on 23 April 2013
I came across this novel when browsing the new releases and thought it looked interesting and worth a read. I'm glad I took the punt because the Cuckoo's Calling is a terrific mystery story. The brother of a troubled model calls in a private investigator following her death in what the police are treating as suicide. Everything points to this but as we get deeper in to the novel it becomes clear that all is not as it seems.
The private investigator Cormoran Strike is a terrific character: ex-army turned P.I going through a messy separation from his fiancé and whose business is in real financial trouble he is immediately sympathetic. The other characters, from eccentric fashion designers to drug-addicted musicians feel real and the dialogue is believable. The mystery is satisfyingly complex with a nice conclusion that I didn't see coming.
One of the things that really set this book apart for me in the crowded genre of private investigator fiction was the quality of writing, depth of character and the wonderful sense of place Galbraith brings to the novel. Galbraith's vivid descriptions bring the story to life and we feel like we are there with Strike and his temporary secretary Robin as they solve the mystery. I suppose I would describe this as quite an old-fashioned style thriller with an emphasis placed on interviewing witnesses and gathering clues rather than action and this really helped with the character development.
I hope there will be more books in the series and I'll certainly read them if they are released. Very highly recommended.
p.s: excellent narration of the audio book from Robert Glenister.
on 28 July 2013
So many reviews and that tells the story alone. J K Rowling is a literary sensation, after Harry Potter I confess I was slightly let down by Casual Vacancy, but I think I didn't bring enough to the book, and some of the overt politics grated.
However this book I loved. It shows a strong narrative ability that gives the lie to those that think that Rowling is just "lucky". She clearly works hard at her plotting and though over long in places the chapters keep pace and are always illuminating the plot.
I like the Robert Galbraith name, it gives her a chance in the tradition of other authors (King, Christie) to step away from the Potter brand - as a crime debut novel it is very good and I for one hope that she keeps the conceit going when she writes book two. The novel feels contemporary and realistic to the London I know and grounded in realistic and rich characters. Her opening chapters about the arrival of a temp to a new job ring true to someone who has temped and show that she has done her research and kept her grounded feel that the early Potter books had. The thing to remember about Rowling is that she writes books that are worth reading, she may not be writing the kind of literary fiction that one would study on an English Lit course, but she IS writing the kind of work that connects, enthrals and entertains readers. Sometimes a little misanthropic in its view of life but all in all a very absorbing read and I look forward to more in the series.
This is a wonderfully entertaining new crime debut, which although it contains nothing amazingly original, works really well. Firstly, there is the main character, Cormoran Strike - a wounded war veteran, with a troubled past, damaged love life and financial woes, which see him sleeping in his office when we first meet him. Strike has left the army, which provided him with the structure and home life his mother never could, and set up as a Private Detective. The only problem is, a lack of paying clients. He then receives a new temporary secretary, Robin Ellacott, with her slightly stuffy fiance and her secret desire to be a detective. Both Strike and Robin, are fully fleshed out characters that we care about deeply by the end of the book.
The crime Strike is asked to investigate involves a famous supermodel, who falls (or is pushed) from her balcony on a snowy, London night. Lula Landry is the adopted daughter of a wealthy family and her adopted brother is insistent that she had no suicidal feelings when he met up with her that day. As Strike sets out to investigate, we are introduced to a cast of identifiable characters - the effeminate dress designer, drug taking Paparazzi avoiding boyfriend, disgrunted 'wannabee' film star chauffeur, elderly, dying mother, disapproving family members, etc. Although the plot is really quite a simple one, it works very well. The author has created a totally realistic scenario, with London almost becoming an extra character as Strike walks the streets and a satisfactory plot with a good cast of suspects.
I would say that Cormoran Strike is the best new addition to the P I genre that I have read for a long time. He certainly deserves a series and I hope to see him appear in many more books. There were tantalising glimpses of his past which need much further exploration and perhaps the author can be kinder to him in the next book and, at least, get him a proper place to sleep. I feel he will serve the author well and deserves a little looking after! If you enjoy really intelligent, well written crime novels (P D James, etc) then this will be a book you will love. Great start to what will, hopefully, become a long running series.
* After I reviewed this book I discovered it was, obviously, by J K Rowling. I hope that she continues the series, as I thought it was extremely good, although I have to admit to never having read (or, indeed, wanting to read) the Harry Potter books. If you do read this, then please judge it as a crime novel on it's own merits.
