As a big fan of Killing Eve, the hit BBC series based on Jenning’s novels, I was keen to read the story that inspired them. Like the series, there are two main protagonists: Villanelle, the Russian-born assassin working for a shadowy organisation, The Twelve, and Eve Polastri, an MI5 analyst who becomes obsessed with bringing her to justice.
Obviously, there are many similarities between the series and book, but there are also some marked differences. Unlike the series (I’m yet to see the latest season, so don’t know if this is still the case), it is much more explicit in the novel that the organisation, The Twelve, that Villanelle works for is not a state organ, that in fact the Russian State also don’t know who they are. While Jennings doesn’t go massively into detail as to who The Twelve are (perhaps he does in later novels) he does go into more detail than the television series, which hardly touches on her employers. This first book also goes into a lot more detail about Villanelle’s background and the training she received after her recruitment.
But perhaps the biggest difference between the novel and the series is that the novel is far less comic than the television show. Whereas the BBC series is an over the top black comedy, the actor Jodie Comer’s Villanelle often dressed in outrageous or glamorous frocks, the novels are much straighter, much more akin to other thrillers of the spy/assassin genre. This is not a criticism, in many ways reading this novel reminded me of one of the high octane thrillers that did so well recently, such as Terry Haye’s novel, I Am Pilgrim.
There’s a second novel in the series, No Tomorrow, which I definitely intend to read, and a third on the way (Killing Eve: Endgame, with a publication date in 2020). My understanding is that the first two were written prior to the TV adaptation, so it will be interesting to see how Jennings wraps up his story in light of its successful transformation to the small screen.
This is a great read, albeit a more straightforward take on the genre than its TV adaptation. That said, it would be a pity if fans of the genre didn’t read it on that basis, for despite the fact that it doesn’t have the quirky fun of the TV adaptation, this is a compelling and accomplished thriller.
James Pierson 4/4
Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings
John Murray 9781473666412 pbk Sep 2018