Once upon a time there was an author named JK Rowling. She wrote the Harry Potter books, and lived happily ever after. But what is a multi-millionaire amazing, famous author to do once that series is over, and her literary fiction receives mixed reviews? Write a genre detective novel under the psydonom Robert Galbraith, of course! And she does it surprisingly well.
I have this image of JK Rowling sitting at her computer deciding what to write next, and thinking it might be a fun project to have a go at a detective novel. Maybe she’s been watching a lot of Humphrey Bogart lately, and just wants to take a stab at it. And stab at it she does. Except the mystery surrounding this book is not a stabbing, but a suicide.
Cuckoo’s Calling takes place in present day London, three months after famous model Lula Landry has committed suicide by jumping from the balcony of her high rise condominium….er "flat", as they say in London. Our protaganist, and dear detective, Cormoran Strike, has been hired by Lula’s brother, John Bristow, to investigate the suicide. You see, he doesn’t think it was a suicide, but a murder.
Cormoran Strike is a superb detective character, weird name and all. I read this book for my book club, and one of the first things we did was google Cormoran. It turns out the name comes from a giant in Cornwall folklore. The name makes much more sense after this google discovery, because Cormoran is quite a large man. But he’s had a difficult life, and while in the British Army lost a leg. Reader beware: this book is not a gruesome book by any means, but Cormoran spends a lot of time running around chasing clues about the supposed murderer, and in the process causes himself a lot of pain with his illfitting prosthetic leg. I felt bad for him, but I also felt bad for myself because the descriptions of his leg pain grossed me out. But that is just a tiny part of a complex and delightful novel.
Strike is kind of a mess, having been recently kicked out of his fiance’s apartment, and is living and sleeping in his office. Clearly, he needs an assistant. Enter Robin, a temp from a local agency. Robin and Strike have great chemistry, and there are mostly only hints of a romantic connection, which I appreciated. Where Strike is misordered and down on his luck, Robin is thoughtful, organized, and so completely smitten with the idea of being a detective’s assistant. I really liked her character, and I wish she had been used more in the story.
I won’t give away any plot points, but I will say that JK Rowling Galbraith does an excellent job of giving the reader just enough hints to keep turning the page. I did think it got a little bogged down in the middle, as Cormoran’s main sleuthing skill is interviewing suspects surrounding the case. But because the characters were all interesting, from Lula’s drug addict boyfriend and her model BFF to her control freak Uncle, I kept reading.
I wouldn’t say that this book was amazing, but it was certainly enjoyable. I’m not sure if I would have picked it up had it not been written by Rowling, but that’s mostly because the detective books I read are less noir detective novels, and more thriller suspense (Tana French write faster!). This is the first book in a trilogy, and I suspect (see what I did there? suspect? mystery novel…) I’ll be reading the other two.