Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Cuckoo's Calling - J.K. Rowling Begins a Mystery Series



5 out of 5 Stars

On April 18, 2013, the book The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith was released.  I didn’t hear about it at the time.  It was a few months later when basically the entire world heard something about the book when it came out that Robert Galbraith was actually a pen name for J.K. Rowling.  I did look up the book at that point, thought it sounded interesting, and I decided to get it.  I’m very glad that I did since it is a very entertaining detective/mystery story.  The story is one I would have been interested in no matter who wrote it. 

Cormoran Strike, struggling private detective, is a veteran who lost part of his right leg to a land mine in Afghanistan.  He is already having a bad day when he literally collides with Robin, his new temporary secretary, almost knocking her down the stairs in the building where his office is.  Shortly after that, John Bristow arrives, wanting to hire Cormoran to investigate the death of his sister, famous supermodel Lula Landry, known as Cuckoo to friends and family.  Her death three months before has been ruled a suicide and John believes it was actually murder.  Cormoran thinks that John is in denial, but he takes the case, thinking he’ll just need to talk to a few people before finding enough proof of suicide.  He discovers things that don’t add up, so he continues investigating, while Robin handles things at the office and becomes more interested in the work.

The Cuckoo’s Calling starts at the scene after Lula falls to her death, describing how the press descends, trying to get pictures of the body.  This part also shows how the police officers handling the case react to the victim being so famous.  The book then jumps forward three months, giving some background information on Robin and showing her disastrous first meeting with Cormoran.  After that, things are mainly focused on Cormoran’s investigation, though other things not tied directly to the case come up too.  The story is entertaining and I found it very interesting.  I couldn’t put the book down once I started it.  I have read that Rowling plans to write more books about Cormoran and this book works very well as a first book in a series, providing a good foundation for more books.  I will definitely be reading future books in the series.

The book is wonderfully descriptive and I found it very easy to imagine the characters and settings around London while reading.  The high level of description is part of why the book is longer, and that might bother some people.  I think the descriptions work very well and make the book stronger. Cormoran has a prosthetic leg and he does deal with issues tied to that at different times.  I don’t know for sure how accurate that stuff is, but it seems realistic.  He has issues with swelling and irritation and he has to go in for a checkup.  I think is good that those things are dealt with and not glossed over or ignored completely.  All those sort of details help to make him a more fully rounded character and I think they make what is happening in the book more believable overall as well. 

I think there is a good amount of mystery to what is going on in The Cuckoo’s Calling.  Things seem very straightforward with Lula’s death at first, but once Cormoran starts working on the case, more questions are raised.  I like the way the investigation is handled, with the various things that Cormoran does are shared, even minor things.  Some of those things may seem boring to some readers, but I think they are realistic and something else that strengthen the story.  Readers learn things when Cormoran does.  I came up with different ideas, none of which were right.  The way the case concludes works well and I don’t think it came out of nowhere because the clues were there all along.  There is some suspense in some scenes without making the entire book suspenseful.  Some of what happens or comes up during the book is somewhat upsetting or disturbing.  Nothing really graphic or gory happens.  Characters do swear which could upset or offend readers.  There are multiple uses of the word that rhymes with luck, along with variations of the word.  I didn’t think it was used excessively, but others may feel differently.  

There is a large group of characters, and while many of them are barely around, they still manage to stand out and they are developed decently.  Some of the supporting characters in this book have better development than characters that have more to do in other books.  There are several characters tied to the investigation, with some of them turning up more than others.  Readers learn about Lula through Cormoran’s investigation and his conversations with her family, friends, and people she worked with.  Lula seemed to have a perfect life, but looks can be deceiving and things tied to her and her death are more complicated than they seem at first.  

Cormoran has a somewhat complicated backstory that is slowly shared throughout the book.  It isn’t directly tied to the case, but it helps to explain certain things about him and why some people react to him the way they do.  His past will probably continue to come up and there are some interesting possibilities there.  Cormoran isn’t a typical hero or main character, but he fits those parts very well and is a very interesting character.  He isn’t perfect, so he does make what could be considered questionable choices at times.  Even with his flaws and baggage, he is a very likable character.

Right now, I do think of Robin as a supporting character because she isn’t around as much as Cormoran and doesn’t receive as much attention.  I’m thinking that could change and she may play a bigger role in a future book.  At first, Robin isn’t that happy about working for Cormoran.  Then she gets pulled into the work and comes to enjoy it and she ends up being very helpful.  A little bit is shared about Matthew, the man she gets engaged to the night before she starts working for Cormoran.  Not much comes out about him, but so far, I don’t care for him.

J.K. Rowling became famous for writing the Harry Potter series, a widely popular series of books about a young boy who is a wizard.  The books are aimed at children, though in each one, the main characters are a year older.  As the characters mature, so does the subject matter, and things do turn dark at times.  The Cuckoo’s Calling is not aimed at children in any way.  It is a very different type of book than the Harry Potter series.  That doesn’t mean that fans of Harry Potter won’t also like it but it is possible that some won’t like it because it is so different from the Potter books.  I really enjoyed it and think it is one of the best mysteries I’ve read in a long time.  This is not a child friendly book, though it may be all right for some teenagers.  Parents should definitely read the book first. 

The Cuckoo’s Calling is a great mystery/detective book that is well worth reading regardless of who the author is.  People that like mysteries and detective books should definitely give this one a chance.  The book isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but it is worth checking out.

I originally posted a review about this book on Epinions on October 14, 2013 as dragonfire88.  I made a few changes before posting it here.

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