Ann Cleeves: The Raging Storm

Two Rivers #3

Ann Cleeves goes from strength to strength.  The third novel in her Matthew Venn series finds Matthew investigating a crime in a village he’d visited as a child. The book opens with the raging storm of the title, and no one is better than Ann Cleeves at setting the stage using nature as a backdrop.  The coastal town where the story takes place gets a “callout” – the volunteer coast guard heads out to see what’s up with an abandoned boat in the middle of a storm.  They find the boat, and inside, the body of a man.

The man turns out to be a well known adventurer and sailor, Jem Roscoe, who had grown up in the area and left to make his name and fortune, sailing around the world.  The village as a whole seems to be proud of him, mystified as to why he was renting a cottage in the area, and completely flummoxed as to the reason for his death though many remember him as a braggart. The only clue comes from an observant bird watcher, but beyond this clue, the police are as puzzled as anyone else.

What Cleeves does as well as any writer alive is peel back layers and delve deep into character.  Not only does she illuminate the characters of Matthew and his team, Jen and Ross, but the characters of almost everyone in the tiny village. Matthew is happily married to Jonathan, a suitable arrangement of opposites.  Matthew is careful and rule abiding; Jonathan is an outgoing creative spirit.  The two balance each other.  Jen is a single mother, raising two pretty self sufficient kids and beating herself up about the lack of time she’s able to spend with them.  Ross is the enthusiastic puppy of the group – needing to be reined in and learning to be careful in his investigations.

The three of them end up in Greystone to investigate Jem’s death, and thanks to the storm, they’re stuck as downed trees cut the village off.  No one on the team are too pleased about this (for different reasons) but they set up headquarters in the village pub – shades of Roderick Alleyn! – and settle in for the long haul.  When another death occurs the detectives are certain the two are linked, though there seems to be no reason why they would be.

Jem, as they continue to look into him, appears to have been a careless man – careless of his relationships, his life details, and leaving a wake of what I would call annoyed-near-heartbreak behind him.  The slow unraveling of his character is one of the treats of the novel, as is the nature saturated investigation taken on by Venn’s team.  As this is Ann Cleeves, there are both heartbreaking details of the lives of the people in the village, as well as the natural world playing it’s part in the story. You almost feel you are on the edge of the ocean, a place, Cleeves makes clear, dangerous and unpredictable as well as beautiful.

This is an extremely strong entry in this series, and the denouement, with the path of clues laid carefully by this intelligent writer, providing both a shock and a righteous feeling of – of course! – on the part of the reader.  An all around lovely read. — Robin Agnew