Friday, March 21, 2014

Book Review: "The Cuckoo's Calling" by Robert Galbraith

As much of a fan as I was of the Harry Potter series, I'll admit I was truly skeptical when it was revealed last year that Robert Galbraith, the author of a new mystery/crime series that began with The Cuckoo's Calling, was actually a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling. Given the tepid response her first "adult" novel, The Casual Vacancy, received, how would she fare with mystery writing, especially since she was doing it incognito?

Cormoran Strike is a former British army officer who lost part of his leg in Afghanistan. He is now struggling to make ends meet as a private investigator, and his struggles extend beyond the business world—his romantic life is in a bit of a shambles, and family-related issues constantly cause him anguish and frustration. He's not really certain where the money will come from, or if he'll have enough even to keep his business running.

Salvation comes in the form of John Bristow, a wealthy attorney who hires Strike to tackle a case most private investigators would turn away, but Bristow's deceased older brother was an old school friend of Strike's. Bristow's adopted sister, famed supermodel Lula Landry, allegedly committed suicide a few months earlier, jumping from the balcony of her apartment building. While there were initially some suspicions that her boyfriend, drug-addicted musician/actor Evan Duffield, might have been responsible, his alibi and Lula's history of mental illness and erratic behavior led the police to conclude her death was suicide.

But Bristow is convinced this wasn't the case. He has his theories as well as some evidence he doesn't think the police considered as carefully as they should. Strike finds himself quickly enveloped in his investigation, which takes him into the high-fashion celebrity world, a world of attitude and entitlement. And all the while Strike is battling his own demons, both physical and emotional. The closer he gets to figuring out what really happened to Lula, the more he puts himself in danger—both to those inflamed by his investigation (including the police) and to himself.

Rowling/Galbraith throws in lots of twists and turns, which keep the plot moving at a rapid, entertaining, and believable pace. And while the ultimate resolution of the plot might not shock you, how you get there (and the related stories along the way) is definitely compelling and entertaining. There was some action, some intrigue, even some emotion, which really helped this book transcend so many others in the mystery genre.

After reading The Cuckoo's Calling in one sitting (it was a long flight), I can say that Rowling/Galbraith definitely shows promise in this genre. Much as with Harry Potter, she excels in creating complex, interesting, multidimensional characters that hooked me and made me interested in seeing what would happen with them. I really like Cormoran Strike's character (as well as his secretary, Robin), and I look forward to further installments in this series. It's good to have Rowling back, doing what she's good at.

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