Monday, October 7, 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

By now, you most likely know that Robert Galbraith, author of the mystery The Cuckoo's Calling (FIC GALBRAIT, also on ebook), is actually J.K. Rowling, mega-selling author and creator of the Harry Potter world.

As an unabashed Hogwarts fan, I knew I immediately had to give The Cuckoo's Calling a try. Having read her first foray into adult fiction, The Casual Vacancy, I admire Rowling for tackling such vastly different types of stories from her Harry Potter saga. While I did not enjoy The Casual Vacancy — it was peopled by characters too petty and unpleasant to care about any of them — Rowling certainly fashioned a story that shared very little with her previous works except perhaps her language.

In The Cuckoo's Calling, even the language has changed; you'd never know it was written by Rowling if not for her having been outed as its author. What it does feature, however, is Rowling's flair for complex, meticulous plotting. In Harry Potter she had the luxury of drawing her grand plan out over the course of seven books, in The Cuckoo's Calling, she nimbly compresses that into a single, tautly-told tale.

Several months have passed since the paparazzi-plagued model Lula Landry turned up dead in the snow, having apparently fallen from the balcony of her third-story London flat. That's when the brilliantly named but imminently broke private investigator Cormoran Strike finds himself sitting across from Lula's brother, who wants him to look into her death. The brother believes that Lula's death, though ruled a suicide, was actually murder. He hires Strike to determine the truth.

Strike, a former military policeman, is aided in his inquiry by the stalwart Robin, a temp secretary assigned to his office for the time being. The two greatest pleasures of this story are watching Strike sussing out fact from fiction and the burgeoning friendship between the gumshoe and his secretary, who rapidly rises to the role of trusty sidekick.

Throughout the investigation, Strike grapples with a host of personal issues, including his dwindling bank account, a recent break-up with his long-time girlfriend and the difficulties of maneuvering London wearing a prosthetic leg. Even with all those distractions, he impresses with his determined focus and his clever way of reading between the lines of witness statements.

Admittedly, I found the revealed culprit to be somewhat predictable but it was nevertheless fascinating to watch Rowling's stellar plotting skills. She plants a subtle path of breadcrumbs that we can see in bits and pieces. But we truly need Strike's help to see them all and make sense of them. Understanding the many gears of the grand scheme keeps you reading to the end, but it's the characters of Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott who will have you looking forward to Rowling's next installment.

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