Luther: The Calling

Luther: The Calling

4.3 20
by Neil Cross

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A brilliant standalone novel hailed as “some of the best crime fiction to hit bookstores this year” (Hollywood Reporter) and a prequel to the hit BBC America TV show Luther, by the Edgar Award–winning creator and sole writer of the show.

Is Luther a force for good or a man hell-bent on self-destruction?

Meet Detective


A brilliant standalone novel hailed as “some of the best crime fiction to hit bookstores this year” (Hollywood Reporter) and a prequel to the hit BBC America TV show Luther, by the Edgar Award–winning creator and sole writer of the show.

Is Luther a force for good or a man hell-bent on self-destruction?

Meet Detective Chief Inspector John Luther. He’s a homicide detective with an extraordinary case-clearance rate. He’s obsessive, instinctive, and intense. Nobody who ever stood at his side has a bad word to say about him. And yet there are rumors that Luther is bad—not corrupt, but tormented. After years of chasing the most depraved criminals in London’s gritty underworld, he seethes with a hidden fury he can barely control, making him do things any other detective wouldn’t and shouldn’t do.

Luther: The Calling is the story of the serial killer case that tore Luther’s personal and professional relationships apart and propelled him over the precipice—beyond fury, beyond vengeance, all the way to the other side of the law.

Luther: The Calling, the first in a new series of novels featuring DCI John Luther, takes us into Luther’s past and into his mind. It is the story of the serial killer case that tore his personal and professional relationships apart and propelled him over the precipice—beyond fury, beyond vengeance, all the way to the other side of the law. Is Luther a force for good or a man hell-bent on self-destruction? Edgar Award–winning writer Neil Cross has created one of the most compelling characters in modern crime fiction. Luther: The Calling is a compulsively readable novel by the writer hailed by The Guardian as “Britain’s own Stephen King.”

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Although Cross won an Edgar for the first episode of his BBC series Luther, this origin story just doesn’t replicate the power of the show, suggesting that Idris Elba’s performance as Scotland Yarder John Luther deserves the lion’s share of credit. This prequel pits the troubled Luther, who feels that “t night, skull cracks open and spiders crawl inside,” against a horrifically sadistic murderer. In the course of murdering and mutilating Tom and Sarah Lambert, the killer removes an eight-and-a-half-month-old fetus from Sarah’s belly. As the baby may still be alive, Luther and his team search frantically for her, another intense and gut-wrenching assignment that only further strains the detective’s troubled marriage. The graphic violence and somber developments are not for the fainthearted. While some devotees of the series might find this partial backstory of interest, others might wish that Cross had gone back further and shown how Luther first came to know “that his mind’s not right.” Agent: Gordon Wise, Curtis Brown. (Sept.)
The Hollywood Reporter

“For all his skill as scriptwriter, Cross is above all else a gifted novelist. Luther: The Calling is more than a tie-in novel. It is some of the best crime fiction to hit bookstores this year.”
“The amazing force and power of the writing and the hell-for-leather plotting together pull readers along whether they like it or not.”
From the Publisher

“For all his skill as scriptwriter, Cross is above all else a gifted novelist. Luther: The Calling is more than a tie-in novel. It is some of the best crime fiction to hit bookstores this year.”

“The amazing force and power of the writing and the hell-for-leather plotting together pull readers along whether they like it or not.”

