Although a good first installment, I’ll be hoping for better things from the next two books. 3/5.
The blurb: A brilliant debut mystery in a classic vein: Detective Cormoran Strike investigates a supermodel’s suicide. After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.
Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, thelegendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.
Let’s start with the good and very good things about The Cuckoo’s Calling. The characterisation is excellent and I’d read the next book in the series just to find out what happens to Robin and whether she realizes her fiancé is clearly not right for her. As a central character, Strike not only has one of the best fictional detective names ever, but is complex, fallible, and very good at his job. The characters related to the case were a varied bunch who ranged from clueless, through annoying to downright despicable.
I would argue that London is as much a character in the book as any of the people and the descriptions of the city are excellent. The threads of the mystery are woven together well and there are enough suspects and red herrings to keep you guessing until the final pages which resolve all the complexities of Strike’s investigation in a satisfying conclusion.
Unfortunately this book is 100 pages too long. My edition had 450 pages and I didn’t get into the story until around page 200 because it took that long to begin to remember who all the characters were and how they were connected to Lula and her death. Such a long build-up is asking a great deal of patience from readers. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some who abandoned the book before the mid-way point. I could have happily left the story any time before page 250 entirely unconcerned about what I was missing.
My biggest issue, however, is stylistic. A crucial part of reading, for me, is the immersive nature of the experience. I want to forget about the world around me as I read; consequently I find deeply irritating anything in the narrative which reminds me I’m reading a book and jolts me back to reality. The first of these stylistic quirks in The Cuckoo’s Calling is the repeated attempt to “write” accents. The second is the use of unnecessarily obscure vocabulary. This annoyed me so deeply that I stopped reading, found a notebook and recorded evidence of the offense, surrounded by lots of question and exclamation marks…
Exhibit A, page 248, paragraph 3. The third-person narrative voice describes Guy Somé:
“His face contrasted strangely with his taut, lean body, for it abounded in exaggerated curves: the eyes exophthalmic so that they appeared fishlike, looking out the sides of his head.”
Now. I could have a good guess from context and my limited knowledge of word formation and derivation as to what the heck “exophthalmic” means. But why, why, why would you send your reader away from your story and off to the dictionary when you’re in the middle of describing a character for the first time? Particularly when, only 6 pages later you have the good grace to say: “Somé’s strange, bulging eyes bored into Strike.” If the author could use “bulging” here, what was wrong with using it earlier?!?! And, even worse, while the third-narrative voice gives us this description of Somé, we are in Strike’s POV. We are seeing Somé through Strike’s eyes and there is no way the battle-hardened private detective would use the word exophthalmic. Not even in his head.
The author was clearly on a roll after “exophthalmic” because one page later we have someone described as a “pellucid surface”. *sigh*
The excessive length and words like this make me suspect, perhaps unkindly, that once the editors at the publishing house found out who wrote this book, they bottled out of taking the red pen to the manuscript. I don’t believe that a debut author (as “Galbraith” supposedly was) would be allowed to get away with things like this.
Overall: a solid detective novel which picks up if you’re prepared to stick with it and overlook some irritating aspects of style. I’m interested to read the next two installments but don’t feel the need to rush to get them.