My current book and therefore also the topic of my first ever blog post is Robert Galbraith’s (aka J.K. Rowling’s) the Cuckoo’s Calling (published in 2013). It’s one that I was meaning to read for a while and I think that it was worth the wait!
The Cuckoo’s Calling is the first in the Cormoran Strike Series and and the second book for adults and Rowling has published. It revolves around PI, Cormoran Strike, investigating the supposedly suicide of a super model. Right from the first few sentences, you can recognise Rowling’s writing style. I, like millions of others grew up with and loved the Harry Potter books and found that there is something oddly comforting about having this sense of familiarity from the books I read as a child in the book I was now reading as an adult.
So, starting with Cormoran Strike himself. The first time that you meet him, he is described as being ‘huge’ and ‘a grizzly bear’ so I was automatically picturing Hagrid for the majority of the book no matter how hard I tried not to. Admittedly, Strike doesn’t have the beard, is from Cornwall rather than the Forest of Dean and almost certainly doesn’t have a half giantess for a mother but once the image was there, it was a hard one to shake. Luckily, after a while, Strike very much becomes a character in his own right and I was able to stop comparing him with his Harry Potter counterpart. It turns out this was a very good thing considering how he hooks up with another character later on , which would have undoubtedly caused a lot of ruined childhood memories for me!
I personally like the way that you aren’t told everything about Strike’s life and background all in one go. Snippets and hints are dropped through the story which not only makes it more interesting but also provides you with something else to think about besides the main plot from time to time. His previous life in the army, the stormy relationship with ex-girlfriend, Charlotte and tales of his upbringing and family all help add to depth to the character without being distracting or off topic. Everything is revealed at just the right time to make you understand why Strike may think or act the way he does.
The same can be said for Strikes’ secretary Robin who is introduced as a newly engaged women, recently moved to London and taking on temporary admin jobs while looking for something more permanent. I personally haven’t found her as interesting as Strike (and her fiancée Matt just bugged me constantly, which was impressive as he’s mentioned a handful of times. Honestly though, the man never appears to be happy for or supportive of Robin. At the time of writing, I can’t actually think of one redeeming feature of the man!) but again there have been hints at her past that suggest that she might become more useful or important later one. Currently though, she mostly appears to be there to provide a sounding wall and Google searches for Strike – she doesn’t contribute a whole lot for the majority of the story in my opinion. I’m hoping this will change over the course of the series.
The main mystery itself is very compelling and I was very eager to get to the end to find out who it was. (I reckon that a lot of people managed to work it out for themselves – all the clues were there looking back, I just somehow didn’t put them together!) There were a couple of points however where I found myself thinking “but why haven’t they checked on this thing/spoke to that person until now (Strike not talking to the victim’s mother until near the end of the book seemed a bit unrealistic to me).” or “that probably wouldn’t have worked because of this this…” but there was nothing so major that made the story unrealistic or to make me want to stop reading it.
Most of the actual investigation in the story is done through interviewing other characters as opposed to clue hunting etc (this obviously is done, but on a much smaller scale.) It does mean that there are a couple of times when there are really really long conversations. One in particular comes to mind where Strike is interviewing two sisters in a restaurant. I read the book on my kindle so I don’t know exactly how many pages this conversation was but it felt like it took hours to get through. In the end I had to take a break and come back to it. At the time, I found it a little annoying but looking back now, I can see that all the detail is relevant, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. If anyone else reading this feels tempted to give up on it because of this, I would strongly recommending persevering. Once I got past those couple of things, the story was riveting as it had ever been!
As far as mysteries go, the Cuckoo’s Calling is really satisfying. I read a lot of crime and mystery stories and didn’t think this one was predictable at all. There were also some nice changes to the standard formula for detective stories. For example, it doesn’t suffer from the problem of ‘The pointless extra character is bound to be the guilty one’ problem that a lot of mystery books do. Although a few of the typical features are still there. Particularly the way these people feel the need to confront the guilty person by themselves in a deserted space which is something I will never fully understand. Another personal plus for me was that it really isn’t very gory. There is nothing wrong with lots of blood and guts and entrails, it’s just not my thing. It was also nice that Rowling referenced several real life events and newlines throughout the plot. Somehow, it felt like they helped cermet the story into the real world for me.
All in all, I think it was a fantastic book, particularly as it is the first mystery Rowling has published. I would recommend it to any crime/detective story lovers and will certainly be reading the second in the series in the future.