[Mild spoilers for Luther seasons 1, 2 and 3]
Here’s a question for all you Cannonballers: which is easier to write, a good review or a bad review? I tend not to mind either way. Scathing, bitchy reviews are fun, but so is expressing your profound love and enjoyment of a book you have just read. The hardest reviews, I think, are about the books I am unsure about. Unfortunately for me, The Calling falls into this category.
The Calling is a prequel to the BBC Crime series, though it was written after the first series aired; the conclusion of the book is the beginning of the first episode. This basically means that, provided you’ve seen the TV show, you’ll know roughly what it’s about and how it’ll end. The story, in a nutshell, focuses on the hunt to catch cradle-robber and kiddie-snatcher Henry Madsen and John Luther’s unorthodox methodology.
Be forewarned: The Calling is bleak. This may not come as a surprise to you if you’ve seen the show, but the show ill-prepares you for what this book is like. Dogs are tortured, babies are killed, genitalia are removed and inserted elsewhere, decapitations are gleefully, mockingly staged. Again, this is nothing new in crime fiction, but The Calling is written in a factual, minimalist style that reads almost like a script. The minds of the good guys are depicted the same way as those of the bad guys: we read about Luther’s loving recollections of his wife and Madsen’s disappointment at the failings of the infant he has just ripped from its mothers body almost simultaneously. It is intensely unnerving and depressingly bleak.
Particularly because Henry Madsen is such a terrifying character. He is the worst kind of villain, one who has a particular set of ideals and morals. His petulant and indignant rants on radio stations are chilling and his description of what he has in mind for the children he kidnaps are downright terrifying. He’s Patrick Bateman with a focus on family instead of aesthetics.
The novel does have lighter touches. It expertly caters to fans of the show by inserting (sometimes shoehorning) characters we know from the TV show – Zoë and Mark, but also, less predictably, Martin Schenk and Justin Ripley – and it offers intriguing clues about Luther’s relationship with Ian Reed and Zoë’s affair with Mark North. Funnily, because the novel was written after the series was made, the character descriptions are of the actors rather than the way Cross originally envisioned them. You get the idea Cross actually pictured Idris Elba, Warren Brown, Indira Varma and the other actors (they’re thanked in the acknowledgements).
Overall, though, The Calling is a bleak, depressing, even gruesome read. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I don’t spook easily, yet this book sent chills down my spine. It was a far more interesting read than I thought it would be, but also far more uncomfortable, hardly the quick, guilty pleasure I envisioned. I’m not sure I enjoyed reading it, but it is very good at what it does.
Now I’m off to shower my mind at Cuteoverload.