“How easy it was to capitalize on a person’s own bent for self-destruction; how simple to nudge them into non-being, then to stand back and shrug and agree that it had been the inevitable result of a chaotic, catastrophic life.”
So … if you hadn’t yet heard: JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame is writing detective fiction.
And you guys … it’s good.
After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.
Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.
You may think you know detectives, but you’ve never met one quite like Strike. You may think you know about the wealthy and famous, but you’ve never seen them under an investigation like this.
The Detective Novel is a prickly thing – especially now. Used to be a new thing – thank you Poe, but of course that was before the Sherlocks, the CSIs and Poirot and others. Now, we’ve gotten used to “the detective” as a sort of trope – the broken man (usually a man, and here I will briefly just state – sorry Nancy Drew), usually physically broken as well as mentally or emotionally broken, with a shady past, trouble with the opposite sex and some kernel of truthfulness that makes him, nonetheless, trustworthy for us – like, he used to be a police officer, or he has a daughter, or in this case, he’d been in the army. Strike, our hero and detective in this story, fits that bill – he’s a curmudgeon of a man with one missing leg who has just been thrown out of his fiancee’s house with nothing but a small office, a couple of boxes and a new case to keep him company.
Somehow, though, even with all the detective novels I have read and the tropes used, I liked this one.
And it’s not only because it kept me guessing (which it did).
At first, I was hesitant – I had read the Harry Potter novels relatively late in life (I started around 18 or so, in comparison to my peers who allegedly started reading them when they were 11), but they struck that chord in me that had been struck previously by worlds like Narnia and LJ Smith’s Nightworld. A world of magic and possibility and agency (for children). What I am trying to say is that I count myself a fan of Rowling’s work. And as such, when it was leaked that she wrote this detective book under the name of one Robert Galbraith, I was hesitant to pick it up (and yes, I still need to read The Casual Vacancy – her other adult novel). There’s a reason authors get pigeon-holed early on, why Stephen King will not venture towards Romance Novels or Rosemary Rogers will not write zombie apocalyptica. That reason is that readers get a little antsy whenever their favourite authors fall short of, or alternatively, expand beyond the parameters of the genre where they grew to love them. I get that – which is why I was not sure I wanted to read an adult themed detective novel by JK Rowling … which is likely why she used that particular pseudonym.
That being said – I need to express just how much I lost myself to the book. By the time I was in the second chapter, I was solidly in the London world of Strike and his temp-secretary and all thoughts of “This is not the Potterverse!” were eradicated. It’s well written, guys – it’s gritty and it’s sometimes unabashedly British (with that great phonetic spelling of things so you really hear the Cockney in your head) and it is no way Harry Potter – and honestly, you won’t remember that. You’ll be so wrapped in the mystery and the players that you will forget to clutch your pearls at the swear words.
The story itself is a complicated one – more complicated than I have been reading in my latest mystery novels. One reason for that is the players – there are a lot of characters, and they mill around in their own lives, and you catch up with one every now and then. That was one thing I really appreciated about this book – the movement. It was as if the characters, when you were not reading about them, were still moving around – there was a sense that while you were following Strike around, the other characters were busy with their lives, all trying to conceal something or uncover something. That’s the mark of a well-written story right there.
The characters are interesting – As I mentioned, Strike is a bit of a trope, but in such a way that adds to the story rather than reducing it to a one dimensional caricature. His struggles are real – more pronounced not because of his own words, but the reactions and concerns of those around him. And his mind is keen – not overly ahead of himself, but in such a way that the reveal is as much a reveal to you – your suspicions running ahead with his evidence, suddenly clicking everything into place. Like, I said – the end eluded me.
All in all, it’s a good detective novel – a great book, and I would recommend it.
The second in the series is due out about now – I plan on reserving my copy soon! It’s a strange title:
What are you reading?