Saturday, May 17, 2014

#25 [2014/CBR6] "The Cuckoo's Calling" by Robert Galbraith a/k/a J.K. Rowling

Like many others, I am a big fan of Harry Potter, but I haven't had much interest in reading the later and more adult fare by J.K. Rowling. Even so, I wasn't disappointed when my book club chose The Cuckoo's Calling (2013) by "Robert Galbraith" as its next book.

Cuckoo's Calling is a classic murder mystery reminiscent of the noir style of Hammett. Cormoran Strike is a war hero who lost his leg in Iraq. He's just had a terrible break-up with his beautiful girlfriend, is living in his office, and is barely scraping by financially.

The gorgeous supermodel, Lula Landry, plunges to her death from her balcony. A history of bi-polar disorder and the belief that she was alone in her flat are all the police and public need to quickly accept a conclusion of suicide. Lula's brother, John, however refuses to believe this and hires Strike to investigate what he believes is murder.

Strike is reluctant at first to take advantage of a grieving family member in order to make money off of what he believes is an open and shut case. But he really needs the money and John is insistent. Strike is assisted by Robin, his new assistant, sent over to him by a temporary employment agent. She is smart, resourceful, and thrilled with the idea of private investigation. Although there is a little romantic tension between the two, Strike is getting over his ex and Robin is newly engaged to a man who doesn't understand her--which might bode something for later books.

As far as the mystery goes, it is complex, with many interesting characters and potential murderers. Lula has friends from rehab, a birth mother she just recently met, and a number of famous and wealthy acquaintances--all of them interesting characters and potential murderers. Rowling kept me guessing throughout the story with who was guilty, even though I got a little irritated by the end by the somewhat disingenuous way she kept information from the reader.

The best parts of this book were the interactions between Cormoran Strike and the witnesses/potential suspects he interviews. Each scene provides so much information about the crime, and Rowling does  a great job with creating memorable characters with dialogue in a short time period. However, I was much less interested in Strike's back story with his girlfriend. I was reading, wanting to figure out the murder mystery and had very little patience with a character we barely see. On the whole, this one was a little uneven, but still enjoyable enough that I will probably read the sequel when it comes out.

One glaring issue with the mystery is that the killer sent the private investigator after himself. It was explained that he's kind of crazy, he underestimated Strike, and he wanted Lula's other brother out of the way in case the will was found, but it still felt like a bit of a stretch. I also couldn't understand why Strike had all these beautiful women hanging off of him. I'm not sure if this is part of the noir vibe, but if I hadn't already known that Rowling had written this, I would have assumed it was an old-fashioned man because it felt very macho sometimes. Strike smokes, he's overweight, and he lives in his office. Yet his ex-girlfriend is the most beautiful woman in the world. Robin, herself, is gorgeous. And he sleeps with a supermodel.

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