I know there are some who dislike JK Rowling’s decision to discontinue writing Harry Potter books and/or not write other children’s books and, instead, turn her attention to writing the books that these aforementioned books are giving her the opportunity, i.e., in terms of money, to write. I suspect, after reading this newest novel of hers, these adult books were the ones she was “meant” to write, but then again, I am not a fan of the Harry Potter books, having read only the first one.
The Cuckoo’s Calling is a detective mystery set in London. There are actually two primary characters, a military veteran, Cormoran Strike, who wears a prosthetic leg, who has begun his own detective agency, and a temporary secretary, who has moved to London with her fiance and is in search of a well-paying job but forced to be a temp in the meantime. The story is frequently told from each of these two characters’ perspectives, although the quirky detective is the prominent character, and they play off one another’s personality well.
Strike is hired by the adoptive brother of Lula Landry, a famous, young model, to disprove her suicide that he is convinced was a murder. The questions for the detective are whether Lula Landry jumped from her apartment or was pushed and if the latter, who pushed her. There is a long list of possible perpetrators, although through the story, some become victims themselves and thus are eliminated from his (and our) consideration. He occasionally takes his secretary with him or has her doing errands once he realizes she is by far the smartest and able temporary secretary he has had and begins to pay her “under the table” to retain her services rather than have her return to the temp agency. Their relationship never strays from employer/employee until one night when she helps him through a particularly inebriated episode, but even then, it develops into a respectful friendship and doesn’t dissolve into any sexual encounter that a less skillful author may have thought was necessary.
In fact, it’s Rowling’s skill developing her characters that is most impressive. I like that they are normal people we might meet or see on the street without ever guessing what is beyond their exterior appearance. She peels away their external protection and we meet complex people among all the characters, not just the primary ones, with all their insecurities and confidence and histories. This goes along with her great descriptions of locations and we see the worlds they are living in and investigating clearly and how they might compare. There is some humor in the characters, particularly Cormoran, and particularly in his relationship with his ex-girlfriend and with his secretary, but the humor wasn’t contrived and felt very natural, the kind of humor people exhibit around each other.
Although I read this novel knowing who the author was (I’d heard it referred to after someone had disclosed she’d written it using a pseudonym), I quickly forgot it was written by Rowling and instead, was immersed in the stories and characters as presented. Had I read it thinking the author was one Robert Galbraith, I’d have felt the same way I felt knowing otherwise. So for me, this book clearly had a life of its own and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys detective stories.