This is the first book of the newest series by Ann Cleeves, set in North Devon, and a new main character, DI Matthew Venn.
I'm going to start by talking about the issues I had with this book, although I did enjoy it a lot, because I want to talk about the weakness before I get to the strengths. The main weakness, for me, was the actual mystery/plot. I wasn't really convinced by the motivations behind the murder and the events that followed from the murder. I can't say a lot without spoiling, but I felt like that was a significant problem with the plot.
But, I want to focus for a moment on the things that I liked about the book, which are also things that I generally like about Cleeves as a writer. She has three current series: Vera Stanhope, set in Northumberland, Jimmy Perez, set in the Shetland Isles, and now this one, set in North Devon. In each of these series, Cleeves uses the bleakness and isolation of the landscapes to tremendous effect for setting and tone of the books.
I also think that she writes really good characters - both her main characters and many of the side characters. Matthew Venn is a likeable protagonist who doesn't necessarily fit the police officer mold - he grew up in a very insular religious sect (very nearly a cult), and is publicly out as a married gay man. These things are established organically. Matthew's relationship with his husband, Jonathan, is convincing. His fraught relationship with his mother is also well-drawn, and at the start of the book his father has just died, and his complicated feelings about the death of a man to whom he hasn't spoken in decades are convincing.
The side characters are also well done, especially Lucy, a young woman with Down's Syndrome, and her father Maurice. Lucy and Maurice become involved in the murder as witnesses, and Cleeves handles their relationship and Lucy's complicated character really well. She is respectful of Lucy and shows how a young woman like Lucy's can be smart and resourceful as well as vulnerable.
So, I did enjoy the book and plan to read more of the Matthew Venn books as they are published.