Daily Archives: August 2, 2011

The TV Book Club Summer Read

A very eclectic mix of books were up for this year’s TV Book Club ‘Summer Read’ series by Specsavers, and, for once, I decided to put the put the crime titles (Dennis Lehane’s Moonlight Mile and Camilla Lackberg’s The Hidden Child) to one side to open my own reading to some titles I wouldn’t have usually picked.

This was also influenced more than a little by the fact that I’d kindly been invited, along with a small group of other bloggers and a book reading group, to watch the last two episodes of this summer’s show being recorded.

So, the week prior to the filming, I read ‘The Radleys’ by Matt Haig (see earlier review) and, on the day of filming I raced through ‘Grace Williams says it Loud’ by Emma Henderson in various coffee shops across London as I made my way to the Cactus Television studios in Kennington.

I must confess to finding the book a difficult read for its subject matter, which deals with the inner voice of a severely handicapped girl and her time at Briar Mental Institute and terrible abuse she suffers there, and also for the lack of an uplifting ending which I both wanted and needed.  Some of the sections of the novel are the stuff of horror stories and I wanted to question who would make such things up in the name of fiction.  The short film we were shown (which forms part of the show) showed author Emma Henderson describing that ‘Grace’ was based on her own sister and the horrors she wrote of were those she was told were going on at her sister’s own mental health home.  That, if anything, made it even more disturbing for me and the whole uplifting thing and the character of ‘Debonair Daniel’ lifting Grace from her traumas was, I have to admit, lost o this reader amongst all the horrific abuse that took centre stage a lot of the time.

Nevertheless, it’s a book I’ll remember, partly for cramming the reading in before the filming, and one I wouldn’t have experienced had the show not give me the chance and suggestion to widen my reading – even if I did go running back to the safety of the guns and knives of my comfort zone of crime fiction very soon afterwards!

The recordings themselves I find remarkable for the fact that they are done and dusted in about forty minutes (bearing in mind the show’s only thirty minutes including titles and an ad break.  Whilst the cast on the sofa (which comprised Jo Brand, Rory McGrath, Meera Syal and Stephen Tompkinson for both shows) clearly have had a little time to read and chat about the books before the recording and have some autocue assistance, the wildcard of having a guest reviewer on each show who is literally dropped onto the sofa and then leaves shortly afterwards is handled very well by all concerned.

For The Radleys episode we had the lovely Andrea Corr as guest reviewer and the discussion kicked off about her work on the Alan Parker movie The Commitments – which led to the forming of The Corrs as a band.  The cast asked if there was an unattractive, short, tone-deaf Corr sister that they kept hidden away from the public and Jo Brand said she was the one!

The second episode featured Celia Imrie as guest reviewer and there was a very interesting moment when she gestured to the audience and referred to us as ‘you’ – the whole concept of the show is that there isn’t an audience in the room, so I look forward to seeing if that gesture remains in the show and how it looks when it airs on 14th August, as potentially she broke the wall of television.

The really interesting comment that was made at the recordings was by Chief Executive of Cactus, Amanda Ross, who told the visiting book group that they have a big advantage over the tv sofa version because they can talk about endings to books – the celebrities on the show cannot give any major plots or endings away and it was interesting to see how conversations were steered to avoid this pitfall on the day.

A thoroughly enjoyable and varied selection of reads this Summer and a very hospitable cast and crew at the recordings who made us all feel very welcome.

You can catch the shows on Channel 4 and More 4 and catchup on 4 OD (on demand).


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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.


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