John Luther, as Idris Elba, star of his own TV serial, Luther, gets his prequel in the form of this novel – Luther: The Calling
– written by the same author, Neil Cross. Coming out in 2011, around the same time as the second Luther serial, this novel describes the case immediately prior to the TV serial. In fact, it runs up almost completely to the start of the first episode – covering everything that leads up to the suspension that Luther returns from. This is a dark introduction, not for the faint of heart, dealing with a number of quite brutal and bloody child abductions. The story feels right though, like the TV serial itself, Luther is a dark character who needs dark crimes to pit himself against.
Several other characters from the TV serial are introduced (again). Some of them make perfect sense to exist in this novel: Zoe, his wife, is still the complex cross of selfish and trapped in a relationship that does her no good; and Rose Teller, his boss, is still the same acidic cop first human second character – the two women in Luther's life. Through to characters that didn't absolutely need to be here, but we like the continuity: Ian Reed, the dogged side-kick, who is injured throughout a lot of this story, but Cross begins to foreshadow some of the storyline that Reed presents once the TV serial kicks off. At the other end of the scale, the character that is so blatantly included just so those people who watched the TV serial can go "ah-hah" is Justin Ripley, there's no valid reason for him to be in the novel, he doesn't interact with Luther at all, just briefly collects a statement half way through the story. Totally unnecessary foreshadowing.
Over used nods to the TV seems to be the failing of the novel. Ripley's appearance aside, the characterisation of Luther especially, but also some other characters, seems to rely entirely on you having seen the TV serial. Taking the text on it's own, he seems shallow and two-dimensional, once you picture him as Idris Elba and fill in the voice and the odd tics – in fact fill in a lot yourself, because it isn't written here – only then does the character feel fully formed. While Cross has written other novels, this feels more like an adapted screenplay, it's dialogue heavy but description light. The dialogue never feels wrong, it just feels like the novel needs more non-dialogue.