The Long Call by Ann Cleeves

Maybe it’s an off day…


Nope, 25% and I can’t go on. I know Cleeves is extremely popular and I enjoyed the only other book of hers I’ve read, the first in her Shetland series. This one feels as if it’s written by someone else, someone with considerably less skill.

Briefly, my major complaint is that this reads like a book written by an older person trying to prove her liberal credentials and sound as if she’s hip to current trends. (I’m roughly the same age as Ann Cleeves so I hope that excuses my bluntness a little. I try not to pretend I’m hip, though, as my use of the word “hip” proves.) The team is made up of a rapacious, predatory, heterosexual female, a sexist, over-ambitious, heterosexual male, and an idyllically happily married, decent, kind, faithful and loving gay man. (Is there such a word as heterophobic? I really object to it as much as I do to homophobia.) The aforesaid gay man is the son of parents who belonged to a strict Christian sect or, as Cleeves prefers to refer to them, “religious bigots” or “God-botherers”. I can’t help wondering if she would have used those terms if he was the son of strict Muslims or Jews. (Is Christianophobic a word? This actual liberal objects to it as much as I do to Islamophobia or anti-Semitism.)

The story drags along, padded to the extreme with unnecessary nothingness. For example, I don’t need to hear about the predatory middle-aged female’s lust for men so young they could equally be termed boys. Would Cleeves expect me to empathise with a middle-aged male officer who lusted after women young enough to be termed girls? I don’t need to hear in detail about how two of the characters watch TV over breakfast – if they danced naked on the roof as the sun rose over the hills, worshipping the Great God Pan, that might merit a paragraph or two, but watching TV rates no more than a line, surely.

It probably deserves a three-star rating, but since I couldn’t bring myself to read on, one-star it is. I own a couple of Cleeves’ earlier books from her previous Vera and Shetland series which I have yet to read, so I can only hope that this one is a blip in her standards – we all have off days. And after spending a couple of hours in the company of this book, this has turned into one of mine…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Pan MacMillan.

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42 thoughts on “The Long Call by Ann Cleeves

  1. Oops. I think I read somewhere that Cleeve doesn’t work to a plan but just writes, letting the narrative grow out of what appears sequentially on the page. If I’m correct, this sounds to have worked against any effectiveness the novel might have had.

    • I find so much contemporary crime is overpadded with irrelevant detail at the moment, and also I’m so tired of authors pushing the liberal agenda so relentlessly. I remember when crime fiction was supposed to be light entertainment… *sighs*

    • I was surprised too – I was really expecting to enjoy this one. I think she was trying too hard to be “modern” but frankly I don’t need the liberal agenda pushed in my face in every novel I read, especially the illiberal liberal agenda! Ugh – I think contemporary crime and I will simply have to sever our connection…

    • As always plenty of people are loving this one, but there are a minority of reviews on GR where the readers seem to have the same issues with it as I did. However, I’ll keep my fingers crossed I get on better with Vera…

    • I hope so – I enjoyed the one Shetland book I’ve read, and I like the TV adaptations of the Vera books so I’m hoping I’ll enjoy those books. But this one has shaken my anticipation…

    • Lots of people are loving it, though there are other reviewers on GR who had the same issues with it as I had. I did enjoy the one Shetland book I’ve read so I’ll keep my fingers crosses that this was just a one-off…

  2. Ooh er, this is a turn up. I thought I was nicely sorted by preparing to read this one in due course as my way into Cleeves’ work without the drain of beginning one of her established series. I do have one of her short stories in an anthology I’m reading which may give me an idea of her style but there again, if her books can vary to this extent it probably won’t help at all! 🙄

    • I was surprised – I was really expecting to enjoy this one. And plenty of people are loving it, though there are other reviewers on GR who had the same issues with it as I had. I’m hoping this was a bad example – I think she was trying to be “modern” but I can’t be bothered with having people’s liberal agendas shoved in my face all the time. Especially when they’re so illiberal…!

      • Why try to be modern? There are plenty of readers who prefer the less modern approach. I’ve read the short story I have by her now – it features Vera, who I’ve seen in passing on tv. I can’t say I was hugely taken by it and her style didn’t seem much different to many others. I’m not sure why I expect such great things from poor Ann, but it seems that I do and maybe that’s where I’m going wrong. Really though I should be delighted – maybe this is a writer I can afford to let lie for a while longer! 😁

        • I have a feeling that when they get adapted for TV somehow that gives them an aura of being better than other authors, but as often as not I reckon the TV companies just like the settings – in this case Shetland and Geordie country. However I’ll read the two books I already have – maybe fandom is just around the next chapter… 😀

  3. Oh dear, I can’t say this sounds especially appealing. Like many of the currently popular crime writers, I have always found her a bit of a hit or miss. I got quite into the Vera series, but for some reason, I found Shetland a little grim for my taste, but that’s probably because I am a bit fed up with depressing stories about Scotland. I reckon she is still worth another go though if you have more of her books on your TBR.

    • I’ve only read the first of the Shetland books and I enjoyed it but not overwhelmingly so. I’ve liked some of the TV Vera episodes, so I’m hoping those books will work better for me. Totally agree about grim Scotland – it’s about as realistic as the brawny, kilted Highlanders of current romance fiction! I wish someone was writing about Scotland as it actually is – Ian Rankin does, I think, and maybe Val McDermid but that’s about it.

