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THR’s Book of the Week: The Emmy-Nominated ‘Luther’ TV Series’ Prequel Novel

In “The Calling” creator Neil Cross offers a gripping exploration of the troubled detective’s backstory

LUTHER: THE CALLING by Neil Cross Cover - P 2012

The acclaimed BBC America TV series Luther, starring Idris Elba, has gotten a prequel novel, Luther: The Calling, penned by show creator Neil Cross.

The novel tells the story of the events leading up to the start of the TV show.

Detective Chief Inspector John Luther is a celebrated murder detective--one of the best on the force. He's obsessive, driven, instinctive and willing to push the rules to get a conviction.

His comrades love him and are loyal but many think Luther's crazy--too tortured, too angry, too self-destructive to be a good cop.

The Calling finds Luther investigating the murder of the Lamberts, a husband and wife brutally killed in their own home. More disturbing, Sarah Lambert was 8.5 months pregnant and the murderer stole her unborn child.

Luther is hunting a killer and a kidnapper.

The Calling showcases Luther in all his complicated glory, exploring how the very characteristics that make him a great detective also carry the seeds of his unraveling.

Cross admits he struggled with the idea of doing a prequel, worried that fans of the TV show would be turned off because to some extent they knew the ending.

But the opposite proves true. Knowing where the story is going to end up frees Cross to really dive into the character of Luther and to focus on his evolution.

Cross' portrayal of Luther in print shows how much the making of the TV show influenced the writing of the book. He happily acknowledges the extent to which Elba's portrayal of Luther has influenced how he sees the character. His original Luther was different, but now he says, "Idris is Luther."

Indeed, Elba's physicality, the anguished twist of his face, the mental and physical toll his job takes on him infuses the novelistic Luther.

Plus, just because the ultimate ending is known doesn't stop Cross from adding a few well-executed twists before the conclusion. To say more would risk spoiling things for readers, but in this case the journey is as satisfying as the destination.

He also throws in some deft foreshadowing of later events for those who have seen the TV show.

Cross' storytelling skill and deft characterization emphasizes how much credit he deserves for creating Luther--one of the best crime series to show up on TV in a long time.

The novel is a reminder that the show's Emmy nomination for best mini-series and Cross' nomination for best writing were well deserved.

It also reveals that for all his skill as scriptwriter, Cross is above all else a gifted novelist. Indeed, The Calling, which was first published in England last year, has picked up numerous honors along the way, including winning the 2012 Ngaio Marsh Award for best crime novel and  being shortlisted for the Theakston’s Crime Fiction prize.

Cross also made the 2004 Man Booker Prize longlist for his 2004 novel Always the Sun and the Pen/Ackerley Prize for literary autobiography for 2006's Heartland.

Cross-will be spending a chunk of the late fall in England for the filming of the third series of the TV show (while also seeing development of a18th-century set mini-series about Pirates for NBC)

Fans should enjoy The Calling in the interim and mystery/thriller unfamiliar with the show should give the novel a chance. They will not be disappointed.

Fall is when the days get shorter, the nights get colder and Halloween approaches. Dark, moody, a little creepy, a little unnerving, nail-bitingly brutal: The Calling is the perfect novel to usher in the transition from the bright summer sun to the long shadows of the harvest season.

The Calling is more than a tie-in novel. It is some of best crime fiction to hit bookstores this year.