Cormoran Strike is back, and I couldn’t be much happier. After the events described in The Cuckoo’s Calling, Strike’s enjoyed a few minutes of fame — a degree of notoriety with the police, and a profile big enough to land him bigger clients, plus his fair share of would-be clients with a weak grasp on reality and/or not a lot of money. Leonora Quine certainly appears to be in the latter camps when she comes to hire Strike to find her missing husband — but he sees an opportunity to collect eventually, and he likes her. The missing husband, Owen Quine, is a writer of some measure of success and renown. He’s been known to disappear for a few days every now and then, but this time seems longer, and with a special needs child at home, Leonora needs her husband back. Something’s fishy, and his soon-to-published next book is at the heart of it. While juggling his other clients — the ones with large checkbooks — Strike starts poking around, and it doesn’t stay a missing person’s case for long.
Cormoran Strike continues to be reminiscent of several mystery fiction types and specific characters — yet he still feels mostly fresh. There’s your typical hard-boiled loaner (Spillane, Spenser, Marlowe, Cole, etc.), the armed services background (same list, come to think of it), the troubled family history, and so on. There were a couple of detectives that I kept coming back to this time around (and I’m probably alone in this, I realize). Strike’s musings on the way he still works like he did in SIB removed me of the way Danny Boyle talks about John Ceepak. It’s odd to see the two ex-military men in the same light, while on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Yet, it’s also incredibly fitting. Strike and Robin also remind me a great deal of Yancey’s Highly Effective Detective and his assistant. Except Strike actually is highly effective.
The description of Quine’s new book in question was fantastic — it is not a book I want to read, in any shape or fashion, but I really enjoyed reading about it. Galbraith is able to give us enough to get the idea without having to take the time to compose another book in the process — very well done there.
This is slow, yet deliberately moving (like the protagonist, really) until it doesn’t need to be any more — once the pieces are in place and it’s time to reveal and trap the killer, then it moves on at a brisk clip and forces the reader to pick up the pace, too (or at least it felt that way). But it never drags, never meanders — it’s always on point, and is building to something.
It’s tough to say that Strike develops much over the course of this book — we grow in our understanding of him, but he’s pretty much the same man at the end. Not so for Ellacot — she grows and becomes stronger throughout, and its only a matter of time before she’s going to be a 50-50 partner in the agency, I bet — and maybe Strike’s partner in other ways, too. I’m looking forward to watching Galbraith develop this character more in the books ahead, but I can tell I’m already getting impatient for it to happen, rather than trusting him and his timeframe. The other supporting characters not involved in Quine’s disappearance are great additions and make everything better, helping us understand the characters more (e.f., Strike’s family, Ellacot’s family — still not the fiancée, Strike’s old friends).
The biggest selling point (for me) with this book is an intangible quality — a je ne sais quoi — about one-third of the way in I noted I was enjoying it. It was a good, solid detective novel — but in a real sense, nothing I hadn’t seen before. Yet — I noticed I was really “into” the book. I couldn’t explain why I was invested as much as I was — but my goodness, I was in whole hog. I have to chalk it up to Rowling’s super power — she can tell a story that grabs you in a way you just can’t explain. If you’ve read her, you know the effect.*
As I read the last couple of paragraphs and closed the book I noticed something — I was smiling. Not a usual reaction for me as I complete a book, no matter what it is. That has to say something, doesn’t it?
* Unless, of course, she’s talking about a little town called Pagford and its residents. Then there’s nothing at all that will grab you.