I feel sort of awkward mentioning this one because everyone reads it for the one and only reason that it was actually written by JK Rowling.
So I feel like I need to clarify that 1) I’ve never read, and am not particularly interested in reading, The Casual Vacancy 2) the news that JK Rowling had secretly written a crime novel elicited little more than a shrug from me.
I was in Frankfurt in December 2014, armed with a not-brilliant kids’ fantasy series when I spied The Cuckoo’s Calling, in English, in a bookshop under the station and I was immediately filled with an urge to read it. I don’t know why, when I’d never been interested before, maybe because of the gorgeous jewel-toned cover or the unexpectedness of finding an English book in Germany or because I was tired of the books I’d brought. I resisted – English-language books abroad cost an absolute fortune. English-language books bought abroad on the Kindle app on my phone, on the other hand…
What did I make of it? Well, I enjoyed it enough to read the next two in the series and to re-read The Cuckoo’s Calling last week (although while sitting waiting for a comedy show to start, having realised I’d brought no book and had no wifi and was restricted to whatever was already downloaded to my Kindle app). I’m not very good at crime so I can never guess the murderer (saying that, I read Mark Billingham’s Time of Death this weekend and got the killer the moment they walked onto the page) so that identity really was a surprise. We got a look at that other world, fame and fortune, and the ups and downs that come with it, which Rowling must know a lot better than Galbraith – and of course, Cormoran Strike, the private investigator, also has a passing familiarity because of his famous parents, the rock star and the supergroupie.
But it’s Robin… Robin the newly-engaged, Robin the temp, Robin looking for a decent job in London. Robin’s bright and smart and has so much tact and initiative but in this book, all Robin gets to do is be the best receptionist/assistant in the world. She gets better roles in the other books. She’s not quite Hermione, but she’s very good at her job, and in my temporary state of unemployment, I’m looking at her quite jealously because she manages three interviews in one week and gets one of those jobs, despite what I presume is minimal experience. She’s fictional. Don’t be jealous. I’m fond of Robin. I see hints of myself in Robin but I also see hints of the Ideal Wife and hints of Created to be the Perfect Foil to Cormoran Strike.
Cormoran is your classic grizzled, mangled detective. He splits up with his fiancee on about the first page, he spends a lot of time hiding out in the pub (although he only actually gets properly drunk once), he looks like a boxer, he’s trying to pretend he’s not living in his office – oh, and he had half a leg blown off in Afghanistan. I don’t think Robin actually finds this out until the very end, when she catches him trying to smash the murderer’s face in with his prosthetic. What I like about Strike is not that he’s a good detective – detectives in fiction have to be good because the book doesn’t work if they’re not, unless the point is that they’re not. It’s the fact that he’s really good and organised about writing it all down in numbered folders, enclosing all evidence and clues. Maybe it’s the novelty of seeing a man looking after his own filing. Maybe it’s the novelty of seeing a boss doing it. Maybe I just like stationery and proper office stuff. But I like that it isn’t kept exclusively in his brain.
Having only read it on Kindle, I’m always surprised when I spot the paperback in a bookshop because it’s a lot thicker than I think it is. It’s a pretty chunky book – not quite a doorstop but only one weight category down. But it doesn’t feel like it. It’s got a surprisingly light touch. It’s just a shame JK Rowling had to “come out” to get it any attention.