Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

First Line: The buzz in the street was like the humming of flies.

Cormoran Strike needs some sort of miracle to keep his business going. His longtime girlfriend has thrown him out, and now the private detective is reduced to one client, a mound of bills, and living in his tiny office in London. Little does he know it, but the second Robin Ellacott walks in and assumes the role of temporary secretary, Strike's fortunes have taken a turn for the better.

They seem to rise even further when John Bristow walks in and hires him to investigate the death of his sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry. Landry's death was ruled a suicide, but John insists it wasn't. In short order, Cormoran Strike and his secretary are thrown into a world they could only dream of and read about in the tabloids. And somewhere amongst all the rich and shameless boyfriends, models, and designers lies the truth.

Let's face it, I probably never would have picked up this book to read if I hadn't discovered that Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling. I find books I want to read almost every single day, and I have to draw the line somewhere. But I simply could not draw that line in front of the creator of Harry Potter. I had to know what sort of crime fiction writer she is. What's my verdict? It's a bit mixed.

I thought the mystery was strong and ultimately very satisfying. It certainly wasn't one of those that I figure out within the first few chapters and skip to the end to see if I'm right. There were just enough people with excellent motives on the suspect list to keep me guessing without having to resort to using a scorecard.

However, as strong as the mystery is, it's not what sucked me right into the pages of this book. No, that is all due to the two main characters, Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott. Strike is a veteran who lost his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan. He seems at loose ends-- as if he hasn't really made a decision to buckle down and make a go of this private investigating gig. He needs a catalyst, someone strong and reliable, and that would be Robin Ellacott.

Recently arrived from Yorkshire, Robin has a new fiance and all sorts of plans for what she wants her married life to be like. What's amazing and heartwarming is to watch how quickly she takes the initiative to get the office organized and to assume responsibility for some basic research into the case. She's a natural who rapidly craves learning more and more about the business-- something that does not fit in with all those wedding plans.

The one thing that almost had me talking to myself was the pacing of this book. It was glacially slow. I don't mind stories that unfold gradually, so when I keep stopping to hold the book out in front of me, stare at it, and ask, "When is something going to happen???" you know there's a problem.

But as many times as I asked the silent book when something was going to happen, it never ever occurred to me to stop reading. Why? For the simple fact that the story and Cormoran and Robin did suck me in; I had to find out what happened to them, and I had to find out what happened to Lula Landry. Will I be reading the second book in the series, The Silkworm? You bet! I just hope that I won't be conducting a one-sided conversation as I read.

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
ISBN: 9780316206846
Mulholland Books © 2013
Hardcover. 464 pages

Private Investigator, #1 Cormoran Strike mystery
Rating: B
Source: Paperback Swap 


  1. I liked this book, but I had some reservations, too. I was taken aback by all of the details, some not necessary to the murder plot, and also, as you say, the slowness of the story.

    We mystery readers want an investigation to go along at a solid clip, not racing like a thriller, but we don't want to get bogged down in extraneous details.

    The book could have used some more editing and could have been shorter, aiming more at the heart of the murder.

    I did understand that Rowling/Galbraith wanted the story to unfold in a certain way, with enough red herrings for a dinner party of 20, and that was done. But then what?

    Too much in my opinion that got in the way of the basic plot line for a mystery. Perhaps OK for another type of novel, but crime fiction has to move.

    I had hoped that the author would have heard and read about these critiques of this book, as there have been quite a few. But when I looked at the page count for "The Silkworm," it's about the same length as "Cuckoo." I will read it anyway as I think the author is a good writer and has a lot to say, albeit shorter.

    Also, I read at one reader's blog that Cormoran Strike becomes more misogynistic in the second book, which will annoy women readers, including me. But we'll have to read and assess the book ourselves and swap opinions.

    1. Yes, that's why I seldom pay much attention to complaints made in reviews-- unless they're made by the handful of reviewers whom I really trust. I think this tendency dates all the way back to school when older friends would tell me that I was going to hate certain teachers only for me to find that I liked those particular teachers more than the others.

      I'm going to trust that there's a reason behind Rowling's madness. I have a feeling she knows exactly where she's going, and I'll willingly go along for the ride.

  2. Cathy - Oh, the pacing of a story can play a vital role in whether one gets drawn into it or not. And too much extraneous detail does little move the plot along. Still, I'm glad you found the characters interesting enough to want to learn more about them. That's key.

    1. Characters have always been key for me. I like details, too, but perhaps fewer of those in The Silkworm!

  3. Yes, the main characters in the book are interesting, Cormoran and Robin. That was an asset.

    And I agree with you -- there must be a rationale for Rowling's method and writing style. We'll just have to find out what that is. She is obviously a detail-oriented person, and although I didn't read Harry Pottery's books as fantasy isn't my genre, the author made sure every aspect and detail was covered.

    So, we'll see if the books and characters are interesting as the series goes on.


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