The Cuckoo’s Calling

9780316206846_p0_v3_s260x420Would 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.

The Sound of Broken Glass

9780061990632_p0_v1_s260x420When I started to read The Sound of Broken Glass, Deborah Crombie’s story seemed familiar.  Although I had not read it before (I checked), the mystery neatly followed the formula of a police procedural, with detectives investigating the murder while slowly revealing their own personal lives.  Like two of my favorite detective series – Ruth Galloway and Claire Ferguson – the chief investigators are women. In this case, Gemma James is an Inspector in London, with her husband on leave from Scotland Yard to care for their new foster daughter, and her sidekick is Detective Sergeant Melody Talbot.

The life of a young handsome musician with the tortured background of a true artist  leads the plot, flipping back and forth from his past in the slums of South London with his alcoholic mother to his present day breakthrough as the newly discovered supertalent who haunts the guitar shops on Denmark Street in Soho.  His connection to the kinky strangulation of two London barristers twists the investigation into likely possibilities, until the real murderer is discovered.

This is my first experience with this British mystery series based on the adventures of Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Detective Gemma James of London’s Scotland Yard.  Crombie doesn’t waste pages explaining their background and I will have to read her previous books to discover how the relationship led to marriage and the adoption of two foster children with tragic backgrounds, but none of the missing information detracted from this latest adventure.  Crombie is an American author now living in Texas, but her clever insertions of local London dialect, food, and lifestyle as well as detailed descriptions of the Crystal Palace and Notting Hill sustained a comfortable British flavor while offering a satisfying puzzle easily solved for fans of the British crime mystery.