LUTHER: The Calling by Neil Cross

Published by Simon and Schuster – unleashed this week.

This is not the usual path for a crime fiction novel to take.

Our television screens are currently awash with detective and crime series featuring characters from successful series of books by the top of the crop of the authors we see adorning our bookstore shelves, often re-jacketed to show the actors in question on the books when rereleased (Mark Billingham’s Thorne series, Ann Cleeves’ Vera, Michael Dibdin’s Zen, Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks etc).

But with Luther: The Calling, what we have is a new spin – a prequel novel written by Neil Cross, the creator of the hard hitting and ratings winning BBC1 series.

Although no stranger to crime fiction fans for his superb novels Burial and Captured, Cross has also written for television for some time, including the hit Spooks before he created the haunted, tormented London based DCI John Luther.

The television series (now having had two successful seasons) kicked off with Luther (played superbly by Idris Elba – most known prior to this for his convincing US role as Stringer Bell in long running classic series The Wire) running down a villain who eventually fell to his death in a warehouse.  The series opener always left the reason for that chase and the reality of the outcome open-ended, with the viewer then unsure of just how far Luther will go, or has gone before, to catch or defeat his prey.

Here is a detective for whom the terms ‘on the edge’ or ‘loose cannon’ just aren’t enough and with the author taking on board all of the actor’s ticks and actions throughout the series, this is the most visual novel I have read this year.  With Luther forcing his hands deep into his pockets when at a crime scene, preventing them from being able to touch anything, by ‘dry-washing’ his face with the palms of his hands, his hands rasping across his stubble – this is Idris Elba/this is Luther, and the two have become one across the media of books and television seamlessly.

The plot is probably the darkest Luther tale yet – a crime scene which features a murdered couple and the description that the pregnant woman has been cut open and her baby removed and stolen away is truly the stuff of nightmares and Neil Cross clearly has a very very dark imagination when he chooses to go into that part of his mind. Despite the growing darkness in the tv series, I did struggle to see how this storyline would fare on tv – it really is grotesque at times – but in a way that just forces you on page after page.  After all, not only do you not know what the bad guys might do in this book, you’re just as concerned as to what direction and actions the ‘good guy’ is going to take as Luther is clearly walking a very fine and fragile line.

Great to see some of the series cop regulars, including Justin, turning up in the novel along with Luther’s wife Zoe and her lover Mark  – I really wanted Alice (played so well by Ruth Wilson in the television show) to make an appearance, but of course the timeline of her appearance wouldn’t allow her to crop up here in the prequel.

This will work both ways.

Fans of the show will get to get further inside the head of their favourite tv DCI and discover more about why he is the way he is.

And those reading the novel first will have the perfect lead in to then go and buy the two seasons on DVD and see the continuation of this great, dark and dangerous character.

Certainly one of the highlights of my reading so far this year.

Keith

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