Annnnnd we’re back to detective stories ! Very good.
The Cuckoo’s Calling is billed as a Cormoran Strike (the lead character) novel. Perhaps this is going to be a series. I wouldn’t object. (That’s a hint (and summary) for the rest of the review, I guess.) This book was forwarded onto me, and so I came into it with no expectations. (Note: I have found out since that this will likely be a series.)
About the author: most of this review was written on the iOS WordPress app, with gaps left to fill in the details that I needed to look up. The author is listed as Robert Galbraith. Cool. That name rang no bells, so I read the book, and quite enjoyed the book. Wrote the review. Turns out Robert Galbraith doesn’t exist. Galbraith is a pseudonym for J. K. Rowling. Yes, that J. K. Rowling. Okay. Wow. I suppose that she doesn’t need much introduction. She, uh, wrote some books about a boy wizard, a book about depression, misery, and drug-taking in middle England, and apparently is writing detective fiction under a male pseudonym. There’s a quote, “Being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience… It has been wonderful to publish without hype and expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name”, which I can’t link to the source, because it’s behind Murdoch’s paywall protecting the Sunday Times.
Cormoran Strike is a contradiction, like all good private detectives. He is physically imposing; large in all dimensions, somewhat brutish, and rather intimidating. This is paired with an incredibly sharp, disciplined mind, and some rather limiting personality flaws. He is ex-Army, physically disabled (these two facts are connected), and recently separated from his cheating, manipulative partner, and is living in his dingy office. His downward spiral is interrupted by Robin Ellacott, a temporary secretary that he can’t afford. Robin is enarmored by the work, but not by Strike himself. A former friend contacts him about the apparent suicide of his (the friend’s) half-sister, Lula Lantry. He is convinced it was murder, and despite initial reservations, Strike investigates. So far, so standard. However, the backdrop of London fashion, nightlife, wealth, and power provide an interesting flavour to the story. Very few of the characters are particularly likeable, with their flaws being highlighted as part of their motivations and character.
It is difficult to discuss the book without talking about the finer details of the story. I don’t want to spoil the narrative, which is one of the biggest issues with attempting to review detective fiction.
I’m in two minds about it: when I was reading it, I found it excellent. The following day, still excellent. When I was first thinking about this review, trying to pinpoint some of the reasons I rated it highly, I struggled. In retrospect, the characterisation was a highlight. There were excellent description passages, the story weaved together nicely, and the dialogue was definitely a notch or two above what is average for this genre.
The denouement is well-done. All of the pieces were there if you had been looking for them. If you were an aficionado of the genre, you may have thought that they were laying it on a bit thick. However, hindsight is always 20/20, so maybe I’m being unfair there.
It’s a good example of modern British character-driven detective fiction. I quite liked it, even if I seem to be unable to quite articulate the reasons why.
Epilogue: I wrote all of that before I know who the author was. I think I still stand by all of it.
Buy the book using these links! (For some unknown reason, Amazon isn’t allowing the link to the Kindle page. It’s available on Kindle, as well as dead-tree editions.)