Sunday, 28 July 2013

Sister Sundays/// Review: The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling

Book: The Cuckoo's Calling

Author: J.K. Rowling written under the pen name of Robert Galbraith

Pages: 509

How Long It Took Me to Read: 2 days.

Plot Summary: On a cold, snowy London winter night, beautiful and successful supermodel, Lula Landry, dives off her penthouse balcony to a sticky end. Her closest friends cannot believe that Lula, who sounded excited and happy earlier that evening, could ever take her own life even though she had battled drug abuse in the past and was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. More than anyone else, Lula's brother- John Bristow- simply cannot believe that his sister would take her own life just when she had signed a multi-million dollar modelling contract with a top designer that could jettison her career to even greater heights. It is armed with this conviction that John reaches out to a down-on-his luck private detective- Cormoran Strike.

Cormoran Strike is an ex-military man, who had served with the Royal Military Police and had been stationed in Afghanistan for a while. Now retired, with an injury, Cormoran Strike had his own private detective agency that was not, to put it very mildly, thriving at the moment. After a painful break-up with his long-term fiancee and barely any savings to his name, Cormoran is camping out at his dingy office. It is during this time that John Bristow approaches him the request to re-look at Lula's death and prove that it was not, as the police proved, suicide.

So, even though, it seemed like a pointless, futile exercise, given that the police had to have been very thorough as media interest in the case was very high, Cormoran takes up the case and along with his temporary secretary- Robin- goes about trying to find the truth of what happened to Lula Landry on that cold winter night.

Characters: This book, supposed the first in the Cormoran Strike series, introduces us to Cormoran Strike- army veteran turned private detective. Cormoran has an interesting backstory, which is well developed and gives us interesting glimpses into his personality. He is the son of a legendary rock star and of his supergroupie- born outside of wedlock- and has had a pretty unstable, nomadic life when he was a child. Even now Cormoran has several issues that he is dealing with- debt, a painful breakup and no home. All of this makes him an interesting character to read about. His methods of detection are a good mix of plain old school smarts and common sense as well as leveraging modern technology where he can. I really enjoyed him as the central character- his dry sense of humour, his no-nonsense manner of handling his personal tragedies and most of all, how he goes about solving this crime.

Then there is Robin, Cormoran's temporary secretary. Temporary because she is looking out for a better job while taking on multiple temping assignments. Robin is smart, sensible and I hope there will be more of her in subsequent Strike books.

Lula Landry- as we learn of her through the people close to her- seemingly spoilt and selfish but good-hearted enough to say 'hello' to the little people and take a struggling addict under her wing. As we learn more about Lula, we also learn more about her glittering world, her best friends- supermodels and designers, other hangers-on and her addict musician boyfriend- Evan. All these characters are well-written and don't come off as superficial. I guess, this is what you get when someone as gifted as Rowling writes a book with multiple characters and does justice to each one of them.

What I Liked: To start with, I liked the mystery itself. A successful supermodel falls to her death, everyone (after a thorough investigation) concludes it is a suicide and there seems to be no way that someone would have pushed her off her balcony and then gotten out of the high security building. So, it seemed like it was a pretty impossible crime to pull off, which made it interesting to read. Every minute aspect of why this was an impossible crime to commit has been handled very smartly and also explained very well in the end, which is always satisfying! I also really enjoyed reading about the other characters who felt real and not cardboard-ish and half-baked as they often are in some crime novels. Like I said before, the woman who gave us Harry Potter would, no doubt, do a stellar job with a vast cast of characters and she did not disappoint! Every character's flaws, eccentricities and foibles are all given a context that makes sense. I also really enjoyed the investigative process- the leads that Cormoran Strike goes after, the kinds of questions he asks, the loopholes that he finds in the police investigation etc.

What I didn't Like: Now, this is no reflection on the book or the author, but I had guessed who the killer was fairly early on in the book. There is nothing much in the book to give the game away, but as a seasoned reader and viewer of the crime genre, it was pretty easy to guess who the killer was even if it seemed impossible that he had done it. So, this did take away a bit of the joy for me!

General Thoughts: I really enjoy reading crime thrillers and any type of whodunit books and so, reading a well-written crime thriller is always enjoyable. My big complaint about a lot of books in the genre is that the supporting characters are often very under-developed. When the supporting characters are under-developed, as a reader, you simply don't understand their motivations, or as Hercule Poirot would've put it, their psychology. If the supporting characters are well etched, you can make educated guesses about why he/she would want to kill the victim and whether he/she had it in him/her to commit murder. I was so glad that in The Cuckoo's Calling, the supporting characters were well fleshed out. I do hope J.K. Rowling writes more of these books because I would love to read more about Cormoran and Robin's adventures.

Will You Like it? Yes! If you enjoy well-written crime fiction you will enjoy this book. Also, if you grew up with the Potter books and pretty much love anything that J.K. Rowling writes, then you will enjoy this book as well.

Rating: 4/5 (I took one point off because I guessed very early on who the killer was.... I would've liked being surprised...)


Dosti SMS said...

I wasn't very thrilled about The Casual Vacancy, JKR's entree into adult fiction. In fact, it wasn't my thing at all. I couldn't even finish it.

But with The Cuckoo's Calling JKR's done it again. She's brought back the warmth I always associated with Hogwarts in this solid muggle detective story! The writing is BRILLIANT- with lines I found myself highlighting and smiling at. I love the quirkiness in her descriptions and how well fleshed out the characters were. Their accents, their airs, the mannerisms- all so beautifully captured, just like she did in Potter!

The main character is this stand-up guy whose back story reminded me a lot of Dr. Watson from Sherlock Holmes! His secretary, Robin, made a great partner-in-crime-solving(?)! I do hope we see more and more of her. YES, there is more. This is only the first book in a series and I'm already waiting for the next book! It's also a pretty good mystery. I couldn't solve this whodunnit till the very end of the book when I was surprised to find out who the murderer was.

I guess the bottomline is this:

The Cuckoo's Calling, plot-wise, is NOTHING like Harry Potter. It's an adult detective novel, for godssake. BUT it comes closest to being as warm, as amazing, as engrossing and as much of a treat as a Potter novel! The characters leap out of the page! Even better, since it's an adult novel, the characters don't hold back at all! The mystery is tightly knit, hard to solve! Descriptions of food- even if it's Pot Noodle and sticky toffee pudding rather than pumpkin juice, chocolate frogs and treacle tart- will make your mouth water. When you near the end, you will feel yourself slowing down, not because you're bored but because you don't want it to end.

An all too familiar feeling, isn't it?

Unknown said...

Hi! So I'm nearly done with the book, and I've guessed who the killer is too. I did guess it was XXXXXXXX a while ago but I was hoping I would be pleasantly surprised. All the same, the book was great - it reminded me of my Enid Blyton (Famous Five and Secret Seven) days, for some reason. I love Cormoran Strike. And Robin! Lovely, rel characters. :-)

Pooja T said...

Hey Roanna,
I know exactly how you feel! :) It was pretty easy to guess who the killer was but I still didn't hate the book! I hope the next one comes out soon! :) :)

nikhimenon said...

nice review.have linked yur review in my blogpost