Luther: The Calling by Neil Cross
My days of habitual police procedural/crime drama television viewing are about five years in the past. Not that I still don’t enjoy a good mystery, but in all honesty, watching shows like Law & Order: SVU and Criminal Minds was more about spending time with my wife than anything else. The presence of little children in our household dissolved what had become a loose, nightly ritual. On one hand, the often gruesome depiction of violence and its aftermath was not something I wanted a toddler accidentally viewing, and on the other hand, frequent use of child victims left me feeling (more) anxious for my sons’ safety when done well, and blatantly manipulated when done poorly. This means that I was unfamiliar with the BBC’s Luther.
Neil Cross’s Luther: The Calling acts as a prequel to the series. It deals with the case that strains and shatters the eponymous protagonist’s professional and personal life before the show’s first episode.
Serial killer Henry has murdered Tom and Sarah Lambert, brutally defiled their corpses, and cut the unborn child from Sarah’s womb, intending to raise the girl as his own. John Luther is tasked with hunting Henry down and rescuing the child, if possible. As the details of the case become increasingly disturbing, and more lives are endangered, Luther stoops to extortion and brutality in order to get closer to catching the murderer. Meanwhile, his marriage and career threaten to fall apart.
The novel contains many vivid characters. John Luther is a brilliant police officer with a strong sense of moral outrage, who is increasingly unable (or unwilling) to hold back the darkness within him; DS Howie, temporarily paired with Luther, and desperately unprepared for his methods; Patrick, Henry’s “adopted” son, Vasile Sava, black market, baby broker, and Steve Bixby, formerly a trafficker in child pornography, who now tries desperately not to succumb to his own dark urges. These last two characters stand out in particular as they managed to be disturbing and sympathetic at the same time, humanized individuals who are almost always written off as inhuman. The Calling’s main antagonist, Henry, actually comes off as shallow compared to the other damaged personalities in the story.
While there’s never a doubt about whether the killer will be caught by the end of the book, Luther: The Calling kept me guessing as to how much damage would be done to its cast before the inevitable conclusion.
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