“Luther: The Calling” by Neil Cross / Monday, November 12, 2012 / Reviewed by Clay Stafford

Today’s featured book is Luther: The Calling by Neil Cross.

"Luther:  The Calling" by Neil Cross

Womb raiders. A missing child. A serial killer.

Why Clay Stafford chose this book:

I’m a speed reader. I read one book a night. This one I had to take slowly like bites of a great home-grilled steak. It was too good to rush through. Even at a slower pace, though, once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. Frankly, the book is nightmarish. The bad guy will give you the willies. He’s a madman. He’s a genius.

Here’s the freaky part: as author Cross writes, “People put so much of their lives out there. On Facebook and wherever. There’s so much information on who we are, how we’re feeling, what we’re doing,” who is in our family, who we have as friends, even where we are going to be tonight. For those paranoid people such as crime writers like myself, I started looking at what I’ve been posting here and there in social media and thinking I need to cancel my Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress accounts. Unarguably, someone could learn all about you from the public information you give them and then do you in. Or worse: your family. Think about this the next time you post, for example, a picture of your child on Facebook.

For those who don’t know: “Luther: The Calling” is the prequel for the BBC highly popular “Luther” TV series. This is not for the squeamish. It is about a person who is stealing children for the most godawful reasons. It is also about a cop pushing the edge of acceptability. I wouldn’t call it vigilante fiction, but it comes very close. About page 179 of the edition of the book I was reading, you’ll be feeling the same emotions as the police detective. There are times, as you read, you wouldn’t mind grabbing a baseball bat and going along with him because it just feels justified. There are slimes in this novel with no redeeming characteristics: lots of thugs and one woman who, incidentally, is more morally disgusting though understandable than the thugs themselves. Disagree if you like, but my opinion holds. And there’s humor; for example, there’s a woman has been burglarized so she tells the police, “I’d like a dog. I’m scared to get one in case I take a fall and can’t feed it.” This stuff has to be there. You need it to break the tension.

Neil Cross is an Edgar winner and sole writer / creator of the BBC TV series, “Luther.” It’s not surprising he is an Edgar winner. “Luther: The Calling” is written in present tense so there is a sense of immediacy about it. The use of present tense when writing (for academic reasons not discussed here) doesn’t work in most fiction. It works wonderfully here. It gives the gritty piece an extra edge. (It’s also the form for screenplays, which may be a carry-over from Cross’s day job.)

In “Luther,” I love the personal story. The personal story is deep and is not just busy activity showing the personal life of the character. Lots of times, for me, the personal stories in thrillers and mysteries don’t help deepen my understanding of the character; to me, they’re a drag on the story, things best to be skipped. That’s because they are done poorly, thrown in because some editor tells some unequipped author you need some personal B stories to flesh out the characters, or some author throws it in on his/her own thinking it will help the reader identify with his/her protagonist. I’ve seen the advice in writing books and it is blatantly wrong. If the personal stories are not coming out of the spine of the story itself, then they shouldn’t be there. They become nothing more than filler. Here is an example of how it is done right. In “Luther,” the personal stories are moments to be savored for even the personal stories of the main characters relate directly to the progression of the story, the heinousness of the plot. I feel for Luther. And the way Cross has written it, you can see how Luther has become who he is. I became engrossed, watching John Luther’s life fall apart. It was like watching a train wreck. As his wife observed, looking at pictures of Luther as a younger man when they had met, the wife (Zoe) thinks “Somewhere along the line, that boy had joined the dead, and Zoe had spent years waving to him from a far shore, trying to call him back.” The story is just so real that you can’t help but empathetically self-reflect. “Our choices reveal us, don’t they?” It’s funny that, no matter how much we dream, life may not turn out that way. As Cross writes, “Closure may never come. And if it does come, it may not be what you were hoping for.”

This is one of the best crime novels I’ve read this year. The suspense keeps you riveted until the very last page. There are doubts, even as you near the end, about whether Luther will succeed or fail. I will not be a spoiler, but I will say author Cross does not care if he takes your favorite character out. If Luther wins, great. If he fails, we have to accept that, as well. Life isn’t always tied up in perfect ribbons. Regardless, this is one of those novels I’m going to have to read again just to appreciate all the workings under the hood. I can tell you: there are many.

From Amazon:

“In this stellar debut by journalist turned Washington insider and political writer Charles Robbins, an eager politico finds himself on the rise only to discover the perilous costs of success.

When Henry Hatten wangles a job as communications director for Nebraska SenatorTom Peele’s presidential campaign, he breathes a huge sigh of relief. Smarting over a recent gubernatorial campaign in which his pulling a political punch may have cost his boss the race, he’s thrilled to be back in action.

This time around, Henry is determined to shuck his ethical qualms. But he soon finds he’s facing more than he imagined. The new gig turns out to be rife with scandal and corruption – just the kind of politics Henry so fervently sought to banish. Events go from bad to worse as the depths of greed emerge, tracking the acceleration and excitement in the campaign itself. Led by a ruthless chairman and filled with warring aides, hired thugs, fractious union bosses, and snooping reporters, the Peele campaign is shaping up to be quite the circus. And that’s before Henry’s ex arrives on the scene . . .

But when someone close to the campaign is murdered, Henry can no longer turn a blind eye. As he conducts his own covert investigation, still more secrets emerge. So deeply entrenched in the politics and manipulation, Henry must face a staggering reality in which his values are no longer his own. But can he extricate himself and salvage the career he loves? And can he do so with his soul intact? A brilliantly plotted and characterized political novel, The Accomplice takes readers into the guts of a brutal presidential campaign. “

If you want to make your own comments on this selection, we would love to hear from you. Join ourFacebook Killer Nashville group page or our blog and join in the discussion.

Remember that these books are listed at a discount through Amazon. You also don’t have to purchase the version that is featured here. Many of these books are available in multiple formats: e–book, hardcover, softcover, and audio. Enjoy!

– Clay Stafford, Founder of Killer Nashville