The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (2013)

Cormoran Strike Series, #1

“Lula and the homeless outsider lying in the chilly morgue…had not taken every reasonable precaution against violence or chance; they had not tethered themselves to life with mortgages or voluntary work, safe husbands and clean-faced dependents: their deaths, therefore, were not classed as ‘tragic’ in the same way. How easy was it to capitalize on a person’s own bent for self-destruction; how simple to nudge them into non-being, then stand back and shrug and agree that it had been the inevitable result of a chaotic, catastrophic life.”

Over the course of this debut novel, author Robert Galbraith (a pseudonym for JK Rowling) not only writes an astonishing good private investigator murder mystery, but he also establishes a new set of super-stars in the genre: the battle-worn and oft-unlucky in life (but very lucky in work) Comoran Strike and his brilliant and utterly lovable, learns-as-she-goes assistant Robin Ellacott.

The opening of this novel, and with it the entire Cormoran Strike series, readers are introduced to story’s protagonist at one of his lowest points. An ex-army investigator and amputee, Cormoran Strike currently finds himself broke, his firm without clients, and his love life in shambles. “He felt as though he were accompanied by a specter that haunted him. It lurked in corners and whispered to him. It urged him to consider how far he had fallen: his age; his penury; his shattered love life; his homelessness. Thirty-five years and nothing to show for it.”

In one wild half-hour on a Monday morning, he finds himself with an unexpected assistant and a new wealthy client and his luck begins to turn. In his beautiful, young temporary assistant Robin Ellacott, Comoran is shocked and pleased to find a “professional…efficient… undemanding woman with unusual restraint.” With little prodding and zero training, Robin steps right into the firm’s brand-new investigation and proves herself, almost immediately, to be indispensable. Comoran clearly recognizes both Robin’s good looks and her professional potential, he “found Robin completely satisfactory and restful, not only because she was hanging off every word, but because that little sapphire ring on her third finger was like a neat full stop: thus far, and no further. It suited him perfectly.”

Robin herself is experiencing her own “moment of wonder” at being, unwittingly, assigned to a private investigator’s office to work. “She had never confided in a solitary human being her lifelong, secret, childish ambition” to work as an investigator and live the “life the large man beside her was living.”

The new client who arrived along with Robin Ellacott, is the well-to-do brother of a international super-star model, Lula Landry, whose death just months before was ruled a suicide. He is offering Comoran top dollar to take a second look into whether or not she was murdered. Comoran, and indeed Robin, both are familiar with the case and hold little hope that they will be able to turn up any evidence of murder when the police investigation had not. None-the-less,  Strike is both desperately broke and “had an incurable habit of thoroughness” and immediately sets out to begin his own inquiry.

The story that follows take readers through a glitzy world of modeling and fame; into the sedate mansions and law firms of the super-rich; into the homeless shelters of London; and beyond. All the while, Galbraith slowly, expertly unravels a mystery that readers cannot resist being drawn into; one which seeks to explore the complications of race, family, money, and trust…and the reasons those bonds can lead to murder.

Almost, to my mind, as thrilling as the story is the revelation of Robin’s burgeoning investigative skills and the outstanding, if very, very, unlikely partnership, she and Comoran form. He brings to the partnership years of experience and the dogged determination needed to piece together the mystery: she brings her keen intelligence, sharp observational skills, and her deep desire to prove herself in this new career. Although their personal problems — his infamous family, her controlling fiance — threaten to complicate the case, in the end their dedication and professionalism lead them to all of the right answers. Together, they are truly one of the best PI duos currently being written about. Indeed, all of the characters in the novel — both big and small — are so wonderfully drawn, that everyone of them seems utterly real…at times colorful, unsettling, sleazy, and manipulative, but still real.

If you are a fan of murder mysteries, or a simply a fan of wonderful writing, you should read this book and they immediately set out to read the next two books in the series: The Silkworm and Career of Evil

And then, like me, you can anxiously await the publication of book number four.

cuckoos calling cover


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