A brilliant debut mystery in a classic vein: Detective Cormoran Strike investigates a supermodel’s suicide. After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.
Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.
You may think you know detectives, but you’ve never met one quite like Strike. You may think you know about the wealthy and famous, but you’ve never seen them under an investigation like this. – Goodreads
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard all about this book. Originally published under a pseudonym, it was later revealed to be the work of the infamous J.K. Rowling. In some ways I wish I’d found and read it without knowing this because it would have been interesting to know what my opinions of it were without that context. However, it was this revelation that led me to the book, and I’m glad it did!
The Cuckoo’s Calling is Rowling’s first foray into a new genre – the hard-boiled detective thriller. It’s the story of a gruff and rough-around-the-edges private detective, Cormoran Strike. He’s an ex-soldier (with the war wounds to prove it), ex-fiance, and the very definition of down on his luck. When we first meet him, he’s dodging creditors, sleeping on a camp bed in his office, and struggling to pay his temporary secretary.
But his luck changes when a young model swan-dives to her death from her penthouse balcony, and her brother hires Strike, who was a childhood friend of the family, to investigate. The story unfolds through painstaking, step-by-step investigation, slowly revealing the victim’s life and the lives of those around her in the process.
It took me two attempts to make it through this book. Not because it isn’t good, but because it’s an undertaking. One of Rowling’s strengths, which was honed and showcased in her creation of the magical world of Harry Potter, is her ability to set a scene with flawless detail. She methodically creates her fictional world, and each of the characters who inhabit it. For a magical story, this is invaluable, since the world she conceived functions with different rules than ours.
She applies the same rigorous detail to her first foray into a new genre. Once I’d finished the book, looking back, the detail all fell into place. But while reading there were times it dragged a little bit. We’re given the same information with slight tweaks or additions over and over again – the brother goes over witness testimony when he hires Strike. The police reports echo this information. Then Strike interviews each of the witnesses on his own, verifying their stories and eliciting tidbits that weren’t in the files – but including everything that was, too. So you can’t skip over it for fear of missing a new piece of information, but man, there’s a lot of it.
In the end it’s worth sticking with – the story has numerous twists and turns, compelling characters and is beautifully set. I loved the gritty vibe undercutting the story, and the juxtaposition of the gruff detective with his bright, efficient secretary. Is it perfect? No, not exactly. But is it really, really good? Hell yeah. I’ll be reading the rest of this series (and everything else Rowling tries her hand at)!
Author: Robert Galbraith (pseudonym for J.K. Rowling)
Series: Cormoran Strike #1
Published By: Sphere
Released: April 18, 2013
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Crime
Date Read: December 15-27, 2014