This is much more than a TV tie-in. It’s a novel written by the creator and sole writer of hit BBC drama, Luther. Told as a prequel to the first series, it shows us how Luther became the man we met on television.
DCI John Luther is a man in crisis. His marriage is falling apart. He hasn’t slept in weeks, maybe months. His work is nearly killing him. “His heart is a furnace”, Cross tells us – and shows us, again and again. Luther will beat up suspects, set fire to their cars, dangle their pets over balconies; whatever it takes to get results.
With his hero liable to cross the line twice before breakfast, Cross is obliged to serve up a cast of villains so dark and twisted they make Hannibal Lector and Buffalo Bill look like boy scouts. His psychopath Henry is one of the scariest people to crawl off the page in years. The passages told through Henry’s point of view are starkly edited and incredibly powerful. That we never quite learn the reasons behind his actions, is probably a good thing.
Fans of the TV show will know how it ends for Henry, but Cross serves up some truly sickening twists and surprises along the way. There are a couple of instances where the narrative threatens to stray into farce, by virtue of being so unforgivingly gruesome, but Cross keeps a tight rein on his words and denies us the light relief of being able to laugh at his monster.
Cross is candid in crediting Idris Elba, the actor who plays Luther, with much of the physical sense of his hero and, on the page, this story shares the editing technique and visual power of the screen version. But, more than anything, it’s an astounding book in its own right.
Unapologetic, brutal and stunning – in the very real sense of that word – this is a novel that takes the extreme premise of the TV drama further than it would be allowed to go on-screen. In doing this, Cross makes the best possible use of the print medium. Novels shock in different ways to television. The shock feels more personal. The images summoned by his words stay in your head in a way that the on-screen images do not.
This is the point at which most reviews would say ‘Not for the faint-hearted’, but that cliche is redundant in this context. If you weren’t faint-hearted when you started reading, you’ll feel it by the end. Whole passages are carried on an adrenaline wave that leaves the reader shaking and in fear of what comes next. If you don’t suffer nightmares after finishing this book, you’re a stronger reader than me.
No doubt about it, Cross is an amazing writer, capable of lyricism and pathos as well as some of the most traumatising scenes you’re ever likely to experience in a mainstream crime novel.
This post was submitted by Sarah Hilary.