The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Fiction — audiobook. Read by Robert Glenister. Hachette Audio, 2013. 15 hours, 54 minutes. Library copy.

A former member of the British military police, Cormoran Strike has struggled to create a life for himself in the civilian London he returned to after several tours of duty in Afghanistan — the last one costing him his leg. With only one client and a mountain of debt, Strike is living in his office and unsure how he will pay his temporary secretary, Robin, to do a job his business clearly does not need.

While Strike is debating how to send Robin home — a difficult task after he practically assaults her in the hallway — John Bristow arrives claiming his sister is the supermodel Lula Landry and his brother is an old childhood friend of Strike’s. The little boy Strike once knew fell to his death while riding his bike through a quarry;  the supermodel Strike knows only from news reports fell to her death from the balcony of her multimillion dollar flat. Bristow refuses to believe his sister committed suicide and hires Strike to solve the case so Britsow’s frail, sickly mother can die knowing the truth.

Galbraith’s characters, unfortunately, are rather run-of-the-mill: the moody, tortured male detective who is unlucky in love and haunted by “daddy issues”; the plucky sidekick with little self-esteem who is sort of stumbling through life and is likely to fall in love with the detective (if not in this book, maybe in future novels); and the wealthy patron who lives amidst a hive of shady characters.

That’s not to say the characters do not develop over time; there certainly is more about their lives and characterizations that are teased out over the course of the tale. I liked them all well enough, particularly Strike as an individual and the moment where he and Robin visit an upscale store to try on clothing. Yet the characters feel so familiar because they are, in my experience, the standard characters found in mystery and crime novels.

Unlike other crime novels I’ve read in the past, I wasn’t racing to finish the audiobook, to solve the crime once and for all. It could have been more tightly edited — a bit too much detail and the beginning seemed to drag on endlessly — and the climax of the tale was a bit washed out as a result.

The novel does, however, manage to keep readers on their toes in terms of solving the case. I thought I identified the murderer at the midpoint of the novel only to have Galbraith throw another curve ball or reveal a clue was actually a red herring. And in keeping with the author’s other novels (Galbraith is the pseudonym of J.K. Rowling), I found the descriptions of the setting and the characters’ action to be particularly well-crafted.

As such, I’ll probably give the next book in the series a chance if only to see how Galbraith’s writing for this genre improves over time and to enjoy Robert Glenister’s wonderful narration once more.

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