I have a deep fondness for mystery novels written by English writers, many of them female. It goes all the way back to Agatha Christie, and counts Dorothy Sayers, Georgette Heyer, Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh (a New Zealander, but part of the Commonwealth nonetheless), Ruth Rendell, Anne Perry, Lynda LaPlante, Minette Walters, and P.D. James among my favourites. (Along with Arthur Conan Doyle, GK Chesterton, Colin Dexter, and Michael Dibdin, among many others. I love mystery novels a lot, OK?) There is something about English mysteries – even the modern, police procedural ones – that I enjoy more than other crime-related sub-genres. Which is a long way of saying that a book like The Cuckoo’s Calling has a better than average chance of being a hit for me.
And I did enjoy it – quite a lot, in fact. I’m not quite ready to assign Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling to the ranks of my fave mystery writers, but only because I want to read the other books in the Cormoran Strike series and see how things pan out. So far, so good. [Edited to add: I have since QUICKLY devoured The Silkworm and Career of Evil and I can say that I’m definitely a fan. The Cuckoo’s Calling, though by NO means terrible, was the weakest of the three, which is saying a lot because I enjoyed it a great deal. I am definitely pumped for the next Strike novel.] I don’t propose to recap the plot of the book, since that’s easy enough for you guys to find elsewhere, so I’m going to jump straight into what I liked and what I didn’t like about the book.
What I Liked
First and foremost, I liked that Strike was a regular bloke rather than a textbook “hero” with various special attributes that placed him head and above the other characters; plus, all of his interactions and reactions felt very realistic to me. For example, Strike was careful not to cross any boundaries with Robin, but his internal monologue acknowledged that he found her attractive. That struck me as a very … plausible and sensible thing. Ditto that Robin didn’t immediately go mooney-eyed over Strike. I can’t explain it, but I enjoyed the “ordinariness” of the main characters and their working relationship.
With that said, I spent the entire book imagining Strike to look like Rufus Sewell, because I read the book just after I finished watching the BBC series Zen, and had that image burned in my brain. (I highly recommend Zen, by the way. The Michael Dibdin Aurelio Zen books are also good, although there is, at best, a tenuous connection between the show and the books. I am not complaining because it means that you get double the fun – you get alternative takes on the same premise.) Strike is probably not supposed to be that good-looking, but whatever … reader’s license, right? [Edited to add, again: on further reflection, maybe Strike is supposed to be THAT good-looking. He seems to get a lot of, ahem, action and/or interest from various beautiful women in these books. It usually annoys me when every attractive female character throws herself at the detective, regardless of how down-on-his-luck/looks he is supposed to be — ahem, Bernie Gunther, I am looking at you — but I am willing to give Strike a pass on this one … for now.]
Getting back to the point, I also enjoyed the fact that Strike’s and Robin’s relationship stayed platonic. I have a sense that Galbraith/Rowling won’t be able to resist mucking with their relationship in some way in the future, and I’m sort of dreading it, but … we shall see. I would love it if they remained friends and co-workers, but nothing else – although I do hope that Robin ditches her stupid fiancé. [Edited to add, for the last time: I have THOUGHTS on the developments in Career of Evil but I will keep them to myself so I don’t spoil the book for anyone who hasn’t read it. But … hmmm. Hmmm, I say!]
I thought the pace of the book was very good and the central mystery very engaging. I basically raced through the last 1/3 of the book, and stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it. With that said …
What I Didn’t Like
… the whodunit part was actually weak, in my opinion. The set-up for the crime – from the scene to the supporting characters and cast of suspects – was excellent, but the pay-off was a letdown because I found the final confrontation between the murderer and the victim (as revealed after the fact) to be kind of unconvincing. I don’t quite know why, but it just seemed … off to me. Weak sauce.
I hated the sub-plot involving Strike’s ex-girlfriend. I hate the “crazy woman” trope, and this particular character was like a Manic Dream Pixie Girl gone wrong. The whole character and her backstory just seemed implausible, and it struck a false note given how realistic both Strike and Robin were written. I hope she is not heard from again … fingers crossed.
Your turn: What did you like and what didn’t you like about The Cuckoo’s Calling? What’s your favourite type of literary detective – do you like the cerebral geniuses, the men of action, or the regular blokes? How do you feel about romances between detective duos?
But don’t go yet, because it’s time for May’s BCRL Book Club Selection. This month, I decided to go in a completely different direction again … with a classic Regency romance by a cult favourite. Drum roll, please:
FREDERICA by Georgette Heyer
It was hard to narrow down which Heyer novel to pick, because she wrote a lot of them, and many are considered classics in the genre. I can’t remember if I’ve already ready this one, but the jacket description sounded intriguing so here’s hoping. And if you’re still hankering for some English mysteries, do try Heyer’s own brand. They are of a similar vintage with Agatha Christie’s whodunnits, but a lot sassier/more tongue-in-cheek. Don’t forget to check back on Friday, May 27 for the next book club discussion, and in the meantime, if you have other reading recommendations to share, drop them in the comments!