Brilliant storytelling, detailed universe, well-rounded characters, and a classic murder mystery reminiscent of the best in the business. Though the plot is not novel, it is the perfect potting shed for introducing the world of Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott, the troubled detective and his new temporary secretary whom he can hardly afford. A definite must-read, especially if you are a fan of old-school murder mysteries.
Robert Galbraith, who we all now know to be J. K. Rowling, has created a character and a world whose additional adventures will be eagerly awaited by a lot of folks, including me.
Let me try starting this review without such a convoluted sentence.
The Cuckoo’s Calling hits a lot of the right buttons, and is currently top on the list of my fondly-remembered reads. Before going ahead, I should mention that I really like Sherlock Holmes (both the canonical and non-canonical works), Poirot and James Bond. So it’s only fitting that I mention how all of these likes were touched by the Cuckoo’s Calling.
First off, the name. Cormoran Strike is definitely one of the flashiest names in the history of detection. It is as stand-out as Sherlock Holmes is. Or Peregrine Carruthers would have been, had Ian Fleming decided to go that way. The protagonist’s story is as captivating as his name. His birth, his past, his present state – everything is a story worth telling, and not necessarily a happy tale. This makes the man himself interesting – and makes you read every little bit of description in the book, for fear that you might miss out on some little tidbit that will make you understand him more.
The second thing is the atmosphere. One of the reasons I am fond of Poirot is Agatha Christie’s skill in bringing the atmosphere to life so well – whether it is the city of London, the cruise boat on the Nile or the English countryside. Rowling does this spectacularly well – you can hear the creaking stairs, smell the cigarettes and hear the bustle of the street. The book is a wholly immersive experience – I can attest to this wholeheartedly as I was in London all the way from San Francisco to Seoul, stopping only for meals, as I raced through the book.
The third thing is that this is a good old-fashioned murder mystery. Yes I know I’ve already said this, but this is a good old-fashioned murder mystery. That’s all it is and it aspires to be nothing more – no Booker Prize-winning passages wrought with existential angst, nor any homilies on subjects of current or eternal debate – nothing but good old-fashioned murder mystery-ness.
The fourth thing is how outstandingly well written it is. I say this without any qualms, given the average writing I have been consuming for a while now. To put things in perspective, I read the five books of George R. R. Martin’s Songs of Ice and Fire at one go, and I found them good. That should give you an idea of the kind of good-writing-deprivation I’ve been suffering. Just to make things clear, I think GRRM, while a good storyteller, is but an average writer.
The fifth thing is that I now intend to read the Casual Vacancy. When it first came out, the general impression was that it was meh and not too hot. However, given the amount of pleasure I have derived from Rowling’s writing – first from the Harry Potter books and now from the Cuckoo’s Calling, I think it’s a shame to not give the Casual Vacancy a chance.
To sum up, I enjoyed the Cuckoo’s Calling immensely, and think you should too. Also, I cannot wait to get my hands on the first edition of the next Cormoran Strike book – just like I did all the Harry Potters!