Not my typical genre, but I thought I'd give Ms. JK Rowling's pseudonym a whirl. Can't be worse than some of the other crap I've tortured myself into reading.
Cormoran Strike is former military, now down-and-out Private Detective. John Bristow knocks on his door to hire him to unearth the murderer of his famous sister, model Lula Landry. Given that Strike has no money and no clients to speak of, Strike accepts. And quickly, he finds a trap of lies, deceit, and very, very greedy people.
In the spirit of honesty, I have basically given up on the whole mystery/thriller/crime/detective genre years ago. Admittedly my selections were limited to authors like James Patterson, Sue Grafton, and Mary Higgins Clark (with a spattering of lesser names), but I was never really all that impressed with what I read. Either the mystery was simplistic beyond reason, riddled with more cliches than you can shake a rattlesnake at or the mystery was basically an @$$-pull. Or, even worse, miserably boring.
Like a good 90% of people who will end up reading this book, I read it because JK Rowling wrote it. Which is a delicious matter to think about and discuss - did she feel pressured to assume a male nom de plume because of the intense scrutiny of The Casual Vacancy, an extreme departure from the Harry Potter that made her a household name? Is sexism at play? And what does this mean for a famous author who is eager to try new things, but must face a fanbase who can't get over the books that made her famous in the first place? Is she doomed forever to wonder if people are buying her books because she is FAMOUS or because she is GOOD? And what about how her nom de plume was revealed on Twitter? What does this say about the day where information is a mere click away?
In many ways, I'd rather talk about the situations surrounding the book than the actual book, not because the book is bad or even mediocre, but because the situations are so fascinating and compelling! Perhaps one day I'll get the bug to write an essay, but for today, I'll reign myself in and focus on the book.
"The Cuckoo's Calling" will be different things for different people, I think. I'm not honestly sure what mystery aficionados will think of it - perhaps a bit too cliched or pat or obvious - but as for me, a dabbler in the mystery genre and no fan, it was good, a pleasant surprise. No, it wasn't perfect, no, it wasn't ground-breaking, but it developed some interesting characters and kept me guessing the entire time.
The thing I think Rowling does best is creating characters and setting them off into their own little pathways. This is imitated here in the mystery itself, but also in the primary characters of Strike and his secretary, Robin. I'm always impressed how Rowling writes PEOPLE - not super-attractive, would-be models like you find in most other fiction, PEOPLE. People who are fat, thin, ugly, short, burly, balding, and everything in between. While some of them dive into cliche-ville (Strike is a borderline Marty Stu, with his near-Sherlockian ability to decode a mystery, several of the "evil" characters get ugly descriptions), I also love how no matter what they are on the outside, they all have a bit of good and evil on the inside. And how each character has a different, conflicting view of the others.
The mystery itself is pretty standard. A lot of it is focused on Strike going from one person to another interviewing. This should be boring, but instead, for some reason, I found it fascinating, watching what questions were asked and how they were answered. Again, the interviews showed the complexity of the characters. And thank God, Strike doesn't waste time asking stupid questions while ignoring valid ones.
You get other standard mystery/down-and-out private detective scenes, which may or may not induce eye-rolling. Strike sleeping with an informant. Strike being tortured over a breakup. Robin dressing in a sexy gown for an investigation. And yes, Strike and the murderer spend the second-to-last chapter explaining to the audience how it was done. Most of these would normally bug the hell out of me, but here, I give them a pass. Why? I think because, they were done rather well for once and made sense in the context of the story.
But what probably makes it most obvious that Rowling is our author is her trademark writing. In this regard, I find myself heartily agree with a Goodreads friend of mine who wrote about this in her excellent review of "The Cuckoo's Calling". Now, I love an author who is not afraid to pull out the thesaurus, but some of the SAT vocabulary words used make no sense, given the characters' backgrounds. "Piquancy"? "Penury"? There were dozens of words I had to refresh myself what they were. And when you are trying to read a mystery and solve it, the last thing you want is to hunt down a dictionary to figure out what the author is saying. In general, the very "formal" language of this book is what slowed me down the most; yes, it's not a fast-paced book, but had I not been wrestling with vocab words or trying to work out the complicated structure of a sentence, I'd probably have finished this book weeks ago.
At the end of the day, I liked this. I had a fun time - and even better, I felt like the mystery was at a perfect level - harder than I want, but SMART. It's renewed my faith in this genre, so that I'm actually eager to read more mysteries. And a book that makes you want to read more books? Never a bad thing...