Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

Attentive readers will know that Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J. K. Rowling. Rowling’s identity was outed by someone from her law firm, but not before she had gotten this book published, sold a decent number of copies, and had offers from television production companies for the rights. Rowling had planned to keep writing as Galbraith for as long as she could, but her anonymity only lasted for three months after the book’s release in the UK. She says she was “more disappointed than angry” about the revelation.

I only heard of the book in conjunction with the news that Galbraith was Rowling, though I like to think I would have found it anyway. It’s really an excellent detective story, featuring a hardboiled PI, his intrepid assistant, and a dead supermodel.

So much detective fiction coming out of the UK and northern Europe right now is really really dark, featuring isolated self-destructive detectives and horrifically violent crime. Galbraith draws on that tradition but avoids the extremes. In fact, I think he (she?) hits exactly the right tone. Cormoran Strike, the PI, is an Iraq war veteran, down on his luck, something of a drinker, but he maintains his sense of humor and a desire to turn things around; he hasn’t given in to his worst impulses (yet). And the crime Strike investigates, while sad, isn’t strange or sick, like some of the serial killer stuff that’s out there. Finally, Galbraith gives us Robin, a young woman who has always taken the safe, predictable path, but whose outwardly pragmatic demeanor hides a restless longing for something, anything, more exciting than a job in human resources and another evening with her stolid fiancé. When the temp agency sends her to Strike (by mistake, actually) she can finally let her true colors shine.

With these elements in place, Galbraith sets us up for a series of books (we hope) that will draw on Strike’s gruff, methodical methods and Robin’s flashes of insight to create a team that will keep delivering the goods. The second in this series (The Silkworm) is coming June 19, 2014 and Rowling says she’s looking forward to writing more books as Galbraith.

(Book 8, 2014)


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