The Heron's Cry: Ann Cleeves' latest thriller lacks the atmospheric intensity of her previous books

  • The Heron's Cry, by Ann Cleeves. Macmillan, $32.99.

Multi award winning crime writer Anne Cleeves needs little introduction because of her famous detectives, Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez, in Vera and Shetland, the TV adaptations of her novels.

In 2019, Cleeves introduced a new detective, in another distinctive setting, in The Long Call. The Heron's Cry is the second in the series.

Detective Inspector Matthew Venn lives in North Devon, where the rivers Tow and Torridge meet, with his husband, Jonathan. He leads a small team of detectives who operate out of Barnstaple, the main town in the area.

Venn is "a man of principle, still haunted by a strict evangelical childhood". He had been expelled from the Barum Brethren after he denounced his faith and "joined the police force because it provided the sense of duty and community that he missed". He's a man who likes to be "in control of an investigation, in control of himself".

Jonathan, who is creative and artistic, tells Venn that, as a detective, he's like a heron, "so patient. Just willing to wait. Entirely focused on their prey."

It's summer in Devon and, as a result of heatwave conditions, tourists have flocked to the coast. At a party, Venn's second-in-command, Jen Rafferty, is approached by Dr Nigel Yeo. There's something he needs to discuss with the police but he decides to call her the next day.

But the next day he's discovered murdered by a shard of glass in his daughter Eve's glass studio in the grounds of Westacombe, home of the wealthy local philanthropist Francis Ley.

Dr Yeo is much respected by the locals, considered a good man who gave up his medical career to care for his dying wife. Since then he has worked for North Devon Patients Together, "a kind of watchdog, monitoring the NHS Trusts locally, representing users".

However, recently he had extended his brief to investigate complaints about lack of care in mental wards, especially the cases of two depressed young men who had committed suicide.

When there's second murder of an artist with a studio at Westacombe, Venn and his team focus on the small community supported by Ley. They uncover lies and long hidden secrets, leading to a dramatic confrontation with the murderer on a windswept clifftop.

The Long Call was a big success for Cleeves and there's a four-part TV series already in production. However, for this reviewer, The Heron's Cry doesn't have the same impact. The plotting is clever but the characters are one dimensional and the landscape in summer lacks the usual atmospheric intensity of Cleeve's novels.

This story Summer kills atmosphere in dark Cleeves world first appeared on The Canberra Times.