Finished on 12/11/2018
Genres: Mystery, Crime, Fiction, Rowling, Cormoran Strike, Thriller, Whodunit, Police Procedural
An excellent start to another great series
Overall I can Highly Recommend this book to anyone who wants get into the mystery genre. Honestly this is the best book by JK Rowling I have ever read in terms of solid plotting (and Rowling is good at plotting).
‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ by Robert Galbraith (a pseudonym of JK Rowling) was highly enjoyable. It is a more than competent mystery story, featuring a hard-boiled detective down on his luck and his plucky sidekick/temporary secretary as they team up to try to solve a case the cops have given up hope on. The author does a good job of balancing the needs of characterization with that of a steady plot and pacing.
JK Rowling does an excellent job of making the main character of Cormeran Strike a fleshed out human being who is interesting to read about. Strike is a war veteran who left the war in Afghanistan after losing a limb. He has returned home to the UK and started a private eye business, but the business is failing to pay the bills and he’s fallen behind in paying his debts. When his femme fatale of a fiancé has finally gone too far and gotten pregnant with another man, he dumps her once and for all. That’s how this book starts, with our main character in emotional and physical distress. Robin is his happy-go-lucky, temporary-secretary-turned-full-time-partner, who just got engaged to the love of her life.
Over the course of the book the characters struggle with both the case as well as their private lives, Cormeran in particular goes on more than one drunken bender. I’ve read a lot of pulpy mystery stories over the years, and say that this is one of the better ones in terms of characterization. I feel really bad for Cormeran having to deal with his vampy ex-fiance, while I’m rooting for Robin’s upcoming marriage to succeed. Rowling hasn’t used her characters as tools to advance the plot (which a bunch of authors do), but as a living breathing people who make mistakes.
The pacing was fairly well done overall. I think the book overall was a little too long. I can’t say that any of the scenes in particular where extraneous or fluffy, but I’ll go with my gut and just say it was too long. I just like shorter mysteries and this book was 50-100 pages too long for my taste.
The plot was excellent. The author carefully foreshadowed dozens of clues and plot points so it never felt like she cheated. But I will say that there were no good red herrings. The author did a good job of making unlikable characters who could potentially be used as red herring villains, but she never actually turned any of them into one.
I especially liked the subplots with Cormorant’s ex-fiance Charlotte, and Robin’s fiance Matthew. They both did a good job of adding stress and tension to the two characters and story as a whole without the plotlines drawing too much of the reader’s attention to themselves. We readers are left silently worrying that Cormorant will return Charlotte’s phone calls and forgive her, and that Matthew will convince Robin to leave her job with Strike, but that relationship drama never obscures the mystery plot overall. It was really well done.
Now for some constructive criticism.
The book was excellent across the board… Until the last 10%. Cormorant confronted the villain alone, in private, and spelled out all the evidence he had against him. This is stupid and risky in context and out of it. Up until this point this is a perfectly competent Police Procedural, but this cliché was straight out of the Golden Age of mystery writing and not in a good way. The trope is called ‘The Summation,’ and in an otherwise modern mystery it was out of place. If Rowling really wanted to do it, she could have done it at the villain’s trial and not in a locked room alone with the serial killer. It just didn’t work.
This is a good book from a mainstream writer. The prose was accessible but doesn’t talk down to the reader. I can recommend this to veteran mystery readers and neophyte murder mystery readers alike.