The Cuckoo's Calling. I followed it up by reading The Silkworm on my own. Each book has a self-contained, engaging, and complex murder mystery. The connection between all three books is the relationship between Cormoran and Robin. Robin starts working for Cormoran in the first book, she becomes more indispensable to him in the second, and they become dependent on each other in this last novel. Although the mystery and the secondary characters in these books are always well done, it is, without question, the developing relationship between Robin and Cormoran that keeps me coming back.
Rowling ups both the drama and the gore in her latest book when a serial killer decides on Robin as his next victim in an attempt to ruin Cormoran. The killer's first move is to deliver a severed leg to Robin at the office. Cormoran immediately thinks of three possible suspects, all dodgy and horrible men from his past who could be harboring a grudge. And the race to find the killer begins.
For the first time, Robin and Cormoran are not only looking for a killer, but they are also the intended victims. This is a serial killer, not satisfied with one victim. Robin seems to always be vulnerable in one way or other, constantly ratcheting up the suspense. We learn more about her past and understand some parts of her life that were left unexplained in the first couple of books. In addition, as they dig into the life of each suspect, a part of Cormoran's past life is also revealed.
I am very impressed with how J.K. Rowling is handling the characters and relationship of Cormoran and Robin. Cormoran is ex-special forces with a pretty dark past. He smokes like a chimney [which I hate] and is pretty sexist when it comes down to it. I hate the way he treats the women he sleeps with. Yet he has true talent and drive for his work and his gradual appreciation and concern for Robin make him a compelling character. I got to a point in the book where I only felt that Robin was safe when she was with Cormoran. Although Robin had a relatively idyllic childhood, she has her own past problems to overcome. Robin also has to balance her fiance, who does not approve of her work, with her love of what she does with Cormoran. I loved how Rowling advanced Robin and Cormoran's relationship in a way that felt real and has me itching to read the next book.
It should not be forgotten, however, that this book is a bloody, gory mess. The serial killer likes to keep trophies and cut off body parts, and he's killed a number of women. It was disturbing. And there is rape and child rape lurking around every corner. Although sometimes important for character development, it's not a fun beach read. Even though this book is in the style of the old-school, male-centric mysteries, Rowling makes some fine points about dealing with the aftermath of rape. In addition, in a scene that I remember vividly because I was so mad at Cormoran, Cormoran had dismissed a rape claim against one of his potential suspects because the complainant "was a partier" and "didn't want to get in trouble with her boyfriend." And the suspect was married, so he couldn't be a rapist. The book doesn't dwell on it, but Cormoran discovers later that he was very wrong.
As far as the mystery goes, I had a hard time keeping two of the suspects clear in my head in the beginning. I didn't know enough about them to think of them as separate people. Also, Rowling sets up these mysteries so that you would never be able to figure out who the killer is without more information. My personal pet peeve is when she has Cormoran figure out the mystery, but then not tell us what he's thinking. We've already spent half of the book inside Cormoran's head! It feels like a trick to kick us out just when Cormoran figures everything out. Rowling did not rely on this as much as she did in her second book, but I have a low tolerance.
I would recommend this book and this series for the fantastic characters of Cormoran and Robin.