  4. Oh, sorry to hear this, FictionFan! I like Cleeves’ Shetland series and her Vera novels, so I’m doubly sorry to hear that this one was a DNFer for you. Hmm……as you say, we all have our ‘off” times. You make a really interesting point, actually, about staking out one’s territory as a liberal in a way that’s annoying at best… Interesting stuff for me think about as a writer, so thanks for that.

    • I’m still hoping the Vera and Shetland series will work better for me – I enjoyed the one Shetland book I’ve read so far. But I’m so tired of authors shoving the current liberal agenda in my face all the time – especially when it’s so illiberal! I feel they’ve just changed which groups it’s acceptable to mock and vilify. Gah! I shall put my soapbox away now… 😉

  5. Oh no! I have to admit I was worried as to how you would get along with this one (and how I will) because the early reviews have been so mixed. I’m hoping if this one is a one-off that somehow the series can be saved with future installments. Lovely, thoughtful review, FF. The stereotyped characters already concern me.

    • I’d been avoiding the early reviews till I read the book and was a bit relieved to see that some other reviewers had the same issues with it as I had, though plenty of other people seem to be loving it. I am so tired of authors feeling they have to prove their liberal credentials in every book – can’t they go back to just representing life as it actually is?? I shall get off my soapbox now… 😉

  6. Oh, dear. This sounds terrible. On the plus side, I’m not headed over to Amazon to add anything to my wishlist!! 😆

    • Haha – glad I could help! I must say plenty of people are loving it but I’m increasingly tired of authors shoving their liberal agendas in my face, especially since they just seem to have changed which groups it’s OK to vilify… Gah! Soapbox moment over! 😉

    • It certainly wasn’t at all what I was expecting! But it seems to be obligatory for all authors to brandish their liberal credentials like a bludgeon these days – which wouldn’t be quite so bad if they were actually liberal, rather than just having changed which groups it’s OK to vilify! But plenty of people are loving it, so I shall get off my soapbox now… 😉

      • I wonder if she is trying to target a new, younger reader base. If anything, her other books seem a bit old-school. When I’ve recovered from your review, I suspect I will read this one anyway. If I don’t like it, you are welcome to give me your best ‘told you so!’ 😉

        • That’s what it read like to me, but as often happens when older people try to do that, I felt she ended up sounding false – as if she’d made a note of contemporary tick-boxes and was going through them one by one. But loads of people are enjoying it so if you do get around to it one of these days, I hope your reaction is more positive than mine… 😀

  7. And I thought it was just me who didn’t click with Anne Cleeves books when the rest of the reading world loves these series – I’ve only managed to finish reading one early (OK-ish) Vera book, one even earlier (& dire) Inspector Ramsay book & abandoned the first Shetland book.

    • I enjoyed the first Shetland book but not as much as loads of other people seemed to and this one was a real disappointment – not even terribly well written. I’ll still have a go at the first Vera, but I think I’ve just lost my love for contemporary crime fiction – it seems so overpadded and full of not very well thought through liberal “points” these days, rather than just telling a good story and getting on with it! Gah!

  8. yikes! There’s nothing more disappointing than reading a book by an author you’ve previously enjoyed. Characters ranting on about any political view tends to get a bit tiresome, no matter which way they lean. And young boys? Ugh, this seems like a sound DNF’ing.

    • It certainly didn’t work for me – I really read crime fiction to get away from politics and I’m so, so tired of everyone having to show off their “inclusiveness” all the time.

  9. I’ve heard such mixed reviews about Ann Cleeves’ writing, it’s a shame that it didn’t stick with you. The characters seem to be not so well thought out either. I hope your next read was much better!

    • I was really expecting to like this one more, but sometimes the magic just doesn’t happen. Loads of people are thoroughly enjoying this one though, so as always it just comes down to subjective taste. Never mind – onwards and upwards! 😀

  10. Sounds like I’d hate this too – it really upsets me how in the current, social movement it seems okay to bash white people, heterosexuals and Christians. I hate discrimination in ALL of it forms.

    • Yes, I’m sick to death of people claiming to be “liberal” and then being as bigoted as the very people they criticise. I often want to swap words and see whether people would still find it acceptable – like black/white, man/woman, gay/straight, Christian/Muslim. It can be pretty revealing…

  11. I can’t say I’m surprised. I read the synopsis and just didn’t like the sound of it and think I’d have the same reaction to it as you. It’s a shame because I have enjoyed Ann Cleeves’ Shetland and Vera books – if you do read any more of her books I hope you find them better than this one.

    • I’m still hopeful about the Vera and Shetland books. It seemed to me she was just trying too hard to fit in all the trendy social messages in this one and not getting it to sound quite right somehow. I do get fed up with crime novels that concentrate more on showing what a wonderfully broad-minded person the author is rather than concentrating on a good plot…

  12. Funny how authors sometimes think they can get away with behaviour from female characters that would never be acceptable from a male character. I don’t want to read about the objectification of women OR men! (Especially teenage ones.) I have been abandoning books left and right this month so this makes me feel slightly better!

    • Yes, it’s an aspect of modern “feminism” that I really hate – that women are shown to copy all the worst behaviours we find unacceptable in men. I’ve been having a little run of abandonings too recently – they seem to come in batches! Hopefully we’ll both hit a winning streak soon… 😀

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