I was working at Barnes & Noble when debut mystery author Robert Galbraith was revealed to be none other than J. K. Rowling. We had two or three copies of The Cuckoo’s Calling in the store, which were purchased or put on hold almost immediately. For the rest of the day I fielded calls about whether the book was in stock. Despite a lukewarm reception for The Casual Vacancy, it was clear that the name J. K. Rowling still held considerable weight in the publishing world. As it should, in my opinion!
I must have been leery though because I didn’t read The Cuckoo’s Calling until my trip to Florida this winter. Although the description of Cormoran Strike as a soldier turned private detective didn’t capture my imagination, I was instantly hooked when I met his character on the page. He’s a physically imposing man who lost a leg in action, and he begins the novel in dire financial straits. A formidable person facing serious obstacles might just be the recipe for a compelling main character. In Rowling’s hands I find myself as interested in Cormoran and his assistant Robin as I am in the mystery plot.
In hindsight it seems obvious that J. K. Rowling would be a skilled mystery writer. There’s a mystery at the heart of each Harry Potter book, and she’s proven herself to be a master of plotting and details. The Cormoran Strike novels also give her an opportunity to delve into the world of celebrity that she has experienced firsthand. The Cuckoo’s Calling focuses on the death of a supermodel, while The Silkworm investigates the disappearance of an eccentric writer. Perhaps most intriguing of all, Cormoran himself is the product of his free-spirited mother’s affair with a rock star. He has no desire to capitalize on his famous father, but occasionally high-profile cases thrust him into the spotlight.
I have now read both Cormoran Strike novels, and overall I preferred The Cuckoo’s Calling, which matches the sentiments heard around the bookstore. Cormoran and Robin encounter a large cast of characters while investigating each case, and surprisingly the fashion world seems more tolerable than serious literary circles. However, when Rowling talks about the jealousies and power dynamics of the publishing world, we can assume she knows what she’s talking about. Much of my enjoyment of the first book probably comes from Cormoran and Robin trying to understand each other. The Silkworm is also more gruesome, which makes for a less comfortable read.
The mystery will change from book to book, but the most important factor is that the reader cares about Cormoran and Robin. The third book is scheduled for an October 20 release, and there’s no doubt that I will read it. Whether or not I have the patience to wait for the paperback and continue my set is another matter.