Like most people, I didn’t even know that the Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith existed until I read that Robert was actually JK Rowling. After reading the (largely) disparaging reviews of her other post-Harry book A Casual Vacancy, I wasn’t expecting very much. But I’d been wading my way through Marish Pessl’s Night Film, which I had uncharacteristically bought without downloading a sample because I’d loved her debut novel Special Topics in Calamity Physics so much. But when I realised that the action, such as it was, was turning occult and voodoo-y, I had to give up. What I’d hoped would be a mystery thriller was, in fact, a pretty shabbily written gothic horror, so I suppose I was starting off quite a low base when I downloaded the sample for the Cuckoo’s Calling.
I devoured the sample and hit the Buy Now button immediately, then read up to halfway in about four hours (not consecutively, of course – the toddler would never stand for that) and I am so besotted with the characters that they are almost all I can think about at the moment. One of the criticisms of A Casual Vacancy was that the characters were too unsympathetic, but within the first few pages, the protagonists of the Cuckoo’s Calling had endeared themselves to me completely.
The main character, a PI who gets roped into investigating the apparent suicide of a supermodel in central London, is of a new ilk for me. I’ve enjoyed the escapades of many a down-and-out private detective who ends up saving the day, but Cormoran Strike (how can you not love a character with a name like that?) is like no other. Unlike my (now) second-favourite fictional detective, Jackson Brodie, there’s no rakish charm about this man. No scruffy handsomeness or effortless flair or slapdash confidence. He is fat and looks like “a boxing Beethoven”. He has a prosthetic leg. He is self-conscious and introspective. He is fastidious in record-keeping and annoyingly and meticulously thorough, and he’s battling homelessness and debt collectors after leaving the home of his cruel and unhinged girlfriend. But he’s also exceptionally sharp and incisive, and his kindnesses are of the gruff variety. I find him so appealing and so interesting that I just can’t get enough of him.
His sidekick, a temp called Robin (yes, really), is sweet and serious, conservative (with a small “c”) and eager, with a totally unexpected resourcefulness and a talent for wheedling information out of the most reticent punter. Best of all, she’s a graceful liar, and I have become quite attached to her as well.
After finishing a few more “serious”, twisty books lately, I’m also relishing that the plot is pretty straightforward. It’s a typical whodunnit: the action doesn’t jump between different eras or perspectives from one chapter to the next. You know that when you click forward (or turn the page) to a new chapter, you’re going to get a resolution to the cliffhanger paragraph you’ve just finished. There are no tricks here. JK as Robert has written a solid, entertaining detective mystery featuring characters you really want to triumph (and others you really detest, as well).
One downside, though: like the Harry Potter books, the Cuckoo’s Calling sometimes drags its feet with excessively descriptive paragraphs. I don’t need to know exactly what the staircase, paintings, bar tender, fruit machines and carpets looked like in the pub in which Cormoran spent about five minutes. It’s all very evocative, but I think the same effect could be created with about 12 fewer sentences.
But this is still the best crime fiction/genre fiction/pulp-type book I’ve read since the last good Kate Atkinson (I mean, the ones before Life After Life, like Started Early, Took My Dog) and that time I read all of Gillian Flynn‘s books in the space of a week. And who am I to criticise the storytelling style of JK-Robert? As far as I’m concerned, she-he can keep the Cormoran Strike books coming.