Library Journal
Cross (Burial), the creator and writer for the acclaimed BBC television series Luther, which stars Emmy Award-winner Idris Elba as DCI John Luther, has written a prequel that fills in the backstory for the series's first season. It is also an excellent stand-alone police procedural. Luther is on the verge of a breakdown when he is called in to investigate the murder of a couple and the kidnapping of their unborn child, who was taken from the mother's body. The case quickly becomes personal when the perpetrator calls in to a radio show with threats to the infant if the police take action, and Luther is caught in the ensuing media frenzy. As the tension mounts, Luther's mental state is put under unbearable pressure as events in his personal and professional life escalate. VERDICT Cross's skills as a novelist are every bit as good as his screenwriting skills, and DCI John Luther is as compelling on the page as on the screen. This series launch is a must-read for fans of the show and will inspire those readers who haven't seen the BBC episodes to place holds on the series in your DVD collection.—Lisa O'Hara, Univ. of Manitoba Libs., Winnipeg
Kirkus Reviews
A particularly repellent case moves DCI Luther closer to the edge he's never been far from. A young married couple is found murdered, the husband sadistically savaged, the wife, eight and a half months pregnant, ripped open, her infant--just possibly still alive--torn from her. Luther, "a big man with a big walk" and a near-legendary capacity for sensitivity, catches the case, as he catches all the truly bad ones. But this case just might be one too many. Stoic by nature and principle, Luther has never been easy to read, but now the tells are becoming unmistakable. He's been unable to sleep and looks it. Instead of resolving to push to the end, he asks to be taken off the case. At home, his wife and soul mate, Zoe, has grown restless to the point of no return. Their moribund relationship deprives Luther of the ballast and empowerment his marriage has always provided. Meanwhile, a monstrous killer continues to select victims, like the little girl who goes missing. By now Luther's famous intuitiveness has been productive, and he's closing in on his crafty antagonist. When the two confront each other, will Luther retain his commitment and remain the embodiment of law and order? Relentlessly bleak, often downright ugly, yet heartbreakingly well-done. Troubled, self-tormenting Luther, who debuted in the BBC America TV miniseries Luther, is a compelling and memorable figure in print as well.

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John Luther, a big man with a big walk, crosses the hospital car park, glistening with night rain. He strides through sliding doors into Accident and Emergency, approaches the desk, and badges the Filipino triage nurse.

“I’m looking for Ian Reed?”

“That’s the police officer?” She glances at her monitor. “He’s in cubicle eighteen. Over on the far side.”

Luther marches through the waiting area, weaves through nurses in rubber clogs. He ignores the moans of the binge drinkers, the beaten women, the self-mutilators, the overdosers.

He sweeps aside the heavy curtain to cubicle 18, and there’s Ian Reed, sitting tieless on the edge of the bed.

Reed is blond and lean, tense by nature. The blood on his white shirt has dried in patches. He’s wearing a soft surgical collar.

“Blimey,” Luther says, shutting the curtains.

“Yeah. It’s not as bad as it looks.”

Reed’s got a couple of stitches in his scalp, a torn ligament, bruised ribs. Bruised kidneys, too; he’ll be pissing blood for a week or two.

Luther pulls up a plastic chair. “What about the neck?”

“Sprained. They had me in a headlock. Dragged me out the car.”

“Who did?”

“Lee Kidman. Barry Tonga.”

Luther knows Lee Kidman; he’s a bodybuilder, a doorman, a debt collector. Does a bit of porn. He’s not familiar with the second name.

“Barry Tonga,” Reed says. “Samoan bloke. Shaved head, tattoos everywhere. Size of a truck. Does a bit of cage fighting.”

Luther lowers his voice to a murmur. “So why’d they do it?”

“You know Julian Crouch? Property developer. Used to run a few club nights—House of Vinyl, Betamax, Intersect. And a recording studio down in Camden. But he’s on the downslide.”

“Aren’t they all?”

Reed explains that Crouch owns half a terrace in Shoreditch: six houses. He’s got a buyer lined up, some Russian who wants to develop the site, turn it into a gym in time for the Olympics.

Crouch is servicing massive debts. And he’s divorcing. He needs a buyer, but only five of the six terraced houses are available to sell.

“So,” says Luther. “Who lives in house number six?”

“Bloke called Bill Tanner. Old sailor.”

Luther groans because Reed is sentimental about old servicemen. It’s landed him in grief before.

“And what?” Luther says. “This bloke Crouch is trying to force him out?”


“So why doesn’t he just move?”

“Because it’s his home, mate. He’s rented it since 1972. His wife died in that house, for fuck’s sake.”

Luther holds up his hands. Okay, okay.

Reed outlines a campaign of intimidation: threatening phone calls, hoodies shoving dog shit through the old man’s letter box, smashing his windows. Breaking in, covering the living room in graffiti.

