Title: Luther: The Calling
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Trade Paperback: 360 pages
Publication Date: 04/08/2011
DCI John Luther likes to be different. Not just as a detective and character, but even as far as how he crossed from the screen to the page. Most television detectives start out their life as literary creations and eventually – after, no doubt, much to-ing and fro-ing between production companies and television executives – they make it onto our screens. Luther strode onto our televisions a little over a year ago. And, only now, has brought his hulking presence to the page with Neil Cross’s Luther: The Calling.
The novel is a prequel to the television series, and its climax links directly to the first show [but it is still an original novel and not a tie-in or novelization]. And this allows the book to operate on two levels. For the uninitiated [those unlucky enough to have missed the television series], this works as a great standalone piece of crime fiction – one that can be the perfect springboard for getting into the BBC series. And for the fans of the show, this book works brilliantly as a backstory piece – exploring and explaining Luther’s past.
The novel involves two cases – and a lot of exploration of Luther’s tortured mind and personal life. The first case involves a property developer, who is putting heavy pressure on an elderly tenant to move out of the home that he has lived in for decades [and in which his wife died]. As the book opens, Luther’s colleague, Ian Reed, has been beaten up after trying to protect the old man – which inevitably brings Luther into the picture. The second, more dominant, plotline involves the incredibly brutal murder of a young couple and ‘theft’ of their unborn baby [who has been cut out of her mother’s womb!].
There are quite a few scenes and sequences in the novel that are incredibly violent [never a bad thing in my opinion!], and the power and impact of these scenes is only enhanced by Cross’s taut prose style. Little time is spent on backstories or overly long descriptions, which leads to a tight, relentless read. Initially it took me a little while to get used to the style [by which I mean maybe a couple of pages!], but then I was unable to remove myself from the book’s grasp.
But there is a visual quality to the book – it almost felt like reading a television script in novel form. It was filled with short, sharp sentences. Settings were described in a handful of words and characters in little more. It might sound sparse, but it really works.
And, looming over it all is Luther. Idris Elba made the character his own on the series and many of his mannerisms have undoubtedly wormed their way into Cross’s mind. The way that he speaks, and walks, and the tiny little mannerisms that are seen throughout the novel – Luther runs his hands over his stubble and ‘washes’ his face with the palms of his hands. Elba and Luther have melded across the two media and it really shows in this book.
If I had one thing that I didn’t think totally worked then it was the levels of suspense throughout the book [especially compared to Cross’s other books]. I didn’t feel that the novel was quite as tense as it could have been – and as I was expecting it to be. But the pace of the plot and action, and the brilliance of Luther as a character did not make this a major concern in a very strong crime novel.