The Cuckoo’s Calling is a detective/murder mystery type book. My forays into crime fiction have all been thriller based. The private eye stories don’t tend to pull me in. That’s what I used to think anyway, until the Sherlock TV series started, and I realised that it wasn’t the genre, but the storyteller.
The question is, would the now infamous Robert Galbraith be a good storyteller, or a bad one?
In a nutshell
A famous, yet troubled, model falls to her death. Her brother suspects foul play and hires private detective Cormoran Strike to investigate.
Pace: The prologue got the story off to a cracking start. I wanted to keep reading. But the first half of the book was…well, a bit of a chore. I knew I had to read it, and the central story was interesting enough for me to continue, but it felt like an obligation.
Halfway through the book, things started to come together. The more people Strike questioned, the more interesting things became. By the last few chapters, I couldn’t put the book down.
I just think that the pace was a bit off.
Description and exposition: Blimey there’s a lot of exposition in this book. Describing everything to the smallest detail may be a key part of crime writing, I don’t know, but there seemed to be a lot of extraneous detail. This slowed down the plot, and made the book feel bloated.
I’ll admit, I didn’t have a good feeling about this after the writer described the main character by having him look at himself in a mirror – this is a major pet peeve of mine.
Viewpoints and characters: the book started out with Robin as the first viewpoint character, but Cormoran was the main character. I spent most of the book wondering why Robin was a viewpoint character at all, as most of her scenes didn’t contribute anything. I guess her main function is equivalent to the Doctor Who companion. She serves as our representative in this world – she doesn’t know Strike, and neither do we.
Halfway into the book, Galbraith starts to use both viewpoints in the same chapter, jumping from one character’s thoughts to another as they notice the tension between them. It was a bit odd, the sudden switch from the pattern of viewpoint scenes that the writer had already established.
I found it a bit weird that, while Robin had her own scenes away from Strike, all these scenes involved her doing mundane things. The juicy stuff – the actions that were important to the plot – were done behind the readers back, and reported to Strike after the fact. Again, why did she need to be a viewpoint character?
Dialogue: one of the things I did in the first draft of my book, was write a bit part character with a strong regional accent. It resulted in screeds of unreadable text, as I mangled the written word in my attempts to recreate the voice in my mind. I ended up deleting the character entirely, because he added nothing to the plot, and the dialogue made my brain hurt.
Galbraith gives accents to several of the suspects/witnesses in her book, and the effect is the same.
Accents aside, I loved the scenes where Cormoran questioned people. Many of these scenes did a great job of adding tension to the plot.
Dialogue tags: there was a liberal sprinkling of “ly” adverbs used a s dialogue tags, at least at the start of the book, which I found a bit distracting.
Length: it’s too long. Rage Against the Dying was 383 pages, Cuckoo’s Calling is 550 including the Epilogue. Apart from Robin, who I didn’t care about much until the last chapters, a lot of time was spent with Strike remembering some detail from his childhood, which didn’t seem to contribute a great deal to the plot. Some of it could have been cut.
Important(ish) secondary characters: there are a couple of people in Strike’s life who, although not involved in the plot, are discussed or thought about in detail. Thousands of words are dedicated to them. Strike has side storylines going on with them both, but one character vanishes from the book (which is against the character of the person described), and the other’s storyline is dismissed in a few words. I wanted a bit more.
By the end of the book, I felt sorry for Lula. Pretty much everyone in her life was either screwed up or a complete git. It made for some interesting characters, but also ensured that the cast of potential killers was legion. It was like a sea of red herrings.
Galbraith…oh, okay, J.K. Rowling, created a great main character and gave him an intriguing story, and an interesting cast of characters to investigate. While I wouldn’t join a midnight queue to buy the sequel, I would read it.