Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Perhaps He's No Boy Wizard, but Slobbish Sleuth Makes for Satisfying Storytelling -- Book Reviews: 'The Silkworm' and 'The Cuckoo's Calling' by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling)

Book Reviews

The Silkworm
by Robert Galbraith
(pseudonym for J.K. Rowling)
now in hardcover/Kindle


The Cuckoo's Calling
by Robert Galbraith
(pseudonym for J.K. Rowling)
now in paperback/Kindle

Having never read any of the Harry Potter books, I can't say if I like J.K. Rowling as an author.

But now having finished--within a week--The Silkworm, the second novel revolving around an oafish detective named Cormoran Strike, just a few months after having read The Cuckoo's Calling, I can say I've enjoyed the writing of Robert Galbraith.

Which is the pen name Rowling used, initially covertly, to branch out into crime fiction, or perhaps more accurately, some sort of detective, mystery and thriller hybrid.

Certainly, in a rather literal sense for me, both The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm can be called page turners as they made me want to read them actively, rather than leisurely or even languidly as is often my wont.

While both of the Rowling-as-Galbraith books pretty much fit what the term "page turner" typically connotes for me--a deft but disposable suspense novel and not a highly insightful work of great literature--I think the books excel more for their characterizations than their mysteries, although both kept me guessing to the end.

Many suspense writers develop series around a central crime solver and--while unlikely to ever become anywhere near as iconic as Harry Potter--Cormoran Strike is a nice addition to the canon. 

Strike is described as being rather large in both height and girth, unkempt, often slovenly but rather resolute and self-sufficient, despite having a grievous war injury and being the non-bestowed-upon son of a wealthy and iconic father. (The book covers do nothing to aid my imagination of the detective's appearance, so whether apt or not, I can't help picturing Ignatius J. Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces.)

Early in The Cuckoo's Calling, a pretty young blonde named Robin comes to work for Strike, and I don't think I'm giving anything much away by saying that she remains a fixture throughout The Silkworm (and conceivably, any continuations of the series).

The Cuckoo's Calling revolves around the death of a supermodel, with one of her relatives engaging Cormoran Strike to investigate the circumstances. 

In The Silkworm, Strike is enlisted by the wife of an author who has gone missing.  

To reveal anything more about the storylines or additional characters would be a disservice, but while Strike's private eye work drives the somewhat Agatha Christiesque whodunit plots, it is Rowling/Galbraith's description of the detective's thoughts and his interaction with Robin that provide the most pleasure. 

Even without having read the Harry Potter books, it isn't surprising that a writer who created one of the most iconic characters in literary history has a gift for characterization. 

So while at this point, other mystery writers are likely more adept at detailing the detective's deduction processes--it seems that Strike's "a-ha!" moments come almost out of nowhere--it isn't the specter of another crime but learning more about Strike's rather tortured-yet-impish existence (including a romantic implosion that has tickled and teased for more resolution) that already has me looking forward to the next adventures of Cormoran & Robin.

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