The Raging Storm: A Detective Matthew Venn Novel (The Two Rivers Series, 3)
For mystery readers who like boots-on-the-ground British police procedurals, book three in the Two Rivers series delivers.
Once again Detective Inspector Matthew Venn leads his team into the moody reaches of North Devon to solve a complicated crime. In this case, a hometown hero returns from his famous around-the-world adventures for a mysterious private rendezvous, which sets the village of Greystone a-twitter. The residents all grew up with him, or know about him, or still have some dubious relationship with him, which creates a pile of suspects when he turns up again dead.
That’s about as far as the story goes before starting to bog down.
The narrative follows the established structure of the series: cycling viewpoints between Matthew Venn and his colleagues, Detectives Jen Rafferty and Ross May. It includes the weather as a factor so strong as to qualify as a character—in this case, gray, cold, and wet, a ferociously windy antagonist that influences almost every character’s attitude.
Perhaps this accounts for the lack of verve in the story. So much of the time, the characters and villagers are huddled against the environment. The three police and one of the villagers, whose viewpoint we also get in the narrative, have to plod through their duties, and everyone is struggling with personal issues that make them feel as bleak as the weather.
As the investigation progresses intellectually and physically, we get a lot of motivation and internal angst for the principals, which helps us understand them, but much less equivalent information about the criminals, which describes them without delving as deep. The effect is a crime novel where the plot seems invented to serve the characters rather than the characters generating a plot.
This is a common trait of series, especially from prolific authors. But as long as readers want to be with the characters and enjoy their ongoing adventures, no problem. Ann Cleeves has built up a loyal following through multiple series—to the point of having several books translated into popular television dramas—and this Two Rivers series slots right into that groove. The challenge of success is maintaining it, and here The Raging Storm falls short of its predecessors.
Matthew is still tormented by his religious upbringing; a nagging ghost riding on his shoulder, though he’s starting to see how the way it molded him gives him a unique and helpful perspective on investigations. Jen is still hung up on her marital status but beginning to figure out what she truly wants and needs. Ross is still young, egotistical, and impatient but making progress in finding his core values and acting on them.
Each has advanced from what ailed them in the previous volume, but they remain distracted enough by their personal issues to make readers wonder if they have the focus needed to catch the bad guys, who run circles around them for much of the book.
Indeed, the investigators get so far behind that other people are murdered before they can catch up, and Matthew and Ross almost are taken out themselves. This allows suspense to stay high until the end, though experienced mystery readers might figure out whodunit before the detectives do.
Because of the character quotient, this book is best appreciated if read after the first two. While The Raging Storm can be understood as a stand-alone, because it provides adequate backstory for context and continuity, the individual character development is easier to understand if you know what came before. This applies particularly to Matthew’s relationship with his husband, Jonathan. Unlike the others, Jonathan is an upbeat and outreaching personality. Here he makes an almost-cameo appearance, disappointing to readers who like him but consistent with the mixing-work-with-personal-life conflict that came in the previous book.
Another difference, albeit minor, between the previous volumes and this one is a change from the shorebird-themed title: book one, The Long Call, and book two, The Heron’s Cry, but book three, The Raging Storm. No question the storm concept is appropriate for this story, but it’s a curious break from the pattern of the author’s more recent series, which consistently title the volumes on a theme.
All that said, for readers who want a brainteaser to unravel by following the characters through the procedures of investigation—including coaxing needed information out of a recalcitrant, oftimes hostile community—The Raging Storm will keep them plenty intrigued.