“He had never been able to understand the assumption of intimacy fans felt with those they had never met."
I'll venture a guess that J.K.Rowling is not a stranger to this feeling. Propelled to household-name fame for her lovely gift of imagination, she gets to experience the uglier side of fans' adoration - the side that comes with suffocating hard-to-meet expectations and stifling atmosphere of demanding hype. Is it any wonder she'd look for a respite in releasing a book under a pseudonym?
And yet yours truly is selfishly celebrating the infamous leak of the unknown mystery writer's true identity since otherwise I would have been quite unlikely to pick up this tome given the ever-growing size of my precariously balanced to-read pile that is beginning to dangerously resemble the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Lula Landry, a supermodel, falls to her death from her balcony; the police called it a suicide, her brother feels it was foul play and hires Cormoran Strike, a bear-like ex-soldier, to investigate. Propelled by his desperate need for money and aided by his lovely idealistic temporary secretary Robin Ellacott, Strike plunges into the shallow world of celebrity culture and London's rich and wannabe-rich, slowly unraveling the threads of the mystery of Landry's fall.
The Cuckoo's Calling is an unusual mystery novel by today's industry standards. It's lacking high stakes or important villains or breakneck-fast pace or shocking twists that seem to have become almost a requirement of the genre. Its language is slow, a bit formal and occasionally reminding me of the early years of the past century rather than modern times. It's a slowly developing story, quiet and observant, focused not on the plot but on the wide tapestry of characters, spending time with them through conversations and somewhat old-fashioned 'detecting' in a way that to a certain point reminded me of the works of the Queen of the genre, Miss Agatha Christie. But only to a point, as it's missing the annoying know-it-all smug detective and instead has a gruff but very human quite flawed war veteran tuned PI Cormoran Strike:
"Other people his age had houses and washing machines, cars and television sets, furniture and gardens and mountain bikes and lawnmowers: he had four boxes of crap, and a set of matchless memories.”
I can barely express the enjoyment I experienced from the interactions of Strike with the wide cast of potential suspects and witnesses, most of them belonging to the world of British rich and famous; his ability to zero in on different aspects of their personalities, to study their very essence, to get them to slowly reveal their real frequently shallowly unattractive selves - so often ugly and petty - that satisfyingly replace any number of car chases or gunfights or mad dizzying dashes from place to place to place that I came to expect from the genre.
"How could the death of someone you had never met affect you so?”
But what I really appreciated in this slowly developing character-centered even-keeled narrative was the ever-increasing spotlight on Luna Landry - a young woman whose death started it all, who ends up being more than just a springboard for the story but its heart, its centerpiece as we get to glimpse more of her through Strike's eyes, as we see her morph from just a pretty face into a full fleshed presence behind the story.
"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.”
Lula may initially appear to have little substance to her, to be little but a blank slate on which gossip-hungry public is eager to project their desires and hopes and even spite. But as the novel progresses, we see the glimpses of her personality and the uglier sides of the world of fame she inhabits - the world of flashing camera lights blinding your each step and every word you say having potential to end up in a yellow press column. Rowling's disdain of such flipside of fame is palpable indeed.
“How easy it was to capitalize on a person’s own bent for self-destruction; how simple to nudge them into non-being, then to stand back and shrug and agree that it had been the inevitable result of a chaotic, catastrophic life.”
I quite enjoyed this book. I liked the smart mystery, the unexpected light humor, the apt descriptions (even if at times they would get a tad too wordy), the stinging satire, and, of course, the frequent grave seriousness when Rowling turns her eye to the 'real world' problems.
“The country was lumbering towards election day. Strike turned in early on Sunday and watched the day's gaffes, counterclaims and promises being tabulated on his portable TV. There was an air of joylessness in every news report he watched. The national debt was so huge that it was diffcult to comprehend. Cuts were coming, whoever won; deep, painful cuts; and sometimes, with their weasel words, the party leaders reminded Strike of the surgeons who had told him cautiously that he might experience a degree of discomfort; they who would never personally feel the pain that was about to be inflicted.”
I'll easily recommend this book for anyone who'd like a few enjoyable afternoons with a brainy delicious story. 4 stars and an excited anticipation for more offerings from Rowling, Galbraith or whatever name she chooses to use for her future writing endeavours.