A briefer version of this appears on Goodreads.
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
I have to admit, if I didn’t know the name that’s on Robert Galbraith’s birth certificate, I don’t know that I’d have picked this book up. It’s possible– I pick up odd mysteries sometimes(the U.K. cover would’ve been more likely to get me to do it than the U.S. cover). But by the time I was halfway through with this one, I was ready to buy the next 2 or 3 in the series, regardless how this one turned out.
This is not the J. K. Rowling of Harry Potter — that’s obvious, and as it should be. Nor is this the J. K. Rowling of The Causal Vacancy — and that’s just merciful and wise. Let me quote (in it’s entirety) my Goodreads review of that one:
I don’t know, man…I just don’t know.
. It’s ten months later, and I still don’t know. But here, she taps into the same vein that brought her success — a different voice, a different world, different characters — but the same ability to tell a story. Not necessarily all that new, perhaps not written in the most “literary” way, but in a way that grabs the reader, draws them in and keeps them turning pages. At the end of the day, isn’t that what we want? (unless we’re professional critics or professors)
Our entry into this world comes via Robin Ellacott, newly moved to London with her fiancé who comes to the office of a P.I. as a temp secretary. She’s smart (and we eventually get an idea just how smart), spunky, and has long had an interest in detecting, it turns out (which must be nice — I’ve never had a temp job that was in a field I’d been interested for years and years). It’s through her eyes that we get confirmation that yes, the protagonist is a decent guy, despite problems he might be having — and a good detective. While we are introduced to this world through Robin’s eyes, we eventually get to the point where we envy her as she gets to take part in the investigative work.
Her temporary boss, on the other hand isn’t someone we envy — nor is he noticeably spunky, there’s reason to doubt his intelligence from time to time — although he’s clearly an experienced and well-equipped detective. Injured in Afghanistan, he now (almost) ekes out a living doing private investigations. He has an interesting — and novel — past, one that opens doors for him (although he hates having to cash in on it). With the unlikely (but inherently cool) name of Cormoran Strike, he’s a member of a long-line of down-on-their luck, idealistic, hard-boiled, hard-drinking, lone-wolf detectives that goes back to Chandler (if not further). The friendship that Strike develops with Robin gives him the motivation–at least temporarily — to be a better version of himself than he’s apt to be, if only to pay her back for the extraordinary amount of help she’s been to him. It seems inevitable from almost the beginning that thus will develop into at least an unrequited love on his part, as long as Galbraith moves the relationship along in future books as deftly as she does here, I don’t see it becoming the cliche it so really could.
Given the subject of Strike’s investigation — a well-known model from a prominent family, who socializes almost exclusively with A-listers — Galbraith is given plenty of opportunity to comment on celebrity culture –a subject Galbraith has had a certain degree of experience with, and obviously an informed opinion or two about. Hard-boiled detectives tend to comment on society as they go about their detecting, and Cuckoo’s Calling does its fair share, particularly regarding the paparazzi and tabloid journalism, as well as the ridiculous aspects of the lives of celebrities.
The case that Strike is hired to investigate has plenty of twists and turns, more than enough to keep those who don’t care for the rest of the book entertained. I was pretty sure who the Big Bad was early on, and I was right. But I wasn’t in the same time zone as the motive. I was about 50/50 on some of the more minor mysteries, which is nice — for a first time mystery author, I’d have expected to be right about 70% of the time or so. But when I was wrong — I was very wrong. I should add that Galbraith didn’t cheat — everything we needed to know in order to identify the villains of the piece is right out there for us to see, just wish I’d done a better job of it.
A solid set-up for a series, decently interesting characters, and a mystery solid enough to prove that this newbie author (at least in this genre) has some chops. A distinct pleasure. I’ll be waiting for more Cormoran Strike — no matter what author’s name is attached.