Normally the trajectory for any successful modern author is to write a book, have it adapted for a movie or a TV show and then sit back and collect easy Executive Producer royalties. Instead, Neil Cross went about things ass-backwards. He created the best modern detective show on TV (sorry, Sherlock) and then wrote a book to cover the back story.
Luther: The Calling has no right to be as compelling, engaging or as interesting as it is — but the same argument can be made for Luther itself. First, the book is written in present tense (ie. “Luther walks through the hospital…”), which is always obnoxious and unnecessary. Second, the first few pages (possibly the first chapter) is rife with cheap detective stereotypes, ie. Luther’s dark and brooding, but he’s a good cop, Goddamnit. But interestingly, both of these issues (which are enormous pet peeves normally) seem disappear as the book delves into its central plot: the Henry Madsen case.
Early in the show, most of the details about the Madsen case are left ambiguous — all we know is that it ended with Luther allowing Madsen to fall to his near-death in a warehouse after Madsen had kidnapped a girl and then hidden inside the walls of an shack. Luther: The Calling turns back the clock and gives us the whole case, start to finish, Luther’s descent into near-madness and his wife’s affair. I’d actually read the book prior to starting the show, so in many ways it serves as a bridge for new viewers to become more quickly acquainted with the lead character — and his wife — than audience members who’d started with the show and are now working backwards with the book.
Obviously Luther: The Calling is not your typical tie-in, in that it was written by the show’s only writer and due to the fact that it’s good. But what makes this kind of retroactive storytelling interesting is when the author writes with the specific actors in mind, having already cast them and had them inhabit the characters. Cross admitted this himself in the intro, saying he couldn’t imagine anyone else in these parts other than the actors who’d already been chosen, so in many ways the way the dialogue was presented, the internal thoughts of particular characters, the descriptions of their movements and actions, are impossibly tied to the actors who’ve had as much of a hand in the creation at this stage as the author himself.
Getting too much into the story itself would spoil the book, so I’ll just say that you will need to prepare yourself for an awful lot of detailed gore — including the deaths of both animals and children. The book is gruesome, gory and not for the faint of heart, but I’d still recommend it as an absolutely solid crime novel that manages to be a great addition to the genre with no pretensions or designs to “rise above.”