“He call the police?”

“Thing about Bill Tanner,” Reed says, “he’s a game old bastard. He’s got heart.” This is Reed’s highest compliment. “He takes photos of these hoodies, hands them in as evidence. He’s shit scared; he’s an old man living by himself, being harassed every night. So uniform goes round, picks up the hoodies. They don’t mention Crouch. And they’re out before the sun’s up. Next day, maybe the day after that, Bill gets a proper visit. Two heavies.”

“This’ll be Kidman and Tonga?”

Reed nods.

Luther crosses his arms and stares up at the strip light, dotted inside with the desiccated carcasses of dead flies. “So what did you do?”

“What do you think? I went to see Crouch. Told him to lay off Bill Tanner.”

Luther closes his eyes.

“Oh, come on,” says Reed. “It’s not like we haven’t done it before.”

Luther concedes with a shrug. “When was this?”

“A couple of days ago. Then tonight I’m coming home, I’m about to park, when this Mondeo rear-ends me. Before I can get it together, two blokes get out, run round, drag me out my car, and give me a right kicking.”

Luther glances at the neck brace. “And this is at your place? Your flat?”

“On my own doorstep.”

“It was definitely Kidman and Tonga?”

“I know it was Tonga because he’s the biggest fucker I ever set eyes on. Plus the tattoos. And I know it’s Kidman because, well, I know Kidman. We’ve had dealings.”

“What kind of dealings?”

“He’s just around. On the edge of things.”

“You reporting this?”


“Why not?”

“Can’t prove it was them. And even if I could—so what? Crouch rolls out another bunch of cunts to lean on poor old Bill Tanner. Bill won’t move. They’ll end up killing him, one way or another. He’ll have a heart attack. A stroke. Whatever. Poor old sod.”

“But there are better ways to do this stuff,” Luther says.

“That old man served his country.” Reed is clenching and unclenching his jaw. “He was there at D-Day. He’s eighty-five fucking years old and he tried to do things the right way and his country let him down.”

“All right,” Luther says. “Keep your hair on. What are you asking me to do?”

“Just pop in on him. Make sure he’s all right. Take him some milk and a loaf of bread. A few tins of dog food. Not the cheap stuff. Meaty chunks in jelly. He loves his little dog.”

“What is this thing with old people?” Luther asks. “They’d rather freeze to death than feed cheap food to their pets.”

Reed would shrug, if he could.

•   •   •

The killer walks the empty nocturnal streets: avenues lined with plane trees, Victorian terraces, concrete local authority buildings, belts of local shops with darkened windows. Stone churches with faded, desperately jaunty signage: LIFE IS FRAGILE. HANDLE WITH PRAYER!

The killer is a compact and muscular man. Short hair, neatly parted. Dark peacoat. Jeans. A laptop backpack.

The backpack does not contain a laptop.

On Clayhill Street, a Smart car reverses into a small parking space. The driver, a young Asian woman, gets out and hurries to her door clutching her handbag. She looks at the killer in passing but doesn’t really see him.

The killer walks on. He turns onto Bridgeman Road with a sense of magnitude.

He marches along the frost-buckled pavement until he comes to number 23.

Behind the rusty gate and the overgrown hedge, number 23 is a handsome, double-fronted Victorian house.

The killer opens the gate. It squeaks, but he doesn’t mind: it must squeak every night and every day.

He stands in the front garden, which is a small paved area sheltered by high hedges. A green wheelie bin in one corner.

He lingers in the shadow of the house. It seems churchlike, pregnant with the future.

He thinks of standing underneath a great railway bridge as a locomotive shrieks overhead, the shocking power of it. That’s what the killer feels inside him, now: the shriek and rattle and thunder of a great engine.

He snaps on the latex gloves he’s kept rolled in one pocket of his peacoat. Then, from the other pocket, he removes a pair of needle-nosed pliers.

He walks to the side of the house. His legs are trembling. He follows the vertical line of the drainpipe until it meets the small, square drain around which grows sparse London grass.

