Neil Cross is the mastermind behind the critically acclaimed British TV series Luther, which has thrilled audiences and garnered awards for star Idris Elba’s portrayal of the tortured investigator John Luther. While we eagerly await Luther‘s third series, Cross is tiding us over with Luther: The Calling, which brings the character into the print world.
The Calling further develops Luther and the characters in his universe by showing us parts of them we haven’t yet seen; for example, Luther’s former partner Ian Reed is here, and not yet unhinged. Luther’s marriage to Zoe is still intact, albeit imperfect. There’s a level of description here that only print can facilitate, but the pages still crackle as well as any episode of the series. Cross has brought the same tension, dread and intensity to The Calling that the show lives and breathes.
For the Edgar Award winner, who has written previous novels, it was a relatively easy decision to make to venture into a new medium with this universe.
“The character that became DCI John Luther was pinging and boinging round my head long before he had a name or I had any real idea how to use him,” he explained. “He started as [a] means to connect two ideas from two genres within the broad church of crime fiction: Luther has some of the Sherlock Holmes about him, some of that disinterested analytical genius; but he’s also got the emotional intricacy and deep moral ambiguity more commonly found in the psychological thriller.
“It seemed to me that combining these two properties of deductive brilliance and moral passion in one man could make for a powerful and damaged, deeply heroic character. If there’d have been no TV show, I think he’d probably have made an appearance in a novel. Which made me think — so why not write the novel?”
The Calling takes place before the events of the television series, but how does already having the characters brought to life in one medium affect writing about them in another? Said Cross, “I rarely describe characters on the page in any detail; I like to evoke them as simply and, I hope, elegantly as possible. So I’d imagined that having had the characters in the novel pre-defined by fine actors would make the writing a lot easier. I was, even for me, exceptionally wrong.
“When you’re writing characters that have already been given great depth and nuance by actors as talented as Idris Elba, how do you evoke that in a brush stroke? How do you show it and not tell it? I tied myself in knots for a while: I over-wrote, I over-described. I worried. I bellyached and sighed. Then I did an alarming amount of editing.”
Luther the series pulls no punches; it’s unafraid to deal with some truly twisted villains, and to show us what horror they inflict upon their victims. Likewise, The Calling‘s graphic descriptions of crime scenes might turn your stomach a time or two. This is not the book you want to read before going to bed. Cross reflected on what dealing with such heavy content does to an author.
“The fictional violence is never a fantasy of what I’d like to do to someone else, but a way to confront the dread of what someone else might do to me,” he said. “But it earns its place, too — or at least it’s supposed to. I want the violence to scare the viewer, or the reader. To do that, it has to scare me, which means it’s got to be honest. Which means it’s got to be dredged up from some horrible place.
“The worst thing about it is that, whatever I’m doing and whoever I’m doing it with, I can’t help but obsessively visualise the very worst thing that could possibly happen,” he added. “I do kind of cultivate it, though: I read and watch more frightening things than could possibly be good for my mental health. And when it lags, I tend to give it a little prod.”
He added that going from screen to page is not as different or difficult as one might think. “Novels and scripts are different disciplines, but not as different as many of those ‘how to’ books would lead you to believe,” he explained. “In terms of technique, each informs and, I hope, benefits the other. For example, learning to write for the screen taught me a lot about frugality and structure, but writing novels taught me a great deal about the essentials of dialogue and characterisation. So really, I just think of myself as a writer.”
Luther the series will return in 2013; Luther: The Calling is now available at booksellers and Amazon.
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