Ann Cleeves has had a long and distinguished writing career, and is already the creative brain behind the brilliant Vera and Shetland.
Those two series featured the likes of Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez – strong, idiosyncratic characters who wear their hearts on their sleeves, and are ultimately good people. They often solve crimes in windswept coastal locations, and it’s no surprise the Cleeves has returned to the coast for her newest character, DI Matthew Venn.
But there are a few crucial differences to this four-part adaptation of her first Matthew Venn novel, The Long Call.
Yes, it’s set on the coast but this time in a busy, almost trendy area – Ilfracombe in Devon. Then comes Venn himself, a clean-shaven, beautiful man (played by Ben Aldridge), who is gay. I only mention Venn’s sexuality because a) he is, b) he’s the first male detective lead in UK TV history, and b) it’s integral to the story.
Venn has moved back to Ilfracombe with husband Jonathan, but this first episode begins to prize open his difficult past, which includes being banished from his family home… populated by a secular, Quaker-like mother and father. With his father now in the ground, his mother has no time for him, or his lifestyle.
Dovetailing with Venn’s family set-up is a whodunit.
A man named Simon Walden is found dead on the beach, initially with no forensics, identity or motive.
However, soon Venn and his team find that Walden was involved in a drink-driving death years before and had escaped to Ilfracombe to start afresh.
As ever with these things, we’re introduced to a whole raft of characters – Walden’s flatmates Gaby and Caroline, Caroline’s over-bearing dad Christopher, Walden’s co-worker Lucy and her father Maurice… these are the names and faces that will no doubt occupy the story going forward.
But like any new series that introduces a new lead character, all eyes are on him. Venn is, like Stanhope and Perez before him, a nice guy. Whether he has the charisma, drive and dark side that really make lead investigative characters so interesting is yet to be seen, but on the opening instalment, I wonder if he is too nice.
However, as you would expect from anything based on Cleeves’ work, it’s engaging stuff. Gently unfolding, beautiful to look at and solid procedurally. It doesn’t blow your socks off, and the involvement of a cult-like religious community more or less replicates the story from The Valhalla Murders.
Let’s see where this goes.