The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a bookclub pick. I don’t know that I would have picked it up otherwise. Galbraith is the pseudonym for J.K. Rowling, so perhaps I would have eventually.
It is a little hard to go into this without expecting another Harry Potter book (probably why she used a pseudonym), but I didn’t know anything about the book or the story before.
It was an interesting story and a fairly good first foray into mystery writing. There were a couple problems with style and plot that kept this from getting all 5 stars for me, but I still recommend it if you like mysteries and don’t mind A LOT of swearing.
The story is about the supposed suicide of a high-profile model. Her brother doesn’t believe it though, and hires a private detective, Cormoran Strike, to investigate it more fully.
Setting: The setting is basically present-day London. A lot of the story feels like it takes place in various bars (pubs) around the city. The author doesn’t really spend a lot of time on details of place – there is enough to know where you are and to keep things organized, but since I don’t know the city, I wasn’t sure what any of it meant. There are details given about the murder/suicide scene and surrounding area so as to help us learn what happened along with the PI, Cormoran Strike.
Characters: Cormoran Strike is a great character and we get to know lots about him. He is proud and fierce and insightful. He lost a leg in the war and wears a prosthesis, but he works hard at not letting anyone know. He was in a close relationship with a very beautiful lady but ends it at the start of the novel. He had a friendship with a family member of the model (he had also apparently committed suicide many years earlier), so that is part of the reason he is brought into this.
There is his temp secretary, Robin, who grows to like the job and the excitement more and more, straining her relationship with her fiance.
There are all the other characters and suspects who Strike interviews and gets information from. Some of them seem more like personas rather than real people, but there are some interesting ones here.
Plot: Lulu Landry, a popular model, seems to have jumped to her death. Her brother (she was adopted) is a member of a wealthy family and does not believe it was suicide. Strike takes the case and tries to track down the killer or to prove that it was suicide. There are some twists and turns with trying to get people to talk and with one person turning up dead. There are some other minor plot lines with Strike and his ex, and with Robin and her job and her fiance, but the main focus is on the case. This is where the book falls short a bit for me, though. Part of the fun of a mystery is figuring out (along with or shortly after the main character) who did it and why. But it remains fairly hidden until the very end. Part of this is because the author chooses to not tell us even though we are in the main character’s head. POV needs to be handled much better for a mystery for me to accept the artifice of uncovering “the truth” about something and treading the thin line between suspense and obvious.
Conflict: This is conflict here. Most of it revolves around getting people to share what they know and figuring out what it all means. Towards the end, the conflict is ramped up with the threat of death after someone close to Lulu ends up dead.
Text: It is easy to tell that Rowling has gotten so big that either she ignores her editors or they treat her with white kid gloves, because she is still using “said-isms” and way too many adverbs for a book that is not a YA novel. That said, the writing flows well and the interactions and dialogue are written well. There is a lot of swearing, which may turn off some readers.
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