It's hard to put your finger on exactly what it is that makes The Cuckoo's Calling such a terrific new Private Investigator crime fiction debut. On the surface it seems straightforward, unexceptional and unambitious, everything fits the established conventions, there's nothing immediately new that stands out, and yet it's an utterly compelling read with strong characters that wraps you up completely and thrillingly into the investigation.
There's certainly nothing significantly new in the nature of the Private Detective at the centre of the book and series. Yes, the circumstances are a little different and the family background a little more colourful than most, but at heart, Cormoran Strike doesn't stray too far from the template - ex-army rather than ex-police, with a complicated personal life, a detective business that is on its last legs (no pun intended on Strike's service injury), clients are drying up, the loan that has set him up in London's Denmark Street is being called in and he's in the middle of a messy break-up with his fiancée. Nothing particularly noteworthy so far, not even the fact that the temp agency has just landed him with a new partner - sorry, a new secretary, Robin, who is only supposed to be around for a few weeks, but of course ends up making herself quite useful, not to say even indispensable, creating the obligatory mismatched team in the process.
There's nothing particularly exceptional either about the high profile case - the death of a supermodel - that lands in his lap and keeps the wolves away from the door just that little bit longer. Falling to her death from her third-floor Mayfair apartment, the verdict of suicide is obviously not accepted by the distraught brother of the family that had adopted her, even though she clearly had problems in the run up to her death, much of it stemming from a troubled relationship with her boyfriend, a Pete Doherty-style musician. For some reason there is particular emphasis made of the setting and the timing of the case, setting it specifically in London in 2010, in the last days of the Brown Labour government, without there seeming to be any particular social or political point to be drawn from this. Or perhaps there is some significance in the Amy Winehouse/Kate Moss celebrity lifestyle issues and pre-press hacking revelations that is worth exploring or considering. Even so, it hardly seems to be a subject that is going to make any major revelations.
And yet, The Cuckoo's Calling does indeed prove to be utterly compelling in its depiction of every aspect of this world that the investigation delves into. Like the main investigator team, the various colourful characters that they come into contact with during the investigation do often appear to fit standard types - film producers, fashion designers and big business corporate types on one side, contrasted that with ordinary working class security guards, chauffeurs, hangers-on and wannabes from the other side of London. Every bit of behaviour and every line of dialogue however is well-chosen, precise, accurate and revealing of the nature of the characters, and all the social content that is dredged up seemingly in passing proves to be in some way relevant to the questions of identity and background that the case raises.
If it's hard to pick out anything particularly striking or original about The Cuckoo's Calling, there is however this feeling of it being of a whole. The Private Investigator and his secretary Robin are not outsiders looking in on the lives of the people in their case, but they are as much a part of the whole fabric of the work, their involvement giving an authentic dynamic that interacts with the specific case and the people involved here and gets to the heart of the matter in a surprisingly effective and realistic manner. Undoubtedly, the strength of any great new series of detective fiction lies in establishing a firm connection between the PI and the world they operate in, and Robert Galbraith's creation of Strike and Robin in the contrasts of London life is subtly masterful, but just as importantly, the case is also brought to a good resolution. This is a very fine start to what looks like being a richly rewarding new crime series.
on 21 July 2014
In the interests of full disclosure I'm not a Harry Potter fan - far from it. I'm not convinced that, without the 'accidental' reveal of the author's true identity, that this would have garnered the interest that it did had it been by an unknown author. On the positive side kudos to Ms Rowling for stepping outside her comfort zone, not all authors are brave enough or talented enough to do so. A (just)passable first attempt at a new genre. On the negative side as others have pointed out, far too much description in the early going and not enough happening. The plot doesn't make any substantial strides until around about the half way mark, which for an unknown author might not be enough for the average reader to be convinced to stick with it. There is a fine line between building up the tension in the plot and invoking a feeling of 'come on get on with it' in the reader. Also I had a strong feeling that I knew (correctly as it turned out) how it was going to end at about the three quarter mark. For me after all the descriptive prose early on, there was a bit of an unseemly rush to the ending. The jury is still out on whether I will buy the second in the series, certainly would not consider it at the full price it is currently available.
The Cuckoo's Calling takes hold of you, almost gently, from the first page, and while it isn't a perch-on-the-edge-of-your-seat read, it is entirely engrossing.
