As Detective Inspector Matthew Venn of the North Devon Police stands outside a crematorium, listening to the funeral service within, the body of a young man is found on a beach near his home, stabbed in the chest. Venn is assigned to oversee the case, although he quickly discovers the case hits very close to the hearth: the murdered man was a volunteer at the adult day care center managed by his husband, Jonathan, who’s part of the reason Venn was eavesdropping on his estranged father’s funeral.
The victim, Simon Walden, was burdened with a guilty conscience: a few years earlier, while drunk, he’d hit and killed a young child. After serving his prison sentence and working for a season in a resort restaurant, he’d shown up intoxicated and desperate at St. Cuthbert’s, an Anglican Church. It’s affiliated with the Woodyard, a former timber mill and warehouse converted to a community arts center, day care facility for mentally disabled adults, and café. He’d been put to work in the kitchen and lodged in a room at the home of Caroline Preece, a Woodyard counselor who also happens to be the daughter of the complex’s main financial backer, Christopher Preece, and girlfriend of St. Cuthbert’s priest, Edward Craven.
With no obvious suspects, Venn and his team, Sergeant Jen Rafferty and Constable Ross May, discover a flurry of activity in Simon’s recent past, but can’t draw workable links to his death. However, when one of the Woodyard’s mentally disabled clients disappears and Matthew’s estranged mother asks him to intervene, clues slowly start falling into place, but will the team have enough to guide them when a second patron vanishes?
Ann Cleaves has written an emotionally and psychologically astute novel, planting a stoic detective in the midst of physical and emotional mayhem. The Long Call is not only the cry of a herring gull, but the portrait of a man whose past traumas afford him the intuition and strength to rescue society’s most vulnerable citizens.