Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (hardcover, $26)

What a great debut novel! It's hard to believe that this is in fact the first novel by the pseudonymous Robert Galbraith; it's so polished and offers the complete literary package. The characters are well-rounded, the plot is intriguing, the back stories are interesting.

Cormoran Strike has had a complicated and heart-breaking life, although he has had a sure hand in creating some of the drama in it. Strike is the son of a high-profile aging rocker (think Mick Jagger), via a drug-addicted, narcissistic supergroupie, who died a sordid and much-publicized death. He doesn't really know his father or any of his half-siblings, with the exception of Lucy, his mother's other child by a different father.

The army gave Strike a home. As a successful investigator for the military police's special investigations branch, he found his place in the world. Until he lost part of one of his legs in an explosion in Afghanistan. He was demobbed and thrown back into an unwelcoming civilian world. He decided to continue to do what he knew best and hung out his shingle as a private detective. Success, however, remained elusive.

At the start of The Cuckoo's Calling, Strike has just left his highly dysfunctional relationship with his beautiful, blueblooded, rich, crazy girlfriend, Charlotte. He is now sleeping on a camp cot in his shabby office and accidentally nearly kills the new secretary sent to him by the temp agency. Although Robin Ellacott's introduction to her new boss was less than salubrious, she is secretly thrilled to be living out a childhood fantasy of working in a detective's office. Of course, in the fantasy, she was the detective.

Thus the stage is adeptly and compellingly set for the case of a lifetime.

John Bristow is a financial lifesaver when he walks into Strike's office. Strike has no money and apparently owes a large sum to someone who calls on a regular basis to hound him for payment. Life couldn't get much worse when Bristow walks in. Homely and emotionally labile, Bristow has come to see Strike because his supermodel sister, Lula Landry, plunged to her death a few months before. The police have labeled it a suicide, but Bristow thinks it was murder.

If Strike thinks his family tree is twisted, it turns out that Bristow can go head-to-head with him on convoluted and skewed relationships. Bristow has come to Strike because Strike was a childhood friend of Bristow's brother, Charlie, who died young. Charlie, John, and Lula were all adopted by an upperclass, childless couple.

Lula, half black and half white, continued her troubles after leaving home by becoming involved with other young, disaffected, entitled celebrities. Thus the stage is set for tragedy.

When Strike is first seen, he is a disheveled, distraught, and lumpy-but-strangely-attractive disaster. It is a surprise, therefore, when he proves himself to be a meticulous, observant, intuitive, and brilliant detective. Galbraith pleasantly upends stereotypes and frequently pulls out both big and little surprises.

The story is not all about Strike. Robin Ellacott thought she knew what she wanted: her fiancé, Matthew, a future stuffed shirt, and a comfortable, responsible life with him. There is no romance between Strike and Ellacott. Rather, the romance is between Ellacott and her almost-forgotten dreams of adventure and daring. She shows ingenuity and compassion. She grows on Strike and on her audience.

Lovely long, luxurious lines of storytelling. The 400+ pages are a joy.

Had I still the power to grant an MBTB star to a book, one would certainly go to this book.


  1. OMG, OMG! MBTB found out yesterday that Robert Galbraith is really super-famous author J. K. Rowling. No wonder this didn't seem like a debut novel!