He kneels to snip the telephone wire close to the ground. Then he pockets the pliers and returns to the front door.

From his pocket, he removes a set of house keys.

He grits his teeth. With great care, he inserts the Yale key into the lock and slowly turns it. The door snicks open as he leans a shoulder into it. Quietly, so quietly.

When the gap is wide enough, he slips through like smoke.

Into the wall near the door is set a plastic keypad. A small red light flashes. The killer ignores it and sharks through a haze of the Lamberts’ scent: their clothes, their deodorants, their perfumes, their cleaning products, their bodies, their sex.

He enters the dark living room and sets down his backpack.

He shrugs off his peacoat, folds it, and lays it on the sofa. He unzips the backpack and removes a pair of painter’s bootees. He slips them over his shoes.

Then he wriggles into a pair of paper overalls. He pulls up the elasticated hood. He stands there in the white paper jumpsuit and the thin rubber gloves.

He reaches into the backpack and removes his tools: a Taser, a silvery roll of duct tape (one corner folded over for easy access), a scalpel, a carpet knife.

At the bottom of the rucksack, rolled into a sausage, is a small polar fleece blanket with satinette edging.

He lays the blanket on the sofa. Looks down at it, a pallid rectangle.

The killer’s spirit balloons and seems to leave his body. He hovers above himself.

He watches himself head upstairs: gently now, gently.

He avoids the fifth step, slips back into his body, and proceeds into darkness.

•   •   •

Luther kills time in the waiting area by flicking through a tatty old Heat magazine.

In the far corner, a tramp with ash-gray dreadlocks bellows at God, or perhaps that he is God. It’s difficult to tell.

Reed limps out around 3:15 a.m. Luther takes his coat and helps him through the doors, through the main entrance, blazing bright.

They cross the wet car park to Luther’s decayed old Volvo.

Luther drives Reed home—a top-floor, one-bedroom rented apartment in Kentish Town.

The flat is bare and disorderly, as if it were temporary accommodation, which it is. All Reed’s flats are temporary accommodation.

Reed yearns for a big house, a big garden with a trampoline in it, a horde of kids to bounce on it—his own kids, their friends, their cousins, their neighbors.

Reed dreams of community, of pub lunches on Sunday, of street parties, of wearing comedy aprons as he cooks sausages at well-attended barbecues. He dreams of being adored by his children, adoring them in return.

At thirty-eight, he’s been married four times and is childless.

He hands Luther a buff folder.

Luther leans against the wall and flicks through the file. Sees arrest sheets, mug shots, surveillance reports.

The top sheets detail the kids who were arrested, remanded, and released for harassing Bill Tanner: dead-eyed rat boys, English white trash.

Beneath the arrest sheets are more detailed reports on Lee Kidman, Barry Tonga, and their boss Julian Crouch.

Luther slips the folder into a carrier bag and checks his watch.

It’s late. He thinks about going home. But what would be the point? He thinks about the dead and can’t sleep. He lies there boiling like a star about to explode.

So he drives to Crouch’s place, a town house overlooking Highbury Fields.

He parks and sits at the wheel. He wonders what he’s going to do to Julian Crouch and how he’s going to get away with it.

At length, he pops the boot, walks round the Volvo, and pulls out a hickory wood pickax handle. He feels its satisfying weight.

He marches across Highbury Fields and waits in darkness, the pickax handle clenched in his fist.

Shortly after 4:30 a.m., an immaculate, vintage Jaguar pulls up.

Julian Crouch gets out. He’s got riotously curly hair, thinning on top. Suede coat, paisley shirt. White Adidas.

He opens his front door and hits the lights—but lingers on the threshold, backlit by the chandelier. He sniffs the air like prey at a waterhole. He knows someone’s out there, watching him.

He frowns and shuts the door, squeaks across marble tiles.

Luther stares at the house, breathing.

Lights come on.

Crouch comes to his bedroom window. He looks down like a troubled king from his high castle, peering into blackness. Then he draws the curtains and turns off the light.

Luther stands sentinel. His heart is a furnace.

