I knew before I even opened this book that the author, Robert Galbraith, was actually JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame. I think everyone knew that, almost from the day it was published. My hesitation and delay before reading it stemmed from my disappointment with The Casual Vacancy. That just wasn’t my thing at all. See https://bookheathen.wordpress.com/2014/08/25/its-not-harry-potter/
The Cuckoo’s Calling is quite a different sort of novel, a detective story featuring a PI who steps out of the pages like the bomb that took off part of his leg. Cormoran Strike is ex British army, over-weight, broke and has been dumped by his girl friend. He is also the illegitimate son of a famous rock star.
The mystery, and the first case for a while that’s likely to help Strike with his debts, concerns the death of a celebrity model called Lula Landry, who has apparently committed suicide by jumping from the balcony of her luxury appartment. Lula, we learn early on, was adopted, and it is her brother John Bristow, also adopted, who engages Strike to find out the truth. Assisted by his temporary “secretary”, Robin, Strike embarks on his search for evidence that Lula was murdered, and to find the killer. His investigation takes us on a tour of London, from the fashionable West End to the colourful world of designers, models, film producers and pop stars, and into the less glamourous lives of wannabees.
Strike is a cerebral detective, Robin an efficient and intuitive assistant. The other players we meet in the course of the novel are brash, self-opinionated, camp, frivolous, sad or just plain funny. Lula, whom we never meet except as a dead body, is described as having a ‘drive towards self-destruction, a tendency which seemed to have revealed itself first in early adolescence, when her adoptive father … dropped dead from a heart attack. Lula had subsequently run away from two schools, and been expelled from a third, all of them expensive private establishments.’
Among the possible suspects for the crime is designer Guy Some, whose 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.’ Another is model Ciara Porter who, ‘attenuated and angular, with milk-white skin, hair almost as fair, and pale blue eyes set very wide apart … stretched out her endless legs, in platform shoes that were tied with long silver threads up her calves, and lit a Marlborough Light.’
Then there’s film producer Freddie Bestigui – ‘… tiny eyes between pouches of flesh, black moles sprinkled over the swarthy skin’ and Lula’s mother, cancer-ridden Lady Bristow, whose ‘death was an almost palpable presence in the room, as though it stood waiting patiently, politely, behind the curtains.’
Ms Rowling has an eye for detail, a flair for characterisation and a wonderful bizarre sense of humour which, I think, is best demonstrated in this kind of story. I enjoyed reading The Cuckoo’s Calling and will quite happily read the next book in the Galbraith series when I get the opportunity. Strike, who seems rather sad at the beginning, improves as we get to know him better. Another book and we might actually get to admire him.