For the plot alone I would give three stars. It became rather difficult to follow towards the end, thanks in no small part to the increasing withdrawal of the narrative from Cormoran Strike's deducting mind - something that I suppose was intended to keep the reader in suspense, but still affected my degree of immersion in the story. The big reveal at the end felt, if not contrived, then predictable in its total unpredictability, and relied on the staple monologue from the protagonist to explain how exactly the event that the book revolves around happened.
It's the characters that make The Cuckoo's Calling. Strike himself is sympathetic, but Robin, his secretary temp, is the easiest to warm to. They both feel real, and as a result the world they inhabit feels real (apart from said slightly-contrived thriller elements). It helps that JK Rowling writes about London like a long-time resident. Special mention should go to the prose as well. The balance is just right - not too florid, and vivid enough to elevate it above the usual gently-paced crime story.
One of the things I suppose you'd call a defining element of The Cuckoo's Calling is its perspective on the world of celebrity. Almost every single famous person in the book is portrayed as uncompromisingly odious, obsessed with only the most shallow of things, sometimes to the point of life and death. Perhaps JK Rowling hasn't had an entirely enjoyable experience as a famous person herself - you get the impression she'd happily have all her success without any of the fame - and it feels like this personal hatred bleeds through the story. It didn't put me off the story, and indeed, there's some great character description as a result. It was just...interesting.
I hope knowing that JK Rowling is the author hasn't coloured my view of The Cuckoo's Calling. Certainly I would not have picked it up without knowing - crime novels always seem to blur together these days for me. But I'm very glad I read it, and it is certainly of a higher calibre than many other books in its genre.
on 26 September 2013
When celebrated supermodel Lula Landry falls to her death from the balcony of her pent house apartment in the early hours of a bitter cold, snowy January morning, the media is cast into a frenzy; every inch of the model's life front page news, speculation over the circumstances of her death rife... did she jump or was she pushed? The eventual conclusion of the police enquiry is suicide, supported by Landry's troubled past and history of bipolar disease and mental instability; and slowly the tide following her death starts to wane. As such when 3 month's later Landry's adoptive brother approaches Mr Cormoran Strike, retired war veteran and private detective, asking him to re-investigate his sister's death, Strike can but be surprised. Landry's brother must surely be delusional from his grief if he expects Strike to uncover anything the police did not, after all cases hardly come any more high profile? Yet for some reason Strike agrees to take on the case, and with some assistance from his new temporary secretary, Robin, slowly begins to uncover the terrible truth behind Landry's death!
As a fan of the Harry Potter series I was both excited and dubious on approaching this book; but was not left disappointed. Given that all the Potter books contain an element of mystery solving at heart, it was perhaps not surprising to find Galbraith's first true venturing into the crime genre so assuredly written, with that same attention to detail, that clever plotting, littering of clues and red herrings that has always served her so well. I particulalry liked the fact this felt like an old fashioned detective story, in the veins of Agatha Christie; with Strike mostly relying on his interviewing skills, asking the right questions, paying attention to the small details and his ability to read characters. Indeed the story unfolds at a gentle pace, for the most part focusing on Strike as he interviews the various characters involved and slowly starts to put the pieces of the jigsaw together. This is by no means an action thriller, with chases and near escapes galore; but rather a character driven story, exploring the motivations and psychology of those closest to Landry and of course the dead model herself.
And what characters Galbraith creates! From mercenary lawyers, gold-digging wives,and camp designers, the Cuckoo's Calling is filled with a host of colourful and vibrant characters. At the novel's beating heart, however, is Cormoran Strike; and it is in her story's hero that Galbraith has really excelled herself. Though Strike makes for an unconventional hero, it is impossible not to warm to him; with his stoicism no matter what, his integrity and sense of pride, and of course his underlying vulnerabilities. He too has a checkered and coloured past, of which hopefully more will be revealed in a future sequel; together with I hope more background on his delightful and resourceful secretary Robin. Indeed the interactions between the two of them and their evolving friendship through the story provided a good balance of light and humour to the actual case; though it will be interesting to see in which direction Galbraith takes their relationship, whether it will be purely platonic or develop into something romantic (as there was definitely a hint of some chemistry there).
One of the story's particular strengths I thought was how well Galbraith creates the privileged and flash world of the rich and famous; yet also the cost of such fame, be it be paparazzi constantly on their backs, that sense the world has of these people belonging to them, of having the right to know the ins and outs of their lives, a sense of persecution almost. She also paints a haunting yet unfortunately realistic picture of the prejudice and stigma still attached to mental health issues as well as drug addiction, and how weak and vulnerable the victims usually are.
