Would I have read Robert Galbraith’s detective mystery – The Cuckoo’s Calling – if I had not known J.K. Rowling was hiding behind the words? Probably not. But having loyally followed her from Harry Potter to her less stellar adult book, Casual Vacancy, I curiously wanted to know what this prolific author would do with a mystery.
The storyline follows a familiar formula. The grizzled war hero detective, Comoran Strike, and his trusty secretary/assistant, beautiful and young Robin, are on the case of a murder that the police have closed as a suicide. The victim is a model with a past and a shady boyfriend. As the duo fend off red herrings, other characters and the setting offer a distinctive British flavor.
Galbraith/Rowling reveals the clues through endless conversations between possible suspects and Strike. The tough Colombo-like detective (he is missing a leg, not an eye) with a soft-spot for his bright adventure-seeking new secretary, solves the case about halfway through the book, from crucial but mysterious clues that only he can decipher. What was the significance of the drops of water on the stairs and the victim’s missing note, written on a blue slip of paper? How did the search for a birth father change the victim’s life?
“The dead could only speak through the mouths of those left behind, and through the signs left they scattered behind them.”
The clues drop out fast, and you might want to use Strike’s note-taking method to keep them all straight. If you enjoy solving a crime as you read, the author happily gives you all the pieces, and dutifully reveals all in an Agatha Christie wrap-up at the end. The murderer is a surprise but you might figure it out.
In the book’s last lines, Rowling may be sending fans a message with Comoran’s quote from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses.”
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees; all times have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name…
Not as clever as Harry Potter’s magical escapades, but The Cuckoo’s Calling had enough to keep me reading to find out whodunit, and wonder if Rowling/Galbraith has created the beginnings of a detective series. Comoran Strike and Robin make a good team.