The Cuckoo's Calling

The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith Can you imagine how hard it is to write a good mystery novel? Every reader who cracks open a detective story is trying to prove himself more capable than the actual detective. How bothersome for the author then, who must not only figure out how to have her protagonist outsmart the fictional criminal but also figure out how to outsmart legions of armchair detectives reading at home. Galbraith, however, is a clever fox. I had no idea who pushed bright young supermodel Lula Landry over her balcony on a snowy London morning until it was revealed in the final chapters. Either I am just unnaturally obtuse for an otherwise decently intelligent individual or everyone else is lying about being able to finger the killer within the first 100 pages because The Cuckoo’s Calling is intricately plotted, to the point where I had to page back and puzzle through who did what and who knew what and who knew who did what. Lack of knowledge is always a big motivator for me, so I turned these pages as fast as my skinny little fingers could without inflicting myself with a papercut.Even more important than a twisty plot in a mystery novel, however, is compelling characters. Creating a good detective is tricky business. I’m not partial to arrogant genius PIs à la Sherlock Holmes who solve cases effortlessly, dazzling the reader with their seeming omniscience. But I also don’t like dumbed down detectives like those in CSI who dully follow cookie cutter protocol until the (usually very obvious) criminal is discovered. For the most part, Cormoran Strike, the physically and personally damaged private detective, is to my satisfaction. He is not unquestionably brilliant; he must painstakingly track leads and try to make sense of muddled witness testimony like the rest of us. But he is also not formulaic, mostly because his past—an absent rockstar father, a deadbeat mom suspiciously dead of a drug overdose, a leg blown off in Afghanistan, a coldly posh on and off again girlfriend—keeps him unbalanced and interesting. The numerous other characters are equally impressive. The structure of the novel is straightforward. Strike is presented with a case, identifies persons of interest, and slowly hunts all of them down for interviews. Truly, the characterization is incredible. Each person of interest is described with such precision that you can imagine their inner lives even though these inner lives are of no significance to the story. That’s plainly good writing because it shows, quite realistically, that the world is bigger than this single case and the few major characters. My absolute favorite character is Robin, Strike’s unwanted personal secretary. She’s the type of girl who grew up idolizing Nancy Drew (aka me) and when she fortuitously finds a temp job as a PI’s assistant, she’s in paradise. She’s smart and kind and ambitious, and I cannot wait to see how her and Strike’s relationship develops, both professionally and personally. Move over Batman and Robin, because there’s a new dynamic duo in town: Strike and Robin. (I’ll admit that lacks the same ring to it, but I love this Galbraith Robin so much.)I have only one complaint about The Cuckoo’s Calling and it’s about the narration. Occasionally, Cormoran would allude cryptically to discoveries he made concerning the case without including the reader. I don’t like being dangled in the Halls of Unknowing for longer than necessary, and I especially don’t like when a character flaunts his knowledge in front of me. I often consider the relationship between an author, a POV character, and her readers as predicated on mutual trust. A reader knows the author knows how the story will end, which is fine. But if an author has decided to write from a character’s limited perspective but then fails to disclose certain information when it is solely to the author’s benefit, I feel cheated. It’s the cruel antithesis of dramatic irony—the character knows more than the audience—and I don’t like it one bit.Altogether The Cuckoo’s Calling is a great mystery novel and I haven’t even mentioned its insights into celebrity culture supported by fantastic classical epigraphs and its deft handling of mixed race and adoption. You heard it here first: Robert Galbraith is a promising author to watch. What a wonderful debut novel! I can hardly even believe it’s a debut!!!!!**Usually when I use copious exclamation points I’m being sarcastic. Usually.