--Robert Galbraith, The Cuckoo's Calling
It seems sort of fitting that I'm finally managing to post this review when JK's in the news again.
I won't spoil the book for you. If you haven't read it yet, or you haven't even considered it, you should. Cormoran Strike, our detective, is a deep enough character I can't really lay him out for you, without spoiling part of the narrative of the book. There are other people moving around his universe--supermodels and drug addicts and stars and plucky office assistants--who in general have more agency and purpose than most b-list characters in Mystery. He has a suitably tortured back story you learn in little teases through the course of the book.
The plot is good, and as usual Rowling isn't afraid of much of anything, subject wise. If you've read A Casual Vacancy you'll be ready for that. And unlike with A Casual Vacancy I didn't spend three quarters of this book hating everyone. Intensely.
Which all sounds nice and appreciative, I'm sure. And probably makes you wonder why I finished the book nearly two weeks ago and I'm just now writing the review.
I don't know what to say.
It's a good book, and I absolutely liked it. I like nearly everything she writes so that's not a surprise. It was clever and generally good about not being full of itself and even the parts I wasn't comfortable with, or that are generally instant turn-offs for me (again, I can't tell you what exactly because it's kind of a spoiler) weren't as annoying as they usually are.
The problem is, it's not a Mystery novel. When I sat down to read The Cuckoo's Calling it'd just come out that it was hers, and everyone was talking about how wonderful it was and how it was the quality that outed her as the author more than anything. Like the whole reading world was crying 'First mystery novels just aren't this good!' And maybe they're not. Much as I love Christie, A Mysterious Affair at Styles isn't her best work. The same of Doyle and A study in Scarlet.
When I get to the end of a mystery I expect to look back and see all the clues I've missed, the things characters or the narrator said that I just didn't attribute the right weight to, but the protagonist did. I don't get that with The Cuckoo's Calling. It ends like a TV crime drama, where the detective is smarter than us all, even the bad guy. Where the clues are all made up at the end and they don't matter. And that leaves me cold and less connected to the story than I would be, if you gave me a satisfying conclusion. I'm not nearly as interested in the personal melodrama around a detective as I am the case he's trying to solve.
So, given all that, would I still suggest it? Absolutely. Mystery genre issues aside it's arguably one of the best books I've read in the last year. I sincerely hope she keeps going with the series (there's some hope, in multiple places it's billed as 'Cormoran Strike no. 1).
The picture at the top is pilfered (under fair use, and with attribution--just click on it) because I don't like Amazon enough to borrow their cover image and link to them.