Category: Police Procedural, Crime, Murder, Mystery, Book Review
In North Devon, where two rivers converge and run into the sea, Detective Matthew Venn stands outside the church as his father’s funeral takes place. Once loved and cherished, the day Matthew left the strict evangelical community he grew up in, he lost his family too.
Set in North Devon, where the rivers Taw and Torridge meet before joining the sea, we’re introduced to Detective Inspector Matthew Venn who is on the periphery of the mourners at his father’s funeral. Matthew grew up in the area and has recently moved back to Barnstaple from Bristol, where he has been living and working.
Since he renounced his religious upbringing as a member of the strict Barum Brethren he has been estranged from his family. The fact that he is gay and married to Jonathan, who runs an arts and craft centre which also caters for adults with learning difficulties, hasn’t helped the relationship between him and his parents.
The call about a body found on the beach at Crow Point came as Matthew was leaving the graveyard. First indications are it wasn’t an accidental death. This will be Matthew’s first major case as DI with his new team—Constable Ross May ‘a pacer, a shouter, a pumper of iron,’ and DS Jen Rafferty who left an abusive marriage and relocated with her two children.
Now her kids were teens and she was enjoying the life that she’d missed out on in her twenties. Hard partying and hard drinking; if she’d been a man you’d have called her predatory. She was red haired and fiery. Fit and gorgeous and she liked her men the same way. But despite himself, Matthew admired her guts and her spirit. She brought fun and laughter to the office and she was the best detective he’d ever worked with.
The victim had no wallet or credit cards but the CSIs found a shopping list on the back of an addressed envelope, giving them the first clue. It becomes clear at the start of the investigation the murdered man had issues with alcoholism and depression, and there is also a link to the Woodyard, Jonathan’s arts and crafts centre.
Ann Cleeves has created a cast of well defined characters, with a steadily unfolding, sometimes slow, multi layered and character driven plot, as well as a realistic police procedural. As leads are followed and more is uncovered about the victim Matthew finds himself drawn back into a part of his life he thought was behind him and finds it’s all a sham. During the course of the investigation we meet multiple people who have ties to, or attend classes at, the Woodyard. Not all are what or who they seem. I always enjoy becoming aware of the facts along with the team as they work the case, and the way everything escalates towards the end in a tense finale.
Matthew, as yet, hasn’t the appeal of Jimmy Perez or Vera but I quite like him and it’ll be interesting to see how he develops. Initially he’s portrayed as somewhat ill at ease, reserved, keeping his emotions under tight control, a total opposite to Jonathan’s outgoing personality, surfer boy looks and dress code. He’s also compassionate with a strong moral code but bears the scars of his upbringing, which sometimes manifest in feelings of anger. The locale is as distinct and evocative as always.
Ann Cleeves is the author behind ITV’s Vera and BBC One’s Shetland. She has written over twenty-five novels, and is the creator of detectives Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez – characters loved both on screen and in print. Both series are international bestsellers.
In 2006 Ann was awarded the Duncan Lawrie Dagger (CWA Gold Dagger) for Best Crime Novel, for Raven Black, the first book in her Shetland series. In 2012 she was inducted into the CWA Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame. Ann lives in North Tyneside.