‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ by Robert Galbraith

My rating: 4 stars

Robert Galbraith being a pseudonym of J.K. Rowling is one of the worst-kept secrets from this century. Using this new alias, she wrote The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first book in the crime fiction series Cormoran Strike. Not only does it feature a possible murder that needs to be solved, but its main character is also enigmatic and intriguing. Discovering more about the private detective C. B. Strike is part of the allure of this novel, which also delves into the drawbacks of fame.

Cormoran Strike’s life was chaotic. At 35 he was deep in debt, hadn’t had a job in weeks and had just left his girlfriend, Charlotte. He was also receiving death threats. Amongst all this maelstrom, a recruitment agency sent him another temporary assistant. Twenty-five-year-old Robin had recently become engaged and the possibility of working for a detective was just another reason for her to be happy. Although Strike wasn’t expecting the agency to send anyone else after the last temp had left, he decided that Robin would stay for a week.

Surprisingly, a client arrived at the office. John Bristow chose him as a detective because his long-deceased brother had been friends with Strike at school. He wanted him to investigate the death of his sister, Lula Landry, a famous model who had fallen from a balcony in Mayfair three months previously. The police assumed that she had committed suicide, but John firmly believed that she had been pushed. Strike reluctantly accepted the case. He was in dire need of money after all.

Strike and Robin’s relationship evolves throughout the book, and it’s interesting to ascertain their opinions about each other. He was surprised at her resourcefulness. Robin, on he other hand, wasn’t impressed with the way he was treating her at first. He didn’t even know her name. But she soon changed her mind, particularly after Strike started including her in the investigation. It was with sorrow that she anticipated the end of their working partnership. She knew he couldn’t afford a temp, so she proposed to stay without the involvement of the agency until she found a permanent job. That made Strike feel a renewed optimism.

Although it wasn’t the case at the time, Cormoran had had the respect of people. Throughout the novel we discover more about him, but further information seems to have been saved for the next instalment in the series. I liked that there isn’t only a mystery about the possible crime, but also about the main character, his past and his family. He had been in the military, including in Afghanistan, where he lost part of his leg, reason why he has a prosthetic.

During the investigation, Strike spoke with various people, and most of them have distinct voices. He questioned individuals who were in the building on the night that Lula Landry died, including rich neighbours and one of the security guards. This helps to paint a real picture of the different social classes that exist in London, their behaviours and characteristics.

The writing style is gripping and multifaceted. Various conversations and events have humorous undertones. Overall, the narration seems to be simple and mostly matter-of-fact, but throughout the book there are many poignant considerations, for example, about dealing with death in the context of an investigation.

“He had hoped to spot the flickering shadow of a murderer as he turned the file’s pages, but instead it was the ghost of Lula herself who emerged, gazing up at him, as victims of violent crimes sometimes did, through the detritus of their interrupted lives.”

The Cuckoo’s Calling is mainly a crime novel, but it also delves into the dark side of fame and how invasive fans can be. It raises thought-provoking questions about this subject. However, sometimes it focuses for too long on the paparazzi. As I’m not particularly interested in that matter, I felt that those occasions were excessively long and even repetitive.

The resolution connects various dots and details that at first seemed inconsequential. Despite this particular crime being solved, I still have questions about Cormoran Strike that I expect to be answered in the following instalments.

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