I wonder if I had not known that Robert Galbraith was in reality J.K. Rowling, if I would have caught on that The Cuckoo's Calling was by her? I suspect not. I'm not always the most observant when it comes to writing style, since I tend to get caught up first and foremost in the story. If a writer can engage my interest in the plot and the storytelling, so much else will simply fall away. Of course really good writing and styling, and the development of characters will catch my attention, too. How do you critique someone so famous? I know other readers can do it, and likely she attracts strong opinions. Her reputation precedes her and somehow I think it would be hard for her to get a fair shake, so I won't even try. For me, and this is the case almost all the time in my reading, my guide is how much I enjoy a story, how much it takes me away from life's daily irritations.
The Cuckoo's Calling was for me an enjoyable read, one I wanted to come back to again and again. For a mystery it is a fairly long book, over 500 pages, which I think can become a little unwieldy at times if a writer isn't careful. It's Cormoran Strike and his temporary secretary, Robin, who make the story. The mystery becomes a little complicated in the unravelling, and she takes her time getting there with a full cast of characters and lots of little details, but Strike and Robin only grew on me as the story progressed.
Cormoran Strike is an interesting and very quirky character. If the plotting of this novel is somewhat complicated, Strike's life is even more so. Let's see . . . where to begin. He's not what you would consider a swoonworthy leading man. To say, like the book blurb does, that his life is in a state of disarray is an understatement. He's a former military man who lost his lower leg in an accident in Afghanistan. Whatever military physique he must once have claimed has gone to fat, and he's a large man anyway. He's also lost his significant other, his beautiful girlfriend, and at the beginning of the story is sleeping on a cot in his office. Now he's a struggling private investigator barely making ends meet and is being hounded to pay back a debt he can't even begin to cover.
And the other curiosity about Cormoran Strike? He has a famous set of parents, though he doesn't ride their coattails. Messed up, perhaps, but famous nonetheless. His father is a musician known far and wide, and his mother was a supergroupie. She's part of that era that started it all, that sad, messed up phenomenon of those who live off the fame of others. A sort of shooting star--she shot to fame and then burnt out and 'offed' herself in the process. Strike doesn't talk about it much, but it's there hovering in the background.
It all comes in handy when he's hired by the brother of a long-dead schoolfriend to investigate the strange circumstances surrounding the death of a supermodel. Lula Landry was beautiful. She was famous and wealthy and had everything to live for. But she fell? Or, more likely, jumped to her death one cold London night. But her brother doesn't believe it. Not when she was on the cusp of something really big. He hires Strike to investigate and so begins the mystery of if and why she jumped, or why someone would want to push this lovely young woman out of a window.
Lula is everywhere in this story, she inhabits the minds and memories of those who loved her, or those who were enamored by her or just hung on to her fame, but she's never a real physical presence. She can never speak for herself but Strike forms a picture of her through his investigation. This is very much a detective story even if Strike isn't a proper detective. He knows how to handle himself and he knows the questions to ask, how to, or if he needs to lean on a suspect.
Robin, Strike's secretary sent over from a temping agency, provides the perfect counterbalance to Strike and his methods. She's calm and efficient and takes the lead where Strike leaves off. She's savvy enough to pick up the process Strike follows in his investigation. Recently engaged, her fiancé is less than pleased with her interest in working for a private detective. And then there's the beautiful Charlotte, the ex, just off center stage.
This is a story filled with complications. The sort of complications that make for good reading as you try and piece everything together--see how characters play off each other, how they tell the story, their own stories and that of others all the while trying to figure out the mystery of Lula Landry. Up until that last climactic scene. It's the sort of story that is complicated in just the right way making the mystery and the characters interesting and three-dimensional.
Interesting enough for me to have added the second Cormoran Strike mystery, The Silkworm to my wishlist.