Book Review: Luke Jennings – Codename Villanelle (Killing Eve 1)

  • Originally posted on May 7, 2019

The book which inspired the award-winning television series. Like many people, I saw the TV show, Killing Eve, and had no clue that it had been based off of a set of four novellas. The acting masterclasses of Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer remained clear in my mind as I saw an opportunity to buy both this collection and the second book, billed as the first Killing Eve novel.

Predictably, it follows the path of Villanelle (Oxana Verentsova) from her Paris aparement, and the assassin calls she must answer and the murders she commits. It also explains her story up to this current point (doubtless, there will be more that is uncovered in future), and watches her deal with new and unusual circumstances to which she must become accustomed. Including human emotions. Which is completely relatable.

It also follows Eve Polastri, an MI5 agent with a fascination for female assassins. There has only ever been two, and both of them are dead. So when one murders an Italian mafia boss, she becomes very interested. But the path she gets led down by her thirst to bring this mystery woman to justice is very, very dangerous… And soon, their stories become increasingly interlinked.

There is also a fairly extensive supporting cast, generally around Villanelle’s killings and cover stories, and Eve’s personal life. Fans of the show should not fear that they are reading the same thing as they’ve watched — although you can see points which clearly inspired the BBC America show (the fetishist murder of a Chinese official), there are also many points which are not present and were changed for the show (the moment where they see each other for the first time is different but equally exciting). Main characters are slightly different, and a crucial character to series 1 of the show dies in one of the novellas! Which no doubt would be a surprise to fans of the show…

Written in present tense, perhaps a collection of fast-paced novellas is the best way to bring this story to life. This is 217 pages of non-stop action, and I wanted more novella! However, the television show is undoubtedly better. The cast of the book are primarily male, and the young tech-whiz character Billy fits to every stereotype one can think of about him. In contrast, the show has succeeded in modernising the characters and changing the story to create a more sequential set of events, which is slightly different to ‘Codename Villanelle’.

I would recommend reading, especially as you can pick it up in some stores for only £3, and it’s a good insight into the basis of the much loved characters of Eve and Villanelle. A review for book 2 is forthcoming.

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