctant to take on the work so Matthew carries on.

Matthew knows so many of the inhabitants because of his early life there and his established opinions about them colour his views, Like many small towns there are undercurrents and power struggles not immediately obvious.The solution to the question of the murder lies in these hidden tensions.

The outstanding pleasure of a new Ann Cleeves book is that you know you are in for an engrossing tale that will keep you captivated from beginning to end. Along the way you meet up with people who are fascinating, as they deal with the problems life throws them. The setting is such that you can visualise so clearly the events that take place amid the vividly portrayed atmosphere of small town existence. Detective Inspector Matthew Venn is set to be another favourite with readers. A sensitive soul, marked by an overly strict upbringing, he is unlike both Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez in that he is in a happy stable relationship.This throws a different slant on his investigations as husband Jonathan is closely involved with the main players.The development of their relationship and Matthewís resolution of past family conflict will prove interesting in future books.

Ann Cleeves writes about surroundings she knows well and this shows in this new venture. North Devon is where she grew up and her love for the place is clear in the description of the beautiful setting. Along with the location, Cleeves is sympathetic to the people who live close together in a small town.There are many advantages to close communities as well as disadvantages. She understands the dynamics and it shows here. 'The Long Call' is a strong and intriguing start to what I am convinced, will be yet another excellent series from the imagination of Ann Cleeves.

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) You spent much of your childhood in North Devon and you describe the area in detail. As usual with your books, the coast plays a major role in the story. Do you feel that landscape is as important as the protagonists playing within your drama?
I think that the two are linked and that landscape is more than a pretty backdrop to the action. We grow out of the places where we live. I canít understand my characters until I know where they come from. My daughter is a human geographer, who researches the relationship between communities and the individual and I think thatís what I do too. For example, Vera would be a very different person if sheíd spent her childhood in a city.
2) Detective Matthew Venn has been drawn back to North Devon even though he doesnít have great memories there having been brought up by the Brethren, in what we would call a cult. Why did you decide to give Venn this kind of strict upbringing? What did you feel it added to his character and backstory?
In one sense, weíre going back to the idea of human geography. Matthew grows out of his community, and there are a number of enclosed religious groups in the West Country. When he loses his faith, he finds in the police force the sense of duty, honour and service that he grew up in. His colleagues become his family. Because I had a friend who attended one of these evangelical churches and became disillusioned, the idea stuck with me. That aspect of Vennís childhood wasnít planned when I started thinking of the book, but the very rigid and principled background fitted in with the place and informed the character.
3) Venn is a man of extremes. He gets angry about mess and disorder in his kitchen, and yet can be patient with his mother who is as unemotional as they come. He is prone to panic attacks, but is brave when saving the vulnerable. Are these extremes connected to his past and will you be showing more of Venní past in future books?
Arenít we all rather confused and contradictory at times? Matthew canít leave his past behind. Thereís guilt and resentment, but also a need for reconciliation with the mother who doted on him when he was a child. Perhaps because of his own confusion, heís sympathetic to people who are nervous, uncertain and anxious. In this book heís confronting his past head on and very soon after moving to the area, so I think itís natural that heís stressed. I hope that in future books he becomes more relaxed.
4) Matthew Venn is gay and married to his husband, Jonathan. This was a surprise as Venn is quite judgmental with himself and those around him, especially his colleagues Jen Rafferty and Ross May. As his sexuality conflicts with the strict code of the Brethren, is this something you will explore?
Again, I think this is an area of conflict for Matthew. Heís astonished that he can find happiness and I loved writing the relationship between him and the very liberal, open-minded and open-hearted Jonathan. For the first time in recent years, itís given me the chance to write about a contented marriage and I enjoyed exploring the domestic life of the couple. But the past in the shape of the very strict morality of the Brethren sometimes lingers and clouds his judgement about the people around him.
5) Was it difficult to bring your ĎShetlandí series to a close? Did you feel you had said what you wanted in this series and needed to clear the decks for new characters?
It wasnít so difficult bringing the Shetland series to a close. I did feel Iíd said all I wanted to about the islands and those particular characters and I was ready for a new challenge. There are only 23,000 people in the islands and Iíd killed enough of them offÖ Iíll be visiting though. A lot of my friends still live there and itís a beautiful place.
6) Were you surprised by the success of Vera and how so many of us would take Vera to our hearts? I hear Venn will also be on the small screen in the future?
Very surprised! Who would think that an unglamorous spinster of a certain age would attract so much affection? I was very fortunate in the adaptation and especially in the choice of Brenda Blethyn as the central character. She represents my Vera beautifully. 'The Long Call' has been optioned by Silverprint, the production company which makes Vera and Shetland, but we all know that an option doesnít always lead to a commissioned drama.
7) With your experience as a writer, what advice would you give to anyone attempting their first novel?
Write a book that youíd enjoy reading. Thereís no point trying to second-guess the market. And read everything you can get your hands on. Thatís the best way to learn what makes your kind of book. Then get to the end. Thereís a great temptation to re-write and polish the first couple of chapters. That can come later when you have the structure of the story in place.
8) Are you a fan of crime fiction? Which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
I love crime fiction, but there are few that I could re-read many times. Iíll go for a Maigret by Georges Simenon Omnibus Ė one does exist, though Penguin are re-printing the single titles. Miss Smillaís Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg because Iíll need something cold while on a desert island and Iím interested to see if I find the ending as weird as when I read it first time round. And any of Mick Herronís Jackson Lamb books, because Iíll need cheering up.