Friday, October 16, 2020

The Cuckoo's Calling (a book review post)


Let's get the issue of Rowling out of the way before I get into the actual book review. First of which is to say that I'm not going to discuss Rowling beyond saying that the fact that she doesn't know when to shut her mouth shows that having lots of money can affect the way that anyone views themselves and the world. She's at that stage where she believes that she, because she is who she is, is right and doesn't need to listen to other people, so she has continued to dig her hole bigger and bigger rather than just shutting up and keeping her opinions to herself. That she didn't shut up shows an amount of entitlement which is disappointing.

The other thing I want to say is that I started reading this book... well, so long ago that I don't remember when it was. I picked it up during some free promotion thing just to check it out and have been reading it in bits and pieces ever since. It's on my Kindle, and I don't really read from my Kindle all that often. I don't carry it places with me like I do physical books, so I lag a lot with books on there unless they are really engrossing. Which tells you that this book was not. Seriously, I've been working on it for over a year, maybe closer to two.

What this book has taught me is that I need to read some Agatha Christie, something I've been meaning to do for a long time and have never gotten around to. Maybe I don't like detective novels? I don't know. I like Butcher's Dresden books, but they're hardly detective novels after the first few. Beyond those, I can't recall any mystery novels I've ever really liked, including this one.

Which is not to say that I didn't like it, I just didn't much care for it. Rowling doesn't make it possible for the reader to really solve the mystery as they're reading, which seems to me to be the point of detective novels, because she doesn't reveal crucial information until the actual reveal at the end of the novel, and the reveal was one of the most contrived things I've ever read. And this is an ABSOLUTE SPOILER, so turn away now if you don't want to know who the killer is...

I'm waiting...

Still waiting, because I'm absolutely serious that I'm going to spoil the ending of this book. And let me just toss out there that I never spoil a book that I think you ought to read. If I spoil it, it's because I don't think it's really worth your trouble.

Having said that, the book itself was just fine. By that, I mean it's readable. Mostly engaging, though not engaging enough to prompt me to read it more quickly. It's... typical. Down on his luck private eye getting a high paying, juicy case which might just get him out of debt. Your basic story about an underachiever finally getting a break and getting to show the world who he really is. Honestly, after Harry Potter, I expected something less... cliché.

So the book goes along with our detective -- the son of a famous rock star, seriously? -- gathering up evidence about a case that is several months cold. And closed. But he's hired by the brother of the murdered woman because the brother believes it was a murder though the police ruled it a suicide. And this is the hitch and what I'm sure Rowling thought would make it a clever story: the brother is the murderer. So Strike is hired by the murderer to discover who the murderer is. The motivation for this is never explained adequately since the murderer had already gotten away with the crime.

What the novel mostly does, as most mystery shows do (I don't know about mystery novels, as I said, but I have watched a lot of detective shows) is to show that everyone had a motive for killing the victim. Rowling walks us through the suspects over and over again almost always strengthening the case for why each person might have wanted Lulu dead. In fact, the only person not shown to have a motive, not until the very end of the book, basically not until just before the reveal, is the actual murderer. Of course, the motive is money, but we don't get to find out the murderer's money issues until Strike is sitting alone in a room with the murderer revealing all the things the murderer already knows.

The reveal was clumsy and contrived. The fact that Bristow (the murderer) sits through Strike's walkthrough of the entire crime is, frankly, unbelievable. The fact that Bristow then attacks Strike is even more unbelievable considering that Strike is a bear of a man and ex-boxer while Bristow is your very stereotypical account type, even though he's a lawyer, not an account, a "gag" that is run into the ground over the course of the book.

I want to say that Rowling's strength as a writer is her characters but, as I'm thinking of this now, she has no real strength in that, either. Her character's tend toward the stereotype, including pretty much all of the characters in Harry Potter. In Harry Potter, we're able to overlook that, though, because the world is so new and interesting, but this world, the world of C. B. Strike, is not new or interesting so the fact that all of the characters are two dimensional really stands out. The most real character in the book is Strike's temporary secretary, Robin, and she's really just a pale reflection of Hermione Granger.

Also, the title of this book is stupid. It's just tossed in somewhere over the halfway mark of the book that "Cuckoo" is a nickname of the murdered woman that only one character in the book ever called her. It's a throwaway excuse to have "Cuckoo" in the title. Without that very vague reason, the title of the book is meaningless.

So, yeah, I suppose I am actually disappointed with this book and don't really understand all the praise for it. Again, maybe I just don't really like detective novels; I don't know. This book doesn't inspire me to try more, though.


  1. I think if she never revealed herself to be Robert Galbraith, those books wouldn't be hyped as much as they are. I think your point about her believing she's right because of who she is also applies to her books now. She's not listening to her editors anymore either.

    1. Jeanne: Well, they wouldn't, but I don't think she had anything to do with the reveal. I think it was the publisher wanting to capitalize on her name because the books weren't selling well. She was quite upset by the whole thing, if I recall.