Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Review: The Cuckoo's Calling by J.K. Rowling

First of all, I think it is brilliant that J.K. Rowling decided to write this under a pseudonym. So refreshingly non-mercenary! I like to believe I would have guessed she was the author had I read it before her identity was revealed—the language is so classic J.K. at times!—but I probably shouldn't flatter myself. Unlike Cormoran Strike (what a name!), the sardonic, tortured, dashing (in my opinion) protagonist of The Cuckoo's Calling, I am no detective.

I loved this book. I could not put it down. And I never read detective books. I was on cloud 9 the whole time I was reading it, in love with J.K.'s wit and likable characters and mysterious plot. This is a whodunnit and J.K. keeps you guessing the whole time. At one point I did briefly wonder if the person who, as it turned out, actually did wind up doing it was in fact the villain, but I was far from convinced and spent no more time musing over this person's possible guilt than half the other characters in the novel.

A brief synopsis. Cormoran Strike is an Afghanistan vet-turned private investigator. When the book begins, he is in a rough state. He and his long-term girlfriend have just broken up, and his business is on the brink of collapse because he has no clients. Unable to afford a flat, he sleeps in a cot in his rundown office. So it feels like he's won the lottery when a man walks into his office and offers him an astounding sum of money to solve what he (the man) considers to be a murder mystery: that of this sister, a famous model/celebrity, whose death the police ruled a suicide. Though Strike initially believes there is nothing to this case and that the man is simply deluded by his grief, he reluctantly takes it on because he needs the money. With the help of his down-to-earth, endearingly proactive assistant Robin, he sets out to "solve" this case (i.e. convince his client that it was in fact a suicide), but soon begins to suspect that there might actually be something off about Lula's death after all.

There are numerous laugh out loud moments in this book. I read most of this on a long flight and probably annoyed the people around me by bursting into laughter on multiple occasions. If you've read the Harry Potter books, you know that J.K. is an expert at crafting characters who soon begin to feel like your own friends, so that you find yourself laughing along knowingly at the things they say. She does the same thing in The Cuckoo's Calling and it is delightful!

Also, I was impressed with the sheer amount of research J.K. must have done to write this book. This is not a fantasy novel, so she couldn't depend on her imagination alone; she must have done a lot of research about how the police and private investigators actually work in order to write this, and it was all very believable and well executed. Had I not known J.K. was the real author, I think I definitely would have thought it made a lot of sense that this had been written by "Robert Galbraith," whose bio claims he "spent several years with the Royal Military Police"—and that that experience is what enabled Galbraith to write such a convincing detective story.

I especially enjoyed watching Robin and Strike get to know each other. There is definitely chemistry between them, but no insta-love, praise be. They have a very pleasing banter. Strike is always on the verge of having to let Robin go (given the fact that he is bankrupt, he has no business employing an assistant), but he can't quite let himself do it, and Robin finds herself getting more and more addicted to the detective business, even though she could easily find another job for double the pay.

The only thing I didn't love about the book was the ending. Not what happened so much as how what happened was revealed. It seemed a little sloppy compared to the rest of the book. But it didn't ruin it for me at all, just a slight negative in a sea of positives. Apparently there will be more Strike books, and I am exceedingly pumped about that.

This is an adult book, with adult content and language, but I think many Harry Potter fans will enjoy it. I say this as someone who steered very clear of The Casual Vacancy, which sounded dead awful to me. In other words, I'm not just going to blindly praise anything written by J.K. Rowling simply because she completed my life by writing Harry Potter. The Cuckoo's Calling is truly really good!

4.5 stars!