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Robert Galbraith – The Cuckoo’s Calling

May 22, 2016

Galbraith, Robert - The Cuckoos Calling - 4004. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J. K. Rowling) (2013)
Cormoran Strike, Book 1

Length: 464 pages
Genre: Mystery

Started: 29 December 2015
Finished: 18 January 2016

Where did it come from? Bought for the Kindle.
Why do I have it? After The Casual Vacancy, I was curious to see what else Rowling could do. (Okay, that’s a bit of a lie; I bought this a month before I read The Casual Vacancy. But the sentiment still holds in a post-Harry Potter world.)
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 27 November 2013.

A young model dies.
But was it a suicide,
or was it murder?

Summary: Lula Landry is a wealthy young supermodel who was the media’s darling, and seemingly had it all – until she died from a fall from her balcony on a snowy London night. But while officials rule it a suicide, not everyone is convinced… and Lula’s brother hires detective Cormoran Strike to investigate what he believes was a murder. Strike knows a little bit about the limelight himself, as he’s the illegitimate son of a famous musician, but he’s barely keeping it together. On the outs with his girlfriend (potentially permanently this time), sleeping in his office, and with barely enough money to cover his bills, he can’t afford to turn down this case… but the deeper he delves into things, the more he realizes that Lula’s picture-perfect world wasn’t everything it appeared.

Review: I’ve probably said this often enough to make it start to seem no longer true, but detective novels are not really my genre of choice. I mean, I’ve read a fair few of them, but not frequently enough to have a whole lot of definite criteria for judging them, other than 1) are the clues doled out at a good pace, 2) are there at least a few decent red herrings, 3) does the resolution actually make sense, and 4) did I figure things out before the detective did? And, on that scale, The Cuckoo’s Calling gets about a 3.5. We the readers get new information in a pretty steady stream, and there’s nothing that the characters know that is withheld from us. There are a wide variety of suspects, some of more and some of less plausibility. And, as for the resolution… I figured out who the killer was pretty early on (because: spoilers, it’s not a suicide), but I couldn’t for the life of me told you what exactly happened the night of the murder until Cormoran put it together for me. Heck, I couldn’t even tell you why I suspected the person I did, except that something about them felt off… which I guess could be either interpreted as bad plotting or good character development. In any case, even though I wasn’t particularly involved with Lula Landry – who we never see alive – I was interested in the story, and I did keep wanting to read more so I could find out what happened.

As for the fact that this book was written by Ms. Rowling, if I hadn’t known, I certainly wouldn’t have known. (Circular logic, there, but you know what I meant.) I’m not a whiz at picking out prose stylings, but I also don’t love Harry Potter for the prose; I love it for the world and the characters that Rowling creates. And while the prose in this novel is not particularly noteworthy one way or another, the intricate piecing together of the crime and the building of the characters is still there. I understand why she used a pen name, and I think this book feels less self-conscious and somewhat easier (although not any less carefully crafted) than The Casual Vacancy. I just hope the future Cormoran Strike books – written after Robert Galbraith was unmasked – keep up the trend. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: It’s not revolutionary, but it is a solid detective story, and even though the genre is not my favorite, I like the characters well enough that I’ll carry on with the next book. Don’t read it just because you like Harry Potter, but if you like detective mysteries, it’s worth the read.

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First Line: The buzz in the street was like the humming of flies.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • Location 160: “Then the final, filthy scene, after Charlotte had tracked him down in the early hours, to plunge in those last few banderillas she had failed to implant before he had left her flat.” – A decorated barbed dart that is thrust into the bull’s neck or shoulder muscles by a banderillero in a bullfight.
    .
  • Location 249: “It was an impossibility akin to two identical snowflakes that this whey-faced leporine man could have sprung from the same genetic pool as the bronze-skinned, colt-limbed, diamond-cut beauty that had been Lula Landry.” – Of or characteristic of rabbits or hares.
    .
  • Location 1273: ““Me father’s half West Indian, half Welsh; me mother’s half Scouse, half Greek.”” – A native or resident of Liverpool, England.
    .
  • Location 2632: “But Alec was a man of infinite resourcefulness and he had all sorts of strange contacts from his barrow-boy days.” – a hawker of fruit, vegetables, fish, etc.
    .
  • Location 2824: “Then, at last, he struggled up on his one foot and, using the doorknob and the dado rail on the wall beyond the glass door to steady himself, hopped out to examine the boxes still stacked on the landing outside his office.” – The lower portion of the wall of a room that is decorated differently from the upper section, as with panels.
    .
  • Location 2849: ““Bummer,” said Spanner, and then, with the incuriosity towards human pain versus technological challenges that was characteristic of him, he pointed a spatulate fingertip at the Dell and asked: “What d’you want doing with this, then?”” – shaped like a spatula; having a narrow base and a broad rounded apex (I mean, I could have figured that out. But I’m still having a hard time applying this description to fingers.)
    .
  • Location 3163: “The resolution of moments ago, to treat her with professional froideur, now seemed not only unnecessary but unkind.” – a coldness of manner; an aloofness
    .
  • Location 3278: “His face contrasted strangely with his taut, lean body, for it abounded in exaggerated curves: the eyes exophthalmic so that they appeared fishlike, looking out of the sides of his head.” – characterized by the prominence of the eyeballs.
    .
  • Location 3477: ““It’s everywhere. When were you last in a clothes shop?” asked Somé, his wicked bulging eyes roving over Strike’s dark blue jacket. “What is that, anyway, your demob suit?”” – Demobilization of armed forces.
    .
  • Location 3783: ““If you hold tight, I should be able to give you all of it back. Maybe even in a oner.” – a single continuous action.
    .
  • Location 4066: ““There is water, paracetamol and Alka-Selter on the desk outside.”” – a mild analgesic and antipyretic drug used as an alternative to aspirin.
    .
  • Location 4101: “What was left, after all these years, to a woman who craved emotional storms, but to leave Strike again and again, until at last the only way to leave with real éclat was to move full circle, back to the place where he had found her?” – Great brilliance, as of performance or achievement.
    .
  • Location 4402: “As Ciara and Strike drew nearer, Strike saw Duffield glance away from the brunette for a fraction of a second, making, Strike thought, a lightning-fast recce of the bar, taking the measure of the room’s attention, and of other possibilities it might offer.” – Reconnaissance.
    .
  • Location 4458: “In the wing mirror he could see two motorbikes, each being ridden pillion, following them.” – A pad or cushion for an extra rider behind the saddle on a horse or motorcycle.
    .
  • Location 5427: “Close by the bay window on a bonheur du jour stood a large photograph, framed in silver, showing the wedding of Sir and Lady Alec Bristow.” – a type of lady’s writing desk.
    .

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 24, 2016 8:45 am

    I didn’t love The Casual Vacancy so haven’t sought out her detective books.

  2. May 24, 2016 6:30 pm

    I have heard good things about this, but haven’t tried it yet. One day!

  3. May 30, 2016 10:00 pm

    I think you give a very fair review. For myself, I was a bit underwhelmed and wondered if a big name author wasn’t behind it whether it would have been picked up by traditional publishing houses.

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