Herons are stately birds, standing still and silent and observing their prey until they are ready to strike. Detective Matthew Venn of the North Devon Police Department reminds his staff, his suspects and his husband, Jonathan, of this noble bird in Ann Cleeves’ latest Two Rivers mystery, The Heron’s Cry (Macmillan).  

Matthew is revered by his team, Detective Sergeant Jen Rafferty and Detective Constable Ross May, as they methodically investigate the murder of Dr. Nigel Yeo, a physician working for the nonprofit organization North Devon Patients Together. Nigel is desperate to speak with Jen at a mutual friend’s party but her inebriation makes her blow him off. The next morning, Nigel’s daughter Eve finds his bloody body in her glass-blowing studio. In an elaborately staged murder, the weapon is a shard of Eve’s glass, and Jen is guilt-ridden. A well-liked fellow, Nigel was an unlikely victim. What was he going to tell Jen? Could she have prevented his murder?

SURVIVOR’S GUILT IN A SMALL TOWN

Eve’s workshop is part of Westacombe, a rural farm complex owned by financier Frank Ley, and suddenly, its tenants the young farmers Sarah and John Grieve, Ley, the artist Wesley Curnow and even Eve become suspects. Among this close-knit group, none has an obvious motive but they all had the opportunity. Or was the motive as hidden away as their tiny community? 

As Matthew’s team digs deeper, the investigation reveals there is more to their intimate relationships than meets the eye. Shortly, another body is discovered with similar staging, and the team is desperate to connect the deaths and apprehend the perpetrator responsible for the gruesome killings.

The Heron’s Cry is as much a tale about family as it is about Nigel Yeo’s murder. Jen, Ross and Matthew all suffer from the strain of the job and it has sorely affected their relationship with their families. Jen is disconnected from her teenage kids, Ross from his loving wife and Matthew can’t seem to leave police work at the door. In both Two Rivers mysteries, The Long Call and The Heron’s Cry, crime follows Matthew into his beachside cottage like an unwanted guest, blurring the line between work and home. The murders strain his relationship with Jonathan and his estranged mother, Dorothy. In the recent novel, the Westacombe residents, and neighboring villages, become trapped in the grip of Yeo’s murder, which dredges up past tragedies.

SOMBER AND SIGNIFICANT

The mystery within The Heron’s Cry is as sad and chilling as the North Atlantic winds. Throughout it, the master storyteller Cleeves weaves the tough subjects of mental illness, suicide, sibling rivalry, parent-child strife and the gentrification of rural villages onto each page. 

As always, the novel’s setting within the windy estuary communities of Devon stars as a main character and plays a key role in the murder and its resolution. Cleeves’ sweeping descriptions of the sandy cliffs, the turbulent sea and the gentle wildlife capture the reader’s imagination and whisk them away to the distant shores of rural Southwestern England. If you listen carefully, you can almost hear the heron’s cry.

Beyond the mystery’s haunting and satisfying resolution, Cleeves’ themes will continue to resonate with readers long after the last page. We are all under the false belief that we know our friends and family. In truth, however, they will always be a mystery. They may be hiding a lover, an addiction, a health crisis, a past crime or trauma, and, as Cleeves suggests, we may never know the truth. The Heron’s Cry is an affirmation that while every relationship is fraught with tension, our love and understanding will conquer all. With open communications, the ones we love need not be a mystery. Just ask Matthew Venn and his team.


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Ann Cleeves is the multi-million copy and New York Times bestselling author behind two hit television series — the BBC’s Shetland, starring Douglas Henshall, and ITV’s Vera, starring Academy Award Nominee Brenda Blethyn — both of which are watched and loved in the US. The Long Call, the first in the Two Rivers series introducing Detective Matthew Venn, was an instant New York Times bestseller. She lives in the UK.