Book – Codename Villanelle

Author – Luke Jennings

Year – 2018

Pages – 217

Genre – Spy Thriller

Bought for me by Alex Campbell

According to many different end of year polls, one of the best TV programmes of 2018 was the Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh spy thriller, Killing Eve. I entirely concur. It was an intelligent, tense, yet overall incredibly funny show with some stellar acting and a wonderfully written Phoebe Waller-Bridge script. As I tend to do whenever I watch a TV programme (or film, or hear some music, or pretty much anything of even mild interest) I immediately started looking into it and found that it was based on a series of stories by a Luke Jennings that were all released as e-novellas. They were not compiled as a book until after the start of the TV series. I was very pleased to receive a copy from Alex for Christmas, and it has become my first read of 2019.

Villanelle is a killer. A highly trained assassin in the employ of a dangerous cabal of powerful people. Eve Polastri is tasked with trying to find and stop her, but with considerably less in the way of resources. What follows feels a little like a James Bond novel from the opposite point of view. Make no mistake, our assassin is the star of this book. She is a wonderfully written character and obviously well realised and understood by our author.

This is unfortunately not so true for all of the other characters. We have an understanding of Eve, but so much of the depth of character that you would like to see is lost through the focus on Villanelle. As for her supporting characters, no matter how interesting they may be, they are left sorely underdeveloped. It is a real pity as the writing is generally captivating and Villanelle is truly wonderful. I think I would probably be perfectly happy to just read 217 pages of her murdering people – I realise how much that could appear to be a reflection of me rather than the book, but it is told in such a fun way that I am sure that I am not the only one that would feel that way. To sustain the book though, it would probably be better to focus on more than just her.

Jennings has had a blessing and a curse through the popularity of Killing Eve. Whilst on one hand, there is no way that I, or many others, would ever have gotten around to reading this very enjoyable book – or even probably any chance that it would have had a physical release – it is going to always suffer in comparison to the phenomenal scripts produced for its counterpoint series. With ten hour long episodes and the emerging Waller-Bridge behind the writing, there is so much more opportunity to get under the skin of the characters. The plot is vastly different, and the characters wildly varied to make for an incredible series that this series of novellas cannot live up to. Although the somewhat hyped gender-swapping of many of the parts is a little overstated. Hearing that in various media outlets when the show first came on made me feel that the original must have been another male dominated thriller, women are the ones with the power throughout Jennings novel, and whilst Waller-Bridge has made some changes to gender, each of these characters are effectively entirely new replacements for people and events in the novel.

In summary, the book is very different to the TV series, and whilst it centres around the wonderful Villanelle character in the same way, some of the gloss of the TV show does not come across so well. However, whether you have seen the programme or not, this is well worth a read as it is incredibly fun.