Public Service Announcement: Robert Galbraith = J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame and the almost-singlehanded ensurer of the continuation of the love of reading in the Millennial Generation. Pretty sure most people know that already but just in case, I wanted to put it out there. Knowing that really affected my expectations of this book – whether that’s good, bad, or indifferent I’m really not sure.
The Cuckoo’s Calling (1st in the Cormoran Strike series, 2013) is Rowling’s attempt at a detective novel aimed at fans of hard-boiled crime. I had such ridiculously high hopes for this book! Which, I am happy to report – I found mostly met and justified. Overall I think “hard-boiled” is a bit overstated, as Rowling (I can not refer to her as Galbraith, so help me) seems to shy away from anything particularly descriptive as far as violence or sex, though the language is colorful at times.
We’re first introduced to the secondary main character, Robin – I can’t think of her in anything but that term, because while yes, there are technically TWO main characters, Robin and Strike, Robin is decidedly in the background.
Robin might be a pretty girl, but she could not hold a candle to the woman he had just left.
Oh, but our down-and-out, recently single detective, Cormoran Strike, is so impressed by her efficiency and intelligence, despite her “lack” of physical charms. Which is ironic, given the manner of their first meeting (but I’ll leave that for you to discover yourself). Strike’s ex, Charlotte, while in the background for most of this story, is left not completely tied up. I’m thinking her story is far from finished.
From Charlotte he had learned that the kind of money he had never known could coexist with unhappiness and savagery.
I was a little worried in the beginning that this was going to dive off into the realm of detective love story, seeing as a good portion of the first 75 pages was dedicated to the “whose-fucking-who” of the book…but to my great relief it was left alone for the vast majority of the pages after. The love life of the protagonists is set, but definitely in the background. Phew. Much applause.
The writing is no less than I would expect from someone of Rowing’s caliber. Smooth, flowing, and she manages to weave the threads of so many different stories together so deftly that I found myself interested in them all and yet not getting lost in them (unlike my disastrous attempt at reading Game of Thrones…by the time I was at something like chapter 5 I was so lost in the incest and many different narrators I didn’t know which way was up). There is of course, the murder mystery…which involves both the victim, supermodel Lula Landry, and several members of her family with their own stories. Strike, with his shady and rather convoluted past. Robin, perhaps the most straightforward character of them all but also with the most relatable story for many of us that were spared an abnormal childhood. Lula’s story is convoluted and part of the fun for me was watching Strike weave in and out and around the maze around her.
Rowling is her usual stellar self when it comes to description, entertaining both my brain and my inner ear with her prose. Her style works very well for me…none of the odd turns of punctuation, phrasing, or editing that seem to plague authors sometimes.
When her mouth puckered into hard little lines around the cigarette, it looked like a cat’s anus.
Oh dear god, help me. Did she pluck that ungenerous thought right out of my head? Obviously I am not, as I previously assumed, the only one to be so uncharitable.
“I usually, like, ricochet off the bouncers and they have to push me in.”
I love the way different characters have their own distinctive voices. It isn’t as easy as we might think, to write dialogue in such a way as for the reader to recognize the speaker by reading their lines alone. And she does it pretty consistently.
Strike is also not painted as the dashing hero – and I like that. I like that he is unlikeable, at least in the beginning. Of course by the end I had rather a soft spot for him, but he’s still uncouth and raw and stubborn as hell. He does however, have a keen sense of observation – and one that is believable not only due to what we learn of his background but to little things he says or does throughout the book. To me that is a very important aspect of any mystery novel, because if I can’t believe in the abilities of the detective…well. No. Go.
Overall, I gave this book 4/5 stars on initial reading (which was almost 2 weeks ago). Writing this now, maybe I should have said 3.5/5…but when I finished it, 4/5 was really how I felt. I enjoyed the writing, I liked the characters and I’m really looking forward to the next book because I want to know what happens in their lives. The mystery itself, while finessed and characterized well, wasn’t particularly ingenious but it wasn’t one I guessed within the first hundred pages, either. My feelings on the series could probably go either way, depending on what happens in the next book.