Fresh Meat: Luther: The Calling by Neil Cross

Luther, The Calling by Neil CrossLuther: The Calling by Neil Cross is the first in a series of mysteries based on the British television series (available September 4, 2012).

Meet Detective Chief Inspector John Luther. He’s a murder detective with an extraordinary case clearance rate. He’s obsessive, instinctive, and intense. Nobody who ever stood at his side has a bad word to say about him. And yet there are rumors that Luther is bad—not corrupt, not on the take, but tormented. He seethes with a hidden fury that at times he can barely control. Sometimes it sends him to the brink of madness, making him do things he shouldn’t—things well beyond the limits of the law.

I tried something new with Luther: The Calling by Neil Cross. Rather than reading a crime novel that was later made into a movie or television series, I read a novel that grew out of a television series.

The Calling is first in a potential series of tie-ins to the BBC drama Luther, starring Idris Elba as the eponymous hero, DCI John Luther. A second novel is currently scheduled for 2013. Neil Cross, The Calling’s author, is well-qualified for the task as he’s also the creator and sole writer of the show.  Cross takes this opportunity to explore Luther’s character with more complexity than is possible onscreen, which will be a big bonus to fans of the show. In book form, Cross is also able to dig further into the depths of human depravity and those who investigate it. The crimes and the criminals in this novel will be with me for a long time.

Aside from Luther himself, the novel is seasoned with an array of edgy or downright weird characters around the central, darkly twisted crime, a double-murder and kidnapping. Think Law and Order: SVU, only on cable, and with more domestic drama for the police; add a few touches of the more bizarre case-file episodes of The X-Files. (Perhaps it was inevitable that I got a feeling of television from the book!) I couldn’t help but picture Idris Elba’s Luther striding through the text, and all of the characters, even those original to the novel, seem to leap out from the page. I felt the characters were the novel’s strongest aspect. They swept me into the novel in a way that mirrored Luther’s obsession with the crime he investigates.

For instance, Luther’s DS questions a suspect who is a necrophiliac; he’s a much rounder character than would be found in many crime novels.

“How do you choose them? Your victims.”



“You want a job in a funeral home, a hospital, a graveyard. Obviously, a morgue’s your best bet.”

“So you like them fresh?”

“As the moment that the pod went pop.”

She gives him a neutral look. “But of course that’s difficult for you, isn’t it? Seeing as you’re banned from working with or anywhere near the dead.”

“I’m not practising,” he says. “I’m not a morgue rat anymore.”

“And why’s that?”

“I’ve got no interest in being a political prisoner.”

“It’s a political stance, is it, raping corpses?”

“A corpse is an object. You can’t rape an object.”

“And what about the families?”

“The dead don’t belong to them.”

“It’s all the same to you, isn’t it, Malcolm? You take what you want from the dead. Forget about the families and how they might feel. You live rent-free . . .”

Cross demonstrates that the police are not immune to depravity, either, and shows how it wears upon their emotions.

Benny perches his skinny arse on the very edge of it. He is gangly and bearded, wearing a washed-out Chrome T-shirt. Luther says, “You’re all over the pedo forums, right, Ben?”

“In a manner of speaking.” Luther leans in to catch his Belfast mumble. “Those little corners of the Internet where the kiddie-fiddlers share their vibrant fantasy lives. That’s where I spend my working day.”

“You been briefed about this case?”

“I’ve been told as much as there is to tell.”

Luther closes the door. “How are you? Really?” Benny’s had some mental health issues, work-related. It’s not uncommon in people who do his job. It’s the things they have to see.

“I’m all right. I’m actually pretty good. Fighting the good fight.”

“Because I’m going to ask you to hang around until this one’s sorted. You know about this stuff.”

“I wish I didn’t.”

“But you do.”

A small warning:  Luther: The Calling is not a novel for the squeamish, or for those who do not wish to read about crimes involving children. But for those who do enjoy spelunking into the dark side of human nature, and of course fans of the television series, it’s a deeply engaging read.

See more coverage of new releases in our Fresh Meat series.

Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories.  Her World War I-set Spice Brief, “Under Her Uniform,” is a tie-in to her novel The Moonlight Mistress. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at

Read all posts by Victoria Janssen for Criminal Element.


  1. Lois Karlin

    I was definitely hooked on streaming the television series and frustrated when Season 2 ended. But Luther is right on the edge of the kind of darkness I can bear, so if the novel goes farther, it may be too much. Generally, as long as I’ve got Comedy Central to stream, afterwards, I can sleep. Thanks for introducing the new series. I’ll be giving The Calling a chance.

  2. Victoria Janssen

    @LoisKarlin, the terrible crime is fairly close to the beginning, so you’ll be able to find out pretty soon if you want to read it or not.

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