A Different Kind of Magic: Rowling Continues Weaving her Spell, Sans Wands
They say it’s always darkest before the dawn. If so--and if you happen to find yourself in a tunnel--you’d better damn well hope there’s a glimmer of light shining down at the end of it.
Cormoran Strike is stuck in one of those abominable cycles--the kind where nothing goes right. After losing part of his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, he returned home to heal and figure out what to do next... which turned out to be putting the skills learned in the military police to practical use by setting up shop as a private investigator. It’s something he happens to be really good at; problem is, business has been scarce, and is now down to a single client... which doesn’t come close to paying the bills (not even for his tiny, very modest London work digs).
But that’s not the end of his troubles; the icing on Strike’s unhappiness cake is that he’s just broken up with his longtime girlfriend... which leaves him effectively homeless, forced to sleep in his spartan office (at least, until the landlord decides to evict him out for non-payment of rent, which is sure to happen before long).
Then--as misfortune has a way of attracting more of the same--who should show up on his doorstep, but the temporary secretary he’d forgotten about requesting, some weeks ago. (How he’ll be able to scrape together enough cash to pay Robin-the-temp, he has no idea... but the thought of admitting failure to the pretty, earnest-looking young woman would indubitably be the greater evil, so he sets her up in the reception area and hopes for a miracle.)
Which, as fate would have it, is precisely what (who?) walks through his (erm, their) door later that morning, in Robert Galbraith’s endlessly-entertaining tale, The Cuckoo’s Calling.
Mousy, twitchy lawyer John Bristow lays out quite a story for the private eye. He claims to be the brother of a very famous (adopted) sister--the magnetic supermodel, Lula Landry (nicknamed “Cuckoo”), whose mixed heritage had graced her with a bewitchingly-exotic (and highly-sought-after) appearance--who died tragically, falling from her own balcony during a snowstorm just three months earlier.
Her death was subsequently ruled a suicide, but Bristow maintains that it couldn’t possibly have been; despite her past mental illness, he was sure that the right combination of drugs had finally succeeded in keeping Lula’s condition under control. What he wants? For Strike to look at the case (particularly video showing a couple of men in hoodies running pell-mell through the snowy neighborhood streets following Lula’s fall) and prove him right: that his sister’s death wasn’t a suicide, but murder.
Strike doesn’t have good feelings about the case--the media storm following Lula’s demise had been crazy--or about his grieving client, for that matter, but when Bristow cuts him a large check and thrusts a wad of cash at him, he can hardly say no. (Business is business, after all, and has been in dismally-short supply of late.) Anyway, he tells himself that most likely it’ll just be a matter of poking around the evidence for awhile, then breaking it to his client that yes, sometimes people do just kill themselves, even when they’d seemed okay.
Strike soon finds more beneath the surface than appeared on first glance, though. Lula’s adoptive family is--and has always been--a mess. She’d recently undertaken a search for her birth mother (which didn’t sit well with said family). Her on-again/off-again rocker boyfriend--in and out of rehab with a history of drug abuse--is widely known for having a violent streak. Her friends seemingly knew only the Lula who could benefit them--the one who was famous and could boost their status, or who was ridiculously wealthy and footed the bills. Her new neighbors include a nasty movie director with a wandering eye and his unhappy, coked-up wife. Plus, there’s always the possibility of a stalker, some nutcase who’d set his/her sights on the supermodel. And, in the heat of the moment--passion, blinding rage, jealousy, an argument--anyone could’ve pushed the waif-like model over the slippery, snow-covered railing.
As Bristow and his newly-acquired Girl Friday, Robin, traipse all over London trying to ferret out the truth from the lies--following trails that lead to the hippest nightclubs, chi-chi boutiques, high-fashion shoots, and a homeless shelter, populated by loopy designers and models, jaded rockstars, groupies, and junkies--the case becomes more than just a paycheck or a puzzle; they want to solve it for her, Lula... to put the Cuckoo’s spirit to rest.
The Cuckoo’s Calling is that rare book that had me pinching myself (well, figuratively, at any rate) frequently, because it was Just.That.Good. (Of course, since Galbraith is JK Rowling’s--yes, of Harry Potter fame--pseudonym, that really shouldn’t come as any surprise. Also not, seeing as how much I loved her first post-HP work, The Casual Vacancy [see review here].)
What Galbraith/Rowling does so brilliantly is make every character important, and interesting. With a flair for observing and describing the smallest things that cause each scene to spring to life--whether hilarious, poignant, or thought-provoking--she ensures that every word and every nuance matters... and that, to readers, is a rare delight.
I also don’t think it’s possible to not like Cormoran Strike--as multi-layered (and on occasion, nearly as tear-inducing) as an onion, that one--or his fabulous (and brainy, kind, funny, relatable) sidekick, Robin. Theirs is a working partnership I cannot wait to see again. Soon.
The Cuckoo’s Calling is one of the best things I’ve read recently--as a mystery/suspense, and as pure entertainment. Really... this one’s awesome. :)
GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: ALL the mousies, period