A thoroughly enjoyable detective drama (4.5 stars)
Source- borrowed from a friend
Published by Sphere, April 2013
I read the hardback edition which is 449 pages
When this book was initially released, the reviews were pretty favourable, but once it was ‘leaked’ to the press that Robert Galbraith was JK Rowling writing under a pseudonym, it shifted boat-loads of copies. For me personally, this is the first non-Potter book by JK Rowling that I’ve actually read and I was looking forward to it and seeing what she could do with a non-fantasy realm. I’ve yet to pick up The Casual Vacancy (must get around to that soon!) and was drawn to this one with the promise that it was a very well-written crime noir novel. Indeed, it was. I’m in generally more of a fan of ‘cosy’ crime mysteries or out and out serial killer thrillers, so this was a new kind of crime read for me, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Cormoran Strike (I know, ridiculous name, right?) is a former soldier turned private investigator who is pretty much at the end of his tether, both personally and professionally. He’s just split up from his girlfriend and is now sleeping on a camp bed in his office, swamped by debts and eating mainly Pot Noodles. When John Bristow, the adopted brother of famous supermodel Lula Landry- who recently committed suicide- approaches him and suggests that his sister’s death may not have been what it seems, Strike is sceptical, but needing the money agrees to take on the case. What he soon uncovers is a story of greed, secrets and betrayal…
With its well-drawn characters, fast paced plot and some brilliantly crafted twists and turns, The Cuckoo’s Calling was a novel that pulled me in immediately. Admittedly, it doesn’t bring nothing wholly original to the table, but it is so well-written and smart that what it does offer is a very engaging read to maintain the reader’s interest throughout. It is incredibly atmospheric, with its London setting becoming a secondary character within the plot. The book is filled with excellent descriptions of the every day and the mundane, creating an realistic backdrop for a very appealing murder mystery- you get the sense that this can and does happen.
Cormoran Strike himself is a fascinating protagonist; abundantly flawed, clever and also a tad reckless, he has a dark past that the book only appears to merely scratch the surface of. Injured in Afghanistan, he has a prosthetic leg, yet doesn’t let it hold him back, you get a clear sense of his determination and independence as he pushes on with his case, despite his pain. You also sense how psychologically scarred he has been by his experiences in the military- and I hope this is something that is further explored in future books. Strike was so clearly described that I could picture him vividly- a big bear of a man, somewhat grumpy yet a seeker of the truth. He isn’t the archetypal handsome detective and it is continually drummed into the reader that he is massive, a former boxer and a rugby player, so you get the sense he has had a broken nose or two- so presumably his face is imbued with ‘character!’
By contrast, twenty-something Robin Ellacott is Strike’s new ‘temporary’ personal assistant and is pretty prim and proper, from the outset at least. They don’t get off to the best of starts, but idealistic Robin soon realises just what her boss is capable of and is intrigued by the insight she is given into this new career, a profession she has always harboured a secret interest in. She eventually shows herself to be resourceful and gains confidence as the case progresses, impressing Strike who soon realises just what her skills bring to the table.
The dynamics between the relationship of Cormoran and Robin are interesting within the storyline. Strike feels Robin is ‘safe’ as she is engaged and though he may find her attractive and occasionally tiptoes around her so as not to give her the wrong idea, nothing is acted upon. Robin has seen Strike at his worst- drunk, bruised and with what she describes as ‘pube-like hair’ to her fiancé, so as a consequence is not remotely attracted to him, though she admires his intelligence. It was nice to read a story where the plot wasn’t overshadowed by any degree of romance, though I have to question whether this may change as the series progresses as it is clear that Robin’s fiancé is already resentful of Strike.
The mystery/crime element in the novel was cleverly woven together. Personally I didn’t have any idea who was responsible for the death of Lula Landry; clues were subtle and there wasn’t any degree of predictability as to indicate the culprit or their motive. Landry too, is given a voice within the story- she isn’t just a corpse at the beginning who is forgotten about and readers soon gain clarity as to her lifestyle and her personality- as well as to the risky nature of fame. The way that her death impacts on those around her was a continuing thread throughout the narrative, which is not always the case. Though initially, being a model, she is perhaps implied to be somewhat superficial and a bit fame-hungry, the real facets of her personality are brought to the surface and Strike wants to prove just what happened to the young woman who meant so much to so many. His encounters with a whole array of potential witnesses and suspect add some welcome humour to the plot on occasion as he meets with a slew of people, some of whom are rich and famous and who he refuses to pander to. Strike either refuses to be intimidated or he is simply unable to be.
Sometimes poignant, also gritty and real and filled with some serious insights into the everyday world, The Cuckoo’s Calling is a novel that I would recommend to crime readers. After reading this book and being pleasantly surprised by its contents, I will certainly be picking up a copy of The Casual Vacancy at some point soon. I also can’t wait to read more about Cormoran Strike in future- and I’m looking forward to book two in this series being released in August 2014.