Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K.Rowling)

November's book club choice was this detective thriller by Harry Potter author J.K.Rowling, using her pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Crime thrillers are one of my favourite genres and although slow burning, this didn't disappoint.
A bit of back story first though. Harry Potter is the work of UK author Joanne Rowling and is one of the worlds most recognisable brands, with billion dollar films adding to the millions of books sold. It was always going to be difficult for Rowling to escape Harry. Her first book since the series finished, The Casual Vacancy, was received with a lukewarm reception. It's still on my 'to-read' list. Under the guise of Robert Galbraith, J.K.Rowling released The Cuckoo's Calling to critical acclaim, yet commercial failure. At the time of publication, no one knew her moniker. The Book Riot website has a good blog regarding why it didn't fair well with the public which can be read HERE. Once her cover was blown however, the sales started to soar. The film rights bidding war sprang up almost immediately so expect it to hit the pictures in the next few years.
J.K.Rowling
The latter Harry Potter books, The Half-Blood Prince in particular, seem to add more prose than necessary, taking it's time dragging itself to the finale. This has continued in The Cuckoo's Calling but, unlike The Half-Blood Prince, I think it increases the ambience of the tome and helps develop the characters and plot at a controlled and diligent pace. I was expecting a romp through London with chases and murders but what I got was a restrained, airy detective noire(ish) mystery. The protagonist comes almost as a complete package.

SPOLERS AHEAD! Cormoran Strike is an ex army doctor turned private investigator. Unlike a lot of detectives in the genre, he doesn't have a vice that he's driven by. Whilst serving, his lower leg was damaged beyond repair and amputated so he's unable to run far, often stopping to help his 'stump' heal. Instead of becoming angry and resentful, Strike has accepted this, never saying out loud how much it's affecting his abilities. He sometimes becomes frustrated but we only hear this through his inner monologue. We meet Strike just as he has left his long term girlfriend and in a lot of debt. This is all written with precision by Rowling, who never lets me feel sorry for him, as he doesn't feel sorry for himself. He's down on his luck when a temporary secretary turns up just at the same time his first job in a while does. A very well paid job.

The plot surrounds the suicide of popular model Lula Landry. Strike is hired by her brother to find a possible killer. All evidence points to a suicide and it's up to Strike to prove otherwise, to gather all the evidence after the police have closed the case and delve into the world of celebrity. One thing Rowling does well is pepper the plot with interesting characters ranging from the grandiose fashion designer Guy Some through to the esoteric Landry Family and Lula's boyfriend Evan Duffield (he has to be based on Pete Doherty, no?). Even secondary characters have quite a few pages and discussions dedicated to them as Strike gathers as much information form every aspect of Lula's life. Strike leaves the person he's interviewing to talk, regardless who it is, letting them fill any silence. Not once does he turn cold, aggressive or obtuse. I thoroughly enjoyed being in his company.

However, there was one aspect of the book that took me a while to warm to. His new temporary secretary (who he can't afford) read often like Andy Sachs in The Devil Wears Prada, although they have very different circumstances. Robin Ellacott has just become engaged and is temping whilst she looks for her perfect job and she's all flowers and rainbows. There is little literary meat on her bones and she's a little sketchy. After Strike has had several temps Robin is viewed by him initially as the same, but once she cleans the desks, files properly and has an amazing ability to Google things, he see's something different in her. She tags along on a few interviews and becomes integral with her knowledge of popular culture and chit-chat with fellow ladies. Although this is the first in a series and her character needs time to develop, Robin will need more than the ability to type 80 words per minute to become integral in the second book. The next Cormoran Strike book will be published this year.

In our book club chat, Richard (@mr_spoon) felt that if it was an unknown author then it wouldn't have been pulished, yet I was captivated by the free flowing plot and I've given it a 7 on the comfometer. I hope the series does continue.

Agree? Comment below or tweet me @bigcomfybooks

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Michael
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