Despite the fact that my children, my daughter in particular, are over-the-top Harry Potter fans, I have only ever read the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. When my daughter was really little, say four or five, I had tried to read the book to her and I just couldn’t do it. I did end up reading it out loud to a grade nine class a couple of years ago and they loved it; so did I.
That said, I wasn’t really looking forward to tackling J.K. Rowling’s massive post Potter novel, The Casual Vacancy, when it was one of last year’s book club selections. That book ended up being a really pleasant surprise, however, and proved once and for all (as if being one of the best-selling authors of all time wasn’t proof enough) that Ms. Rowling can write the hell out of a story.
My book club recently met to discuss Rowling’s mystery novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, which Rowling wrote using the pseudonym, Robert Galbraith. (There’s an interesting article about her decision to do so here. ) By the time we got to the book, though, the gig was up and we already knew Rowling had penned the book.
Cormoran Strike, the novel’s protagonist, is a former soldier who lost a leg below the knee to a land mine in Afghanistan. Now he lives in London where he works – although not very successfully – as a private investigator. His relationship with Charlotte has just ended badly – again. He’s broke and living in his office. And then John Bristow arrives with a case for him.
Bristow is the brother of Strike’s childhood friend, Charlie, who had died when they were kids. He’s also the brother of Lula Landry, the most famous model on the planet. Landry recently committed suicide, but John believes something more sinister happened and wants Strike to investigate.
Of course, it’s really impossible to say much more about the story without giving away important plot points. Suffice it to say that as far as the ‘detective’ part of the novel goes – there’s lots to keep mystery-lovers in the game.
Rowling’s real strength as a writer is characterization. And as I tell the students in my writing class – character is the most important thing anyway; they are what drives your plot.
The Cuckoo’s Calling is chock-a-block with characters of all sorts, the most important of which is Cormoran Strike himself.
The reflection staring back at him was not handsome. Strike had the high, bulging forehead, broad nose and thick brows of a young Beethoven who had taken to boxing, an impression only heightened by the swelling and blackening eye. His thick curly hair, springy as carpet, had ensured that his many youthful nicknames had included “Pubehead.” He looked older than his thirty-five years.
Although the women at book club couldn’t agree on whether we found Strike attractive or not (trying to cast him in a movie version was hysterical), we all agreed that he was super-smart and that’s always the sexiest thing anyway.
Strike and his office temp, Robin (who is pretty smart herself) work their way through the list of Lula Landry associates, turning over rocks in an effort to understand the model and the world she inhabited. It makes for a pretty compelling tale.
The best endorsement I can offer for The Cuckoo’s Calling is this: I bet we’ll be seeing Cormoran again and since he’s a character I can’t seem to stop thinking about, I welcome the opportunity to join him on his next case.