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Hogwarts revisited, or Baker Street redux?,
This review is from: The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike) (Hardcover)
So, hands up first: I was one of those brainless snobs who only picked up this book after the true authorship was revealed. I certainly have felt too old and too busy to be bothered with any new fictions since finishing the last one quiet a few years ago, which happened to be "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows".
"The Cuckoo's Calling" is a well woven story, though I would agree with the editor who turned down the book when it was submitted as a debut by "Robert Galbraith", that it was "well written but quiet". There are a few points that strike me as "different" from a typical "detective story" yet so Rowling-esque at the same time, though they didn't give the game away. Her lawyers did.
Anyway, to start with, the author is clearly too literarily cultivated to just provide a gripping plot. How often do we see detective stories quoting Vigil and Horace, in Latin? Rowling, at some interview, did claim that she was one of the few who managed to put her training in classics to proper use. This is another indication that she can't completely stay away from her "roots".
A lesser point, the author wouldn't be happy with just naming her characters merely common "Kevin" and "James". If the unusual first names have been more becoming in a world of wizards and witches, they are surely meant to achieve some special effect too in a story about the "muggles" set in modern day London (almost modern day, Gordon Brown was still the PM)? But, to my untrained eyes, this isn't obvious, except on two insignificant occasions when the protagonist's name first became a constant target of ridicule when he was young, we were told retrospectively, then it was wrongly called in an almost comic way in the hospital at the end of the book.
Yet, there are also something too predictable. It becomes so obvious so early on that Robin would stay as Strike's sidekick at the end. Actually it's made clearer every time we're reminded that she will leave soon. And the author even goes out of the way to allude the Batman connotation at their very first meeting, as if she were afraid the readers didn't get the point. And it becomes almost Hollywoodian when Robin's heroics came to the last minute rescue at the culmination of the story.
Despite the predictabilities and occasionally over-elaborate descriptions of trivialities, however, I was still glued to the book, and managed to finish it within two days on top of all the daily chores a working father had to attend to. In addition to the plot which I found gripping enough, and the prose which I enjoyed, the context of the setting repeatedly stirred an almost nostalgic, personal reverberation in me: ULU (frequented the bar), SOAS (never went in but passed by on so many days), Charing Cross Road (interesting that, with the sketch of the guitar shop and so on, Rowling didn't mention anything of the second hand bookshops), Wong Kei (went with a group of friends to enjoy the humiliating service the restaurant is known, and loved, for), The Tottenham (downed more than a few pints), etc., etc.. Rowling is apparently a fan of this area, sending Harry, Ron and Hermione to fend the dementors when they were having a cup of cappuccino in a coffee shop in Tottenham Court Road.
Just like "Harry Potter" would never escape from being compared with "Lord of the Rings", Cormoran and Robin will be judged vis-à-vis Sherlock and John, if more stories will come to develop a series, which Rowling promises they will. With a talent that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wouldn't be too humiliated to be compared with, and with a marketing capacity and capability second to none, you never know, J K Rowling might be able to turn Denmark Street into another shrine just like Baker Street in the last 120 years. She only needs to give Strike's office a fictional street number. 221B, however sincere a homage it might be, would be too archaic and, yes, "predictable". How does 9 ¾ sound?