Luther: The Calling, by Neil Cross
In the normal run of things, first an author enjoys success with a string of crime novels, then is fortunate enough to be approached with regards to a televisual adaptation. The list of detectives brought to the small screen in this fashion is endless. However, DCI John Luther, much like his creator, is not one for the typical or mundane. As a result, Luther has graced our screens for just over a year already before finally appearing on our bookshelves.
Luther: The Calling serves as a prequel to the events already witnessed on TV. DCI Luther is still married to Zoe, but their marriage is a shell of what it once was, and will not survive the stresses and horrors of Luther’s next case; that of a brutally murdered family, their unborn child removed and kidnapped by the killer, after a brutal caesarean section.
As could be inferred from such a premise, the book follows the TV series in pushing the envelope of violence, and a not-for-the-squeamish disclaimer certainly applies. However, Cross fuses graphic violence and psychological horror to create something which should rightly be shocking to any reader capable of empathy. This goes beyond the vicarious pleasure of standard crime, and into the territory inhabited by horror writers; we read because we wish to see the killer brought to justice, but more so because we cannot look away.
Just as the mood of the series is faithfully recreated, so is the character of DCI Luther. His angst and complexity are explored further, as is his darkly endearing capacity to extort vital information from witnesses. Luther is a primal force at the heart of the Met, dragging his colleagues and his superiors into his plans by the sheer power of his will. Indeed, there is something of Batman about him; a dark, tormented figure, assisted by the police force but unbound by their long-term thinking or deontological ethics.
Perhaps understandably, Cross’ prose can take the form of stage direction, at least in the opening stages. Writing in present tense and charting the movements and gestures of the characters, Cross has created something that would not be a difficult to transfer to the small screen – a mouthwatering prospect for Luther fans, no doubt.
The old wisdom tells us that screen adaptations of books are always a disappointment. Similarly, there is a heavy stigma attached to novelisations of screen dramas, and to TV tie-in books, and also to prequels. Yet again, Luther and Cross refuse to conform. This is no mere TV tie-in; this is a fully functioning standalone, and an excellent book in its own right. The drama is often shocking, always visceral. Cross creates a plot which allows us to see the nascence of a beloved character, showcasing his swaggering brilliance as well as his anguish. Luther: The Calling is strongly recommended even to anyone unfamiliar with the series, but to fans, this is an absolute must.