narfna’s #CBR5 Review #72: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling)

the cuckoo's callingYou thought you could keep this a secret, didn’t you, Jo? WELL TOO BAD.

The Cuckoo’s Calling, the latest novel by J.K. Rowling, originally written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, features private dick Cormoran Strike and his temporary secretary, Robin, as they become involved in investigating the supposed suicide of supermodel Lula Landry at the behest of her grieving brother, who doesn’t believe it possible Lula could have killed herself.

I am beyond glad that J.K. Rowling is writing genre again. She’s just so good at it. And sorry, Jo, I’m also beyond glad your lawyer’s wife leaked this to the public, because otherwise I never would have read it (or if I ever did, it would have been much farther down the road when you were like six or seven books in or something, as it seems the only time I ever hear about mystery books is if they last long enough to be notable to those who normally don’t read inside the genre). I know this probably makes me a bad friend fan admirer thingy whatever, and for that I apologize . . . but damn. I just love your words so much.

Shit. This has gotten weird real fast, even for one of my reviews.

Also, it’s more than slightly ironic that I have just written a chunk of this review as if I knew Ms. Rowling and was addressing her personally, when a great part of The Cuckoo’s Calling is devoted to an examination of fame from the other side. At one point, our hero Cormoran Strike literally wonders how it is that some people feel as if they know celebrities, even think of them in terms of friendship, when the reality is they don’t know them at all. The fact that it’s Jo who’s writing this — one of the most famous women in the world, a woman who fiercely values her privacy, and who spent a large portion of the latter Harry Potter books reacting via writing to her growing celebrity — leads me to wonder if she really doesn’t understand the impact her books had on an entire generation of kids. I admire Ms. Rowling’s public persona very much, but it’s her books that make me think of her so fondly.

But it’s not just on Lula Landry’s behalf that Strike ponders the strange behavior that can surround celebrity. Strike has cause to be prickly about fame, as well. His father is a famous rockstar who he’s only met a handful of times, but that doesn’t stop everyone who finds out about his parentage from making certain assumptions. He’s also ex-military police, and is still recovering from losing the lower half of one of his legs. He owes a ton of money, he’s just broken up with his girlfriend, and things aren’t looking so great for him in general. His temp secretary, Robin, is delightful. She doesn’t get as much characterization in this one as Strike does, but I’d imagine that will change in future books, as he lets her do more and more work for his cases. This was very much a first book. She had to take time to set up Strike’s initial character, then slowly but surely allow Robin to worm her way in to a permanent job, and I think more importantly, allow her to be someone that he can let see the embarassing bits of his life (for nearly the whole novel Strike tries to pretend to her that he isn’t living out of his office on a camp bed, when it is glaringly obvious to both of them that he is).

The mystery in this was really good, really thorough, and Rowling does a nice job of setting up red herrings, but at the same time laying clues so it’s obvious in retrospect who the murderer is. (This is something we already knew she could do, as she did it so well in all the Potters.) Strike is very good at his job, and Robin finds she has a talent for it as well (much to her delight, as she confesses early on that she’s secretly always wanted to work in a PI office), so it’s fun to watch them work. Even though I really liked the mystery, there wasn’t really anything there that made me go YES. I do, however, love Strike and Robin as characters (Jo is so good at characters, you guys), and I can imagine myself easily re-reading this after future books in the series have been published and retroactively giving it five stars, once I know where the series is headed. It’s not love yet, just really, really like.

Recommend highly for mystery and crime fiction fans, and for all those who were disappointed by The Casual Vacancy. This one has a distinct adult feel to it without making you want to smash your head into hard furniture in utter despair (so, yes, children, there is sex and swearing; it’s not a big deal, and please grow up, why won’t you?) .

[4.5 Stars]