The Long Call – DI Venn Returns Home to Confront His Past and Solve a Murder

Matthew Venn grew up in an evangelical community on the North Devon coast of England. When he came out as gay and denounced religion, he was rejected by both the church and his parents. Returning home 20 years later, now as a detective inspector, his mother won’t allow him to attend his father’s funeral. He comes to the church anyway, standing outside, watching his father’s coffin being placed in a hearse. 

Matthew has little time to grieve, being called to the scene of a murder on the beach. The dead man is quickly identified as Simon Walden, the albatross tattoo around his neck symbolizing the guilt he suffered after killing a child in a drunk driving accident. During the short time Simon spent in North Devon, he managed to intersect with many locals, resulting in a long list of suspects.

Ben Aldridge as DI Matthew Venn and Pearl Mackie as DC Jen Rafferty

The stunning, yet desolate, coastline of North Devon is reminiscent of the fictional Northumberland beaches in Vera, or the rocky Scottish archipelago seen in Shetland. No surprise since The Long Call, like those two BritBox series, is based on mysteries written by Ann Cleeves. Rather than set her stories in crowded, bustling urban areas, Cleeves sets her stories in small towns where a close knit community is not immune to violence.

The Long Call, the first in Cleeves’ new series (the second, The Heron’s Cry), introduces a gay married character. And while the prolific British writer has a loyal following, Amazon reviews for these two mysteries show that some of her fans are not comfortable with her new detective.“I usually love Ann Cleeve’s (sic) books but this time I was distracted by the continual reference to the protagonist’s homosexual marriage.” Another: “Her latest detective incarnation is a homosexual, loads of detail about his `husband,’ sick of it.” Finally: “She’s not the first established author I’ve abandoned when the sermonizing became unbearable. I will miss reading Ann Cleeves if this is the direction she maintains.” 

Juliet Stevenson as Dorothy Venn and Ben Aldridge as DI Matthew Venn

The reviewers who did not home in on Venn’s homosexuality, criticized him for being boring, dull, and without emotion. Will they watch the BritBox series and change their minds? Venn, as played by the very appealing Ben Aldridge, is neither dull nor boring and shows plenty of emotion, particularly when he’s dealing with his mother, Dorothy (a terrific performance by veteran actor Juliet Stevenson). There are scenes between Venn and his husband, Jonathan (the also very appealing Declan Bennett), where they have heart-to-heart conversations and even (OMG!) kiss. The relationship plays a major role in the plot since Venn’s investigation soon targets the evangelical church’s elder, Dennis Stephenson (Martin Shaw), and his mother, still a devoted member of the flock, questions her son’s objectivity.

The misogynistic nature of the church as epitomized by Dennis’ cruel treatment of his wife, Grace (Anita Dobson), may also ruffle a few feathers among evangelicals. There’s no doubt, though, that many in the small coastal community are hurting and looking for something and someone to ease their suffering. Whether the church, dominated by Dennis, truly wants to help people or is just a vehicle for his narcissistic personality, is the question.

Aoife Hinds as Gaby Chadwell

As with so many BritBox series, the supporting cast is excellent. DC Jen Rafferty (Pearl Mackie) backs up Venn while juggling her responsibilities as a single mom with two teenagers. Siobhán Cullen and Aoife Hinds play Caroline Reasley, a social worker, and Gaby Chadwell, an artist, Simon’s two roommates who took him in but had little knowledge about his past or, indeed, his present. Caroline’s father, Christopher (Neil Morrissey), has been estranged from his daughter but hovers over her. Is he protecting her or afraid she will discover he killed Simon? Added to the mix is Ed Raveley (Amit Shah), Carol’s protege who soon becomes her lover, but also has secrets involving Simon. Lucy Craddle (Sarah Gordy), who is watched over by her uncle, Maurice Craddle (Alan Williams), may have been on the beach where Simon’s body was found. Her reluctance to answer many of Venn’s questions leads him to believe she’s covering up for the killer.

The four-part series is classic Cleeves – interesting characters, intriguing plot, and breathtaking settings. While she may lose a few fans for the reasons outlined above, my guess is she will attract many new ones looking for a series unafraid to portray real people and the challenges they face in our divided country and world.

The Long Call can be streamed on BritBox.

Photos courtesy of BritBox

About Charlene Giannetti (526 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her last book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "Life After You," focusing on the opioid/heroin crisis that had its premiere at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, where it won two awards. Charlene and her husband live in Manhattan.