He listens. But he can’t sit still. He can’t stop thinking. His head is a city.
I’m referring this one to the discussion of “carnography” as linked below. This is a novel by Neil Cross that is a prequel to his famed BBC TV crime series LUTHER starring the terrific actor and top bloke Idris Elba. Cleverly, it does not require foreknowledge of the show. In fact, if you read this and then watched LUTHER, you’d have an amazing time. If you have seen LUTHER, then this book will resonate in other, chilling ways. Either way – you will get a complete experience off the book.
That complete experience, though, is fucking horrifying. It’s not quite as hard to read as, say, Will Carver’s nightmarish HINTON HOLLOW DEATH TRIP, which I still haven’t finished because I don’t want that shit in my head at night. Carver should be in prison. But the novel form allows Neil Cross to go Full Horror Writer. What makes it worse, of course, is that the — and let me be clear, Full Horror – sequences are framed by scenes of great tenderness, well observed and tinged with their own fragile pain.
It is a serial-killer story, I suppose, but the central concept is more skewed than that suggests. The kills are just the cost of what the killer really wants, and seeing that played out is thoroughly disturbing. John Luther is a London police detective: in the show, he’s famously obsessive, but less a “maverick detective” than a neurodivergent force who doesn’t necessarily see lines to cross, or sees them as orthogonal to the desired goal of saving lives. (And, in the show, to his own strange loyalties and codes.)
People look at him and see the big man with a big walk, but he’s really just a bag of broken glass in human form, smashed by the job.
It is as monstrous a crime novel as the best LUTHER episodes, but with an immediacy, a depth and a control of pace that only the novel can give Cross. It’s a good book, cleverly made, full of tears and nightmares and human costs.
THE CALLING, Neil Cross (UK) (US)
This piece originally appeared in my free weekly newsletter, ORBITAL OPERATIONS, which you can subscribe to here.