Book Review: The Raging Storm by Ann Cleeves

Ann Cleeves―New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of the Vera and Shetland series, both of which are hit TV shows―returns with The Raging Storm, the extraordinary third installment in the Matthew Venn series. Read on for Janet Webb's review!

The Raging Storm is the third installment in the continuing Two Rivers series. It can be read as a standalone but if you’d like to know more about Detective Inspector Matthew Venn and his world, consider reading reviews of The Long Call, followed by The Heron’s Cry.

When she was a teenager, Ann Cleeves lived in North Devon. She never really considered it as a setting for her books, as she shared in an essay: “It lacked the wildness, the authenticity of Shetland and Northumberland.  My books are traditional and domestic, but I didn’t think they fitted the tourists’ image of the place: a gentle landscape, thatched cottages, and cream teas.”  After the death of her husband of more than forty years, Cleeves had to get away from her Northumberland home and friends—she needed “an escape from their pity and their memories,” so she “ran back to North Devon to stay with an old school friend.”

It was winter and rainy, but we walked along the beaches and the headlands, remembering the intense and happy times of our adolescence, the parties, the music, the wonderful friendships.  It came to me that I wanted to write about this place and explore it again in my stories.


My friend had grown up in a tight, evangelical community, and we talked about that too.  About the certainty of her parents’ beliefs, their support of older members of the group, but also the lack of sympathy for people who’d lost their faith.  They would be ‘unfellowshipped’ and no longer welcome, cast out.


Matthew Venn developed from those conversations.

But let’s not get ahead of the plot. The citizens of Greystone, an imaginary town on the Devon coast, are excited when a hometown hero returns: “Jem Rosco—sailor, adventurer, and legend—blows into town in the middle of an autumn gale.” Every night Jem stops by the pub and regales the locals with his yarns and veiled allusions to meeting a mysterious woman. But one night he doesn’t show up. 

Greystone resident Mary Ford is awoken by her pager at five am: she’s a member of the lifeboat rota—there’s “a mayday on channel sixteen.” Mary and her crew go to the designated coordinates where they find an anchored dinghy, which seems very odd. There’s a naked body in the boat. Muscle memory kicks in: Mary slides into the dinghy and maneuvers the man into the lifeboat. She performs CPR as per protocol, but she knows it’s useless: “this man was cold as ice and lifeless, though, and the limbs were rigid.” On the way back to shore, “For the first time, she looked closely at the casualty’s face, and realized that she recognized him. Jem Rosco, national treasure and her one-time hero.”

A verse from “Requiem,” a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, seems appropriate: “Here he lies where he longed to be; Home is the sailor, home from sea.” Jem Rosco, a lad from a poor background, developed into a fantastic sailor—he conquered the world with his exploits, “becoming the youngest person to sail round the world single-handed.” He was greeted with jubilation and applause when he returned home.  But as is so often the case, Jem Rosco was not the hero everyone wanted to believe in. 

Matthew Venn is tasked to investigate Rosco’s death. 

Greystone brought back memories for Matthew Venn. There was a meeting hall in the village and he’d been brought here by his parents. A visit to the village had always been a treat, and he remembered this odd, isolated place with affection. There’d been a big community of Brethren, with more children than he’d ever encountered in Barnstaple.

That was then. In adulthood, Matthew left the Brethren and was no longer welcomed in the community he grew up in. The same for Greystone: “Since losing his faith, and marrying Jonathan, he hadn’t been back.” Still, as Matthew approaches Greystone, his memories are of “a place where he’d been so happy.” Dorothy, Matthew’s mother, had even wanted to move to Greystone but his father said no: “It was too remote. Too self-contained.” A policeman from a higher jurisdiction tells Matthew that until Rosco’s death, he’d never been to Greystone: ‘I get the impression that they sort out their own problems.’ Is that a good thing Matthew wonders: “a community that policed itself sounded dangerous to him, with an undercurrent of control, bullying.”

Three strands of The Raging Storm wind and twist together: the mystery of Rosco’s death and how his friendships and loves from decades earlier play out in the present; Matthew’s personal life—his comforting and dynamic relationship with his husband plus his knowledge of a community deeply impacted by an unyielding religion; and lastly, the setting, not just the sea and the tides, but the isolation of a seaside village that doesn’t attract tourists or work-from-home folks. 

Matthew encounters closed ranks as he investigates Rosco’s past as well as meticulously examining how Rosco spent the days before his death. He is confronted with obfuscation and downright misleading statements. When he speaks with a colleague, after all the dust has settled, he considers how difficult it must have been for Rosco to be truly accepted by his youthful, more affluent friends—to be “one of them.”  

There was a moment of silence. Venn had never quite fitted in at school either. He hadn’t fitted in anywhere, until he’d joined the police, and found his own role, his own tribe.

There’s a tribe of readers who were happy to learn that the Two Rivers series will continue and BritBox will stream the “four episodes of The Long Call, a dramatisation of the first book in the Two Rivers series.” Matthew Venn and North Devon have captured our imagination.

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