Overall a very impressive debut in the crime genre; though by no means perfect. I think it was fairly easy to guess the murderer's motives and as such entertain an idea of who it might be; though I have to say I did then keep dismissing the idea, unable to quite put it all together. But still the ending didn't have quite the shock factor or impact that it perhaps could have done. Hopefully having laid the foundations for her crime fighting duo in this first novel, Galbraith will be able to take the series to higher strengths and as such I look forward to the sequel.
on 9 January 2014
I finished this book wanting to meet Robert Galbraith so that I could kiss him, or at least grovel at his feet.
I can't tell you how many disappointing two or three star murder mysteries I've read in recent years in my hunt for a new Dalgliesh, Rebus or Morse. Some are better than others, but the characters rarely convince and the cliche count is usually high, whether it's a male or female protagonist, set in the grim inner city or on a stretch of windswept coastline, or one of those historical mysteries - can the investigator find the killer in time to save the Tudor throne? - which, C J Sansom excepted, all seem to come off the same production line just lately.
But the special offer and the neat title persuaded me to have another try with this one. Like many Kindle books it came unpackaged, no blurb, no endorsements, no information about the author, so I started reading with no particular expectations - and was hooked from the very first paragraph. It's been a long wait, but finally, someone gets it right!
It's not an unexpected story, perhaps - did the beautiful but troubled supermodel jump off the balcony or was she pushed? - but it's very well told: confident, clear and compelling, with no need for one of those convoluted, time-shifting double narratives or other too-clever-by-half devices that aim to impress but just get in the way. The characters are real and recognisable (always as important as the whodunnit for me), down-at-heel private investigator Cormoran Strike is an engaging and all-too-human protagonist (I loved his relationship with his reluctant assistant Robin), the dialogue is clever and funny, the settings and situations are totally convincing.
The last time I was this excited about a detective story was when I discovered Ian Rankin's Rebus. Strangely enough, it reminded me a little of Jilly Cooper in places (though thankfully without all the sex) - lots of gossipy, well observed scenes set in the tawdry/glamorous London fashion and music world - back in the day, when she was at her best.
As soon as I'd finished it I googled Robert Galbraith to see what else he'd written - good God, it's JK Rowling! (Yes, I know it's been all over the internet, and you probably don't believe me, but I honestly hadn't seen it).
I feel inordinately pleased and excited - I only hope it's the first in a long series.
on 25 March 2016
This novel was okay, but on the whole I found it a bit boring, partly because it is, in my opinion, far longer than it needs to be, meaning there seems to be section after section where very little really happens. There are also too many characters, which made the book confusing, and many of these were rather unpleasant and difficult to relate to, the latter may be because many of them are celebrities. While you don’t have to like the characters to enjoy a novel, I did find those in ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ particularly objectionable; with the possible exceptions of Strike and Robin (and I wasn’t enormously taken by either of these), and maybe a couple of minor characters, there was scarcely a single one for whom I had any time at all.
There seemed to be some rather implausible events, some of which were not followed up on at all, although, to be fair, I got so bored at times that I may have missed something.
I was just about interested enough to finish the book, but I doubt that I'll read the others in the series.
Comoran Strike is a large, fiercely independent and formidably intelligent ex-Military Policeman but if you're thinking that sounds familiar, this is where the resemblances to Jack Reacher firmly end. After service in Afghanistan left him with one leg, he has set up a struggling detective agency. He is hired to investigate the death of a high profile model after she fell from the balcony of her Mayfair apartment. The inquest determined that it was suicide, but her brother believes that there was foul play.
This is the first book I have read by J K Rowling (yes, I was the one), so I cannot compare it to her other books. Initially I thought that I was going to be irritated by the writing style, with its abundance of adjectives and quirky characters. But I quickly put that behind me as I was drawn into the mystery. I also loved some of the descriptions: Cormoran is "a woolly mammoth attempting to blend in amongst capuchin monkeys", another character's mouth puckers around a cigarette "like a cat's anus". For all his oddities, Comoran Strike is a terrific, intriguing character and I also loved the interplay between him and his temporary secretary and would-be sleuth, Robin.
This is at heart a straightforward crime novel. It's not a thriller - no gun fights, no chase scenes - and Cormoran doesn't exhibit any superhuman powers. It's about the slow and steady process of investigation, uncovering clues and closing down red herrings. It's also immensely readable and hard to put down. I would classify it as one of the best crime novels I've read and I very much hope that there will be a sequel.