Release Date: April 30, 2013
Publisher: Mulholland Books
A brilliant debut mystery in a classic vein: Detective Cormoran Strike investigates a supermodel's suicide. After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.
Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, thelegendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.
You may think you know detectives, but you've never met one quite like Strike. You may think you know about the wealthy and famous, but you've never seen them under an investigation like this. (courtesy of Goodreads.)
Here's a story of being lucky. Well, lucky and resourceful. I saw a headline on Hypable last Saturday afternoon that J.K. Rowling had released The Cuckoo's Calling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Immediately, I got on my library's website to see if they carried the book. They had four copies. Even better, there was only one hold. I put my number down and became hold #2. Fast forward a few days and there were over 250 holds on The Cuckoo's Calling. So just when everybody is clamoring after the book, I have a copy!
After that long-winded, self-congratulatory introduction, you're probably wondering what I actually thought of the book. I liked it. With a few caveats.
I don't really like mysteries and I've never been into detective driven novels. So that colors my opinion of the book.
It's not Harry Potter. I wasn't expecting it to be nor do I imagine most people are after Casual Vacancy. The Cuckoo's Calling is an adult book. It lacks the underlying hopefulness and redemption of Harry Potter. Everything feels very cynical. That's not a bad thing necessarily. It's just different.
Oh, and J.K. has a real fondness for the f-bomb. Not quite as much as in Casual Vacancy, but far more f-words than any other swear word. It's rather funny. I was thinking you could make a drinking game out of it, but everyone would pass out after a chapter or two.
Character development is where Rowling really shines and The Cuckoo's Calling was no exception. There were tons of people in this book. We have Cormoran Strike, the private detective; Robin, his assistant; Lula Landry, the victim; John Bristow, the guy who hires the detective...and so many more. Each character is highly flawed. None are entirely likable but also not pure evil. They felt very human. Rowling can convey volumes about a character's personality through the way they dress, the way they carry themselves, their manner of speaking (often expletive laden). Every word on the page is important in establishing who that character is and ultimately in determining who is guilty and who is innocent.
Quite a few reviews I've read say that The Cuckoo's Calling never ventures out of the standard conventions for a detective novel. Here's where my unfamiliarity with the genre is beneficial. It all felt fresh to me. Cormoran works his way through every person in Lula's life giving us insight into who Lula was, who her friends and family were, and just how insane the life of a paparazzi hounded star can be. I imagine Rowling drew on her own experiences for the many examples of paparazzi, yes-men, opportunity grabbers, and friend/back-stabbers. It's rather sad. As the mystery unfolds, we also get to know Cormoran. His life is falling apart, but he remains gruff and aloof to readers and co-characters alike, not wanting to show any weakness. Because of this, it was hard for me to grow attached to him, but I couldn't help respecting him.
The pacing was slow. It took me a long time to get into the novel, to get invested in the characters and the story. That may be more of a genre thing than a problem with the book itself. Of the detective driven novels that I've read, I've often found them to take a long time to grab hold of my attention. Eventually, I got caught up in the story and the pages turned steadily. At the very end (the last 50 pages or so), I flew through the book but until that point it was even going.
As with all good mysteries, there were tons of twists and turns. I did guess the ultimate villain relatively early on, but almost immediately changed my mind. There were strong red herrings planted throughout the book. When it became clear that Cormoran knew who the bad person was, I turned the pages enthralled to see how his reasoning worked. It all made sense and I was totally surprised. Definitely made for a fun ending.
The Cuckoo's Calling was a well-plotted novel, had strong characters, and kept me guessing right till the very end. I'd say it was a very good detective novel. I wouldn't say that I totally loved it, but that's because I just don't like mysteries very much. If you do like mysteries or you really like J.K. Rowling, you can't turn this book down.
Rating: 4 / 5
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