Neil Cross, sole writer of the BBC TV series, Luther, wrote this psychological crime drama prequel, subsequent to writing the TV show. I have never read a book based on a screenplay that was any good, until now. Not just good, but unputdownable. Was it as riveting as the series? Absolutely. I wasn’t distracted by segueing from film to print, or going back in time, or the sizzling reminders of Idris Elba, who consummately personifies DCI John Luther.
“Luther is a big man with a big walk,” is Cross’s understated way of describing this very complex and conflicted London detective of the Serious Crime Unit. He was once a post-grad English literature major, who met his wife, Zoe, when they took a comparative religion course together about twenty years ago. She is now a human rights attorney, and Luther fights crime on the London streets.
John loves his wife, frequently despises his job, but compromises his marriage for the dedication and long hours that keep him away from home, physically and emotionally. He’s hypomanic, which is, euphemistically, bipolar-lite. His mood is elevated and sleep is elusive. He doesn’t drink. Now, there’s an original and refreshing trait. Too many crime novels portray the alcoholic genius detective. Luther is a genius, but a sober one.
Luther has a temper. Violent criminals, especially psychopaths who harm children, provoke his rage. He periodically goes rogue in his tactics, creating hair-raising moments with his boss, Rose Teller. His partner and best friend, Ian Reed, is on the same page, but other colleagues frown when he disregards policy. They officially complain, complicating the plot and putting the squeeze on Luther’s advantage against the clock.
Graphic violence is central to the plot, so beware the beast. However, it is not gratuitous. Cross is brilliant at combining Tarantino and Rumi. Luther is the thinking man's combatant, a scholar/warrior, a David Bowie enthusiast and moral strategist, with a hint of the mystical. Instead of a patched-elbow tweedy elite, which he could have been, he is fighting crime. Luther is a conundrum. On the one hand, he is deeply virtuous and applies his principles or morality to outwitting the criminal. On the other hand, his tempestuous means to an end approach often violates departmental ethics, creating considerable problems for himself, his colleagues, and his superiors.
With a poetic economy of words, Cross keeps a sublime vise grip on the reader. Oh, those pages will fly and burn your fingers in the process. The pace is crucial to the mood and plot, and Cross maintains a fierce but restrained tempo, as incomparable as the series. You will be installed in the story by the first page; it is so exquisitely brazen, you will screech and howl before it is over. The next book in the series can’t come soon enough!