02 August 2013

Books: The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (2013)

Melissa Maerz, in her review of BBC America’s Broadchurch miniseries wrote that the “British tend to take their whodunits like they take their tea: dark, slow-boiled, and so bitter that you need a while to finish.”

Perhaps this is why I took a longer time reading The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith –who, in reality, is Harry Potter author JK Rowling (though I do go through times when I read many books quickly and then slow down and hardly read at all). Like many, until the press broke that Galbraith was more famous than God, this book was not even on my radar. It’s not that I don’t like thrillers and whodunits –hell, I read Agatha Christie in my early teens (and kinda overdosed on them as well), but for reasons that cannot be simply explained, this book would have never been read by me or more than the supposedly 1500 copies the book has sold prior to the world finding out that Rowling was the author. Well, maybe not. Had I still been working in the book business, had Borders still been open or had I moved onto Barnes and Noble, this title may have come under my interest.

And as soon as I saw the tweet that author Joe Hill put out revealing Rowling as the author, I quickly put the book on hold at my library (via the internet, because it was a Saturday and the library was closed and would not reopen until Tuesday) and then had the B&N in Glendora put a copy on hold for me as well –had I known that Rowling, using Galbraith’s name, had signed some copies of the book, I would’ve hunted down what that B&N had and tried to get that, as those are the copies that have more value than the first edition I did buy (though I’m curious at what was the print run for the first edition). 

Much like The Casual Vacancy, The Cuckoo’s Calling relies on a lot of mean, bitter characters, folks that are toxic to themselves as well as others. Some readers criticized Rowling for doing such a one-eighty last September with Vacancy, and I’m sure one of the reasons she chose a pseudonym with this book was probably two-fold –one to see if the biggest author in the universe could publish a book with no one knowing about it and thus taking the pressure off of her, plus to see if reviewers and readers would embrace a new crime writer in what is an already crowded field –though the prose of the book is vastly superior to most writers. 

Galbraith has created a complex and compelling detective in Cormoran Strike as well as a fully likeable and able assistant, Robin Ellacott. From the start, we know Strike is down-on-his-luck, having split from his long-time girlfriend that forces him to be living out of his office. He is a former military man, who lost a leg in Afghanistan. He’s well organized and thoughtful, despite his sometimes slovenly looks. He is also the son of a famous musician, but tries to hide from that. 

With bills due, threats of death from a former disgruntled client, Strike’s life takes a turn when new secretary Robin shows up (Strike has had many temporaries, but because he can’t afford a real full time assistant) followed by the John Bristow, the half-brother to Lulu Landry, an exotic looking model who recently plunged to her death from her luxury apartment. The police ruled it a suicide –Landry, while famous and rich was also a bit unstable- but her brother thinks it was murder. 

At first, Strike does not want to take the case –the police have closed their investigation, after all- but seeing the money lawyer Bristow is offering, he decides to investigate. Methodical as ever, Strike and very curious Robin are quickly thrown into the world of celebrities and their hanger-ons, as well as a look into Landy’s sad, short life. The characters are vividly drawn and the solution is stylish. 

Since the word broke Galbraith was JK Rowling, the sales of the book went through the roof. Some cynical folks thought this was the plan all along to boost sales of a book that had only sold about 1500 copies between its April 30th release and July 20th. But the story was not that simple (read it here). 

Anyways, Rowling says she’ll continue to write under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith, which means more whodunits featuring Cormoran Strike and trusty assistant Robin. I think I’ll be there to read them.

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