At length, a fox scurries down the center of the empty road. Luther can hear the quick, prim click of its claws on tarmac.

He watches the fox until it disappears, and he heads back to his car.

He waits until the winter sun begins to rise and the first joggers pass by. Then he drives home.

Meet the Author

Neil Cross is the creator and sole writer of the critically acclaimed BBC America crime series Luther. In 2011, Cross was awarded the Edgar Award for Best Teleplay for episode one of Luther. He is the author of the thriller Burial and lives with his family in Wellington, New Zealand. Visit him online at

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Luther: The Calling 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Zot79 More than 1 year ago
Hard-boiled. That's what they used to call this sort of thing. I guess they still do. In any event, this is hard-boiled, even brutal, detective fiction. Sparse, hard-hitting prose. Gritty, realistic characters and settings. Bad, bad, bad guys. Basically decent, but driven cops that sometimes cross the line in order to get the bad guys and protect the innocent. Classic hard-boiled. DCI (that's Detective Chief Inspector - this is a British novel, through and through) John Luther first came to life as a television character for the BBC. This novel, written by the show's creator and writer, is a prequel to the series, showing that the detective was just as driven, just as brilliant, before those episodes. It also shows a man tormented to the point that he cannot sleep and he can no longer connect with his wife. He is a driven man. Driven to use his powers of deduction and insight to find a serial killer. A killer that is stealing children for purposes that are beyond the imaginings of even DCI Luther. From page one you know he will not let up until he tracks down the fiend. Until the last page you do not know if he will succeed or destroy himself trying. Or perhaps both. This is top-flight writing. As I said above, the prose is sparse and hard hitting and will keep you turning pages. Not a book for the squeamish. It's written in the present tense, which adds to the immediacy and probably reflects its origins in television. Highly recommended for those that can take it. Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just discovered the Luther character on BBC and found the novel which is a great prequel to the series. If your a fan of the Ken Bruen, Derek Raymond and Dennis Lehane then add a dash of Stephen King, you'll love Neil Cross's John Luther. At some moments gritting your teeth is a must but its a excellent crime/mystery novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love the Luther character, and was expecting a nail-biter with this novel, but it didn't pack the punch that the BBC series does.
miss_dobie More than 1 year ago
The epitome of edge-of-your-seat captivating excitement. True to all the characters in all respects. Impossible to put down until you reach the end.
B-Cyr More than 1 year ago
A great book for fans of the television series. Check out my full review here:
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a true crime, horror, suspense reader and this book was horrible. Very graphic and gruesome along with the torture of animals. It also has too many characters with different story lines. Not a fan!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had a hard time finishing this book. It was boring in parts. Only benefit is to unerstand the origin of the tv series.
Peanut61 More than 1 year ago
First heard of this new series by watching the The British TV show which is FABULOUS! I am excited that the book on which the show is based is excellent - tightly paced, well written characters - a winner!
AmiBNY More than 1 year ago
Neil Cross is at his best again with Luther a wonderful book. Can't wait for more to come.......
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kirsty, can l help? I wouldn't belive your class if l were you. They're probably stretching the truth. Ho knows, maybe their "signs" were a dream just like yours! Anyways, l'm not forcing you to agree with the pastor's preachings. But try to listen to him, and read the Bible often (do Catholics own Bibles nowadays? I hope so (l'm Protestant, but l have distant Catholic familily members)). I haven't had many, if any, dreams about God! We can't decide what we dream, by the way. So try those things, or try to try them, please. Hope this helped!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
God has a plan for all of us. He does that kind of stuff because he loves us. Even if that means taking something away from us. God loves us and wants us to learn by ourselves sometimes. He gave us the earth and a family and all the things that we own. Dont you think He has a right to take some things away. A verse in the bible says "He gives and takes away" He can do technically what he wants. He loves you and all he wants is the best.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey, Andrew, you say God has a plan, but what about free will? Just wondering.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Okay &#9825 if you say so
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Solemnly walks in with her head hung.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I do not have a religon, but i want to learn about this one, so can someone teach ne?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sat next to Khole thinking on what she said.