Book Review: THE LONG CALL, meet Detective Matthew Venn

Cleeves, Ann - The Long Call (ed)The Long Call
Two Rivers Book #1
Ann Cleeves

Happy Publication Day
to the Long Call!

Detective Matthew Venn watched his father’s funeral from the periphery. Since he renounced his family’s strict evangelical faith when he was in college, he’s not been in contact with them. But he was startled out of his memories back into his current reality when his office called to report that a dead body had been found on a nearby beach. After a rough period, the man, Simon Walden, had been living with devout social worker Caroline Preece and her roommate, Gaby Henry, artist in residence at the Woodyard Center, a hub of the community containing an art studio, theater space, café, and day center for adults with learning disabilities.

As Venn investigated with the savvy single mother DS Jen Rafferty and young, ambitious Constable Ross May who has uncomfortable ties to the DCI, a woman with Down’s Syndrome who attended the adult day center went missing. Since Simon Walden volunteered at Woodyard, it became a focus of the investigation—difficult for Venn since the visionary behind Woodyard and the current managing director was his husband, Jonathan Church. Just as shocking, Venn received an unexpected call from his mother. The murder and missing girl represented a tangle of secrets involving his past and present selves, and he wasn’t sure he wanted the answers.

The Long Call is the first book in a planned series featuring Matthew Venn who is unlike most detectives in literature. He is gay, which is refreshing, but also refreshing is that his sexual orientation is not an issue except vis-à-vis his family and their conservative religious community, the Barum Brethren. More than that, Venn generally follows the rules and is less a lone wolf than some of the other protagonists in my favorite detective series. He’s also quite insecure and vulnerable making him very relatable but at times maudlin. I enjoyed DS Rafferty because she is tough and outspoken though very empathetic, but at times (though not always) both she and Constable May seemed to be “off the shelf” characters—the brass female sidekick and the young Turk.

The mystery took some unexpected detours, sometimes making such a hairpin turn I was momentarily confused and had to reorient myself and one character felt more like a deus ex machina than an essential element of the narrative, but I found the art center setting interesting and thought Cleeves presented the members of the adult day center with sensitivity. As far as I can remember, I haven’t read books that take place in North Devon, and Cleeves gives vivid descriptions of the towns and landscape of the area. This is actually the first Ann Cleeves book I’ve read, though, so I’m unable to compare this book to her previous work.

The Long Call was engrossing, and I was overall invested both in Detective Venn and the secondary characters and plan to read subsequent volumes in the series. I think it is a good investment for mystery fans.

Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: KNIFE, an exemplary Harry Hole novel

Knife
Harry Hole #12

Jo Nesbø

Now drinking again with abandon, Harry Hole lives in a sparsely furnished apartment after Rakel, his wife, asked him to move out. No longer teaching at the crime college, Katrine Bratt arranged a post for Hole in the cold case division where his skills are underutilized and he’s working with Truls Berntsen, a colleague he’s always disrespected.

When a women is killed by a knife through her stomach, Hole is convinced the murderer is Svein Finne, the first killer he imprisoned and who was just released. Katrine does her best to keep Hole away from the investigation and focused on his responsibilities, but her husband, forensic officer Bjørn Holm, Hole’s long-suffering friend, feeds him details about the case.

In fact, Bjørn rescued Hole the night of the murder, the same night that Hole was so drunk at the Jealousy bar he punched the owner in the nose, was banned for life, and woke with blood all over his hands, though he had scant memories of the evening.

Hole enlists Bjørn and his former lover Kaja Solness, recently returned to Oslo, in a secret investigation of Finne, one that threatens not only Hole’s career, and not only his life, which he scarcely cares about at this point, but the lives of others.

Although disparate threads are introduced at the outset of the novel, and it’s filled with red herrings and misdirections, the plot crystallizes so cleverly, it’s impressive. Knife is my favorite Hole novel since The Snowman. I liked how it was structured, the suspects had more reasonable motivations than in the last couple of books, and Hole wasn’t fighting with anyone in the police department—except himself. The most difficult part of the book for me was seeing Hole’s full self-destruction on display.

I think Jo Nesbø writes the best Nordic noir overall, and if you like that genre, I think you’ll enjoy this book; however, there are gory moments. I’m not bothered by that, but I know it’s a deal-breaker for some readers.

If you read Scandinavian mysteries, who are your favorite authors?

Book Review: THE TURN OF THE KEY, a nanny accused of murder pleads innocence

The Turn of the Key
Ruth Ware

London child carer Rowan Caine, an employee in the baby room at Little Nippers, happens upon a advertisement for a live-in nanny for the Elincourts, the parents of whom are partners in an architectural firm with four girls, a teenager in boarding school, Maddie, an eight-year-old, Ellie, five, and Petra, just eighteen months, in the Scottish Highlands.

Though there are signs of trouble—the Elincourts’ estate, Heatherbrae House, is rumored to be haunted, and several nannies have come and gone in a short time, leaving mother Sandra needing to fill the post urgently—Rowan finds herself seduced by the opulence and charmed by Sandra and the younger girls.

When Rowan receives the job, she is elated, but she quickly wonders if she will go the way of the other nannies. On her first night in the home, Sandra tells her she and Bill, the father, who Rowan first met that evening, will be traveling for work for a least a week starting the next day. Later, when Rowan and Bill are alone, he subtly makes a pass at her.

