I’ve been falling behind with book reviews lately. That does not mean that I haven’t been reading! I was thinking that I might catch up by writing several short reviews into one post – but during the writing of the first one, it got long enough to stand on its own. (Hopefully I’ll get back to the others another day.)
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (2013)
[Previously mentioned in my BTT post Imagery, Sept. 12.]
Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling. You can read more about why she chose to write The Cuckoo’s Calling under a pseudonym here (click on FAQs).
As Robert Galbraith, Rowling is starting on a series of crime novels featuring private investigator Cormoran Strike. (A sequel is already finished and expected to be published next year).
A temporary secretary named Robin (newly engaged to be married), arrives at the start of the story, hired from an agency, to help out with his office work. Strike himself is a war veteran wounded in the Afghan war (and just out of a broken relationship with a woman). The setting is modern day London.
This is a classic kind of detective story; by which I mean that it focuses on solving a mystery. Actually, when the story starts out, the police have already written off the “case” as suicide; but the victim’s brother comes to Strike and asks him to re-investigate. Much of the book consists of Strike (and sometimes Robin too) going around London and interviewing people, and comparing their stories and impressions of the victim (a famous photo model) and the events leading up to her lethal fall from a balcony in her own home.
Personally I found it rather fascinating how the author manages to keep up the suspense even though (throughout most of the book) not all that much seems to “happen” on the surface. However, while all this interviewing is going on, the reader also gradually gets to know not only the victim and the people surrounding her, but also the detective and his secretary.
Rather typical for J.K. Rowling, she manages to mix a true love of the classic detective novel with gentle satire of the same genre, but throwing in some harsh modern day reality as well.
The collection of characters includes photo models and musicians, fashion designers, film producers and lawyers – but also puts some spotlight on caretakers, drivers, cleaners, and homeless people. Like in The Casual Vacancy (published under her own name), Rowling does not hesitate to use language as a class distinction. (I can’t help wondering if the American edition has kept all the f-words? Or replaced them with beeps?) In between the colloquial conversations including slang and cursing, the author still demonstrates her own capability of a varied literary vocabulary though – even including quotes from Latin classics at the beginning of each chapter.
Unlike some other famous literary British detectives, Cormoran Strike is not a member of the aristocracy. Instead, he has the ‘updated’ mixed background of being an illegitimate son of a famous rock musician; and then a military career cut off by injury. This places him in a sort of no man’s land with access both to the modern day rich and famous, and their modern day servants.
I enjoyed this crime novel and I’ll definitely be reading the next one too. At the same time I have to say I hope that Rowling will continue to explore other genres as well. (Well, who knows. Maybe she already is, under some other pseudonym that has not been “outed” yet!)