11 September 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

Okay, I know, it's not really by Robert Galbraith.  It's by J.K. Rowling.

I was probably as excited as the next average Harry Potter fan when I found out JKR had written a mystery novel.  I was excited for her other book, A Casual Vacancy, as well; but somehow, I've never gotten around to reading it.  I think, because it's under her name, it seems daunting somehow.  I'm sure it was daunting to her to write another book after finishing Harry Potter.

Just as writing The Cuckoo's Calling under a pseudonym helped her, it helped me as well: even though I had already found out it was really by JKR, the extra distance helped me to approach it as something fresh.  Somehow it brought the magic back.  Is that weird?

Regardless, The Cuckoo's Calling was a great read: fun, fast-paced, whimsical at times, and it kept me on my toes.  It tells the story of private investigator Cormoran Strike, and his new temp, Robin, as he investigates the alleged suicide of a famous supermodel.

A fairly simple, and classic, setup for a detective novel; and indeed, it inhabited its genre well.  The grizzled investigator - in this case, a war veteran with an amputated leg - and the plucky young secretary-cum-sidekick; the neurotic client, in this case the supermodel's brother; the menagerie of witnesses, suspects, and informants; all were classic, archetypical characters, and yet in Rowling's hands they were also fresh in a way I have rarely experienced; the only others that come to mind are Chinatown, Double Indemnity, or The Lady from Shanghai - though the latter two were, I suppose, brand new rather than freshly re-imagined.

What was most enjoyable about The Cuckoo's Calling was how Rowling shone through even in the new medium.  I couldn't help but pick out parallels between it and Harry Potter: a focus on orphans (several of the main characters were, more or less, orphans); the importance of family, and the damage that troubles within them can cause; the harm that a lack of love can do; the perils of unwanted fame; an exciting other-world that one finds oneself transported into (in this case, Robin's excitement at working for a private investigator); and even mean uncles!

That's not to say it was in any way derivative of Harry Potter; it's just that some themes were revisited in new ways.  The greatest similarity of all between the two works was the sense of joyous whimsy that pervaded the book, even when the plot got its darkest.

I loved reading The Cuckoo's Calling.  It's the most fun book I've picked up in a long time.


Books: About to start on Dan Brown's Inferno.

Bottles: Attended a tasting of Spanish wines recently, and have one for Italian wines soon.

Writing: Reading!  Still expanding my knowledge of the genre.

Guitar: Looking at the live version of "Time" from Live in Gdansk.  I want to learn how to play it the way David Gilmour does in that concert; it's my favorite version, and I love the fullness of its sound.