Maddie seems determined to undermine Rowan at every turn. Even worse, it seems someone—or something—is trying to drive Rowan away. The smart house malfunctions, blasting music and lights in the middle of the night. Keys go missing. Maddie and Ellie lead Rowan to a nightmarish garden that Rowan later learns is a poison garden planted by a previous occupant, a chemist, whose daughter died after eating berries planted there.

The groundskeeper, Jack, always seems to be around when Rowan is terrorized, yet as the only other adult on the premises, she can’t help but want to confide in him. Jean, the cleaner, displays an instant dislike to Rowan, and also falls under Rowan’s suspicion.

After only weeks in the post, Rowan is paranoid to the point of breaking, one of the girls is dead, and Rowan has been arrested for her murder. Writing to a solicitor from prison, Rowan recounts her time at Heatherbrae House maintaining her innocence. However, her claims are hard to believe when the police uncovered so many lies.

The Turn of the Key has been my favorite Ruth Ware book yet. The isolated nature of Heatherbrae House which stokes Rowan’s paranoia lends itself to a very focused and precise narrative with only a few key characters. As Rowan became more and more horrified and frightened, most of these characters became viable suspects. The first third or so of the novel drew an alarming portrait of Heatherbrae House and its inhabitants, while the conclusion was filled with action and surprises. Though these revelations seemed to arrive completely unexpectedly, most were cunningly planted from the beginning of the narrative.

For me, the book pulled me in quickly and gathered steam, and I found it entertaining, though disturbing to know on of the children would die. For the most part, I thought the epistolary format was a good choice for telling this story, though at times, I thought Rowan’s direct pleas to Mr. Wrexham were overwrought, and, while understandable given her status, a little distracting to her story about Heatherbrae House. Still, it was unclear if Rowan was a reliable narrator or not, and figuring this out was part of the intrigue of the book.

I am amazed at Ware’s versatility. I’ve read all her thrillers, and they all have such unique styles. Her ability to craft new stories with different structures and voices impresses me. If you are a fan of Ware or of psychological thrillers, you’ll probably enjoy this entertaining read!

Book Review: THIRTEEN, what happens when a killer hides on the jury

Thirteen
Eddie Flynn #4
Steve Cavanagh

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Up and coming movie star Robert “Bobby” Solomon has been accused of murder, and his lawyer, Rudy Carp, convinced Eddie Flynn that Bobby was innocent. Unable to walk away, Eddie joined the defense team. Unbeknownst to him, the real killer, Joshua Kane, was feet away in the jury box willing to do anything to make sure the jury convicted Bobby for his crimes. When Kane realizes what a keen adversary Flynn represents, the moralistic lawyer becomes another of his targets.

Thirteen, told in alternating points of view from Eddie Flynn and Kane, was one of those thrillers that I couldn’t put down. I liked that the action took place during the trial, and the true identity of the killer kept me guessing. A parallel plot about crooked police officers also hooked me. Also, precis of each juror in the form of reports by the juror consultant were interspersed throughout the book which entertained and intrigued me. By the end of the book, my expectations had been completely subverted.

I wish that some of the characters, such as Bobby, had been more developed, and that some, like Rudy, had acted more consistently. Also, the actions of the FBI and the extent of their cooperation with Flynn and his investigation team seemed far-fetched. Finally, I didn’t always like the writing style. I found some of the dialogue, especially between Flynn and his estranged wife, awkward, and Cavanagh tends to overuse short incomplete descriptive sentences for effect. Only after I was quite into the book did I realize this was part of a series. I don’t think it’s at all necessary to read the other books to appreciate Thirteen.

Fans of thrillers, courtroom dramas, and mysteries, though, will, I’m sure, like me, devour this book despite its minor flaws—and probably never think about juries the same way again!

Thank you to NetGalley and Flatiron Books for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: MY LOVELY WIFE, a couple who murders together stays together

My Lovely Wife
Samantha Downing

In My Lovely Wife, a couple happily married for fifteen years with two teenage children decide to enliven their relationship by embarking on a shared hobby—murder. When I first saw the book, I couldn’t imagine how Downing would be able to sustain this idea throughout the story. At first, I wasn’t going to read it, but I saw it on so many most anticipated lists that I got it from the library.

The husband, who remains enchanted by his wife, Millicent, narrates the book beginning with his search for their next victim. His story is less about the murders than it is about their unintended effects on the couple’s relationship, children, and community as well as their efforts to remain out of the crosshairs of the police. Once a body is found, an ambitious local reporter attaches himself to the story, and there is some humor in his depiction as well as that of the self-appointed true crime experts at the country club where the narrator works.

I thought this was an inventive story and though certain aspects were unbelievable. I predicted a few plot twists but was surprised by others., I was also drawn in enough to root for the narrator and hope he could escape arrest (though that was slightly horrifying to think about). I was also intrigued by Trista, a complicated secondary character. However, I didn’t always like the writing style. At times, details were repeated at the beginning and end of a paragraph in a distracting way. Also, the author more than once used the construction “XYZ happened, right up until it didn’t.” Because it’s to me a memorable phrasing, reading it multiple times pulled me away from the narrative to think about the writing.

Aa I was almost finished with the book, I couldn’t imagine how Downing would conclude the story, and I anticipated an unsatisfactory ending. I was delightfully surprised by the finale which to me was completely satisfying and also very harrowing. I think fans of Peter Swenson and Shari